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Management Without Culture: A Dream; Culture Without Management: A Nightmare

Issues related to organizational culture in health and safety (OSH) are probably as old as health and safety itself. When we talk about culture, almost everyone agrees on at least one common point, that is, the starting point. 

An old saying goes: "The body always turns in the direction the head wants to go." This is where the culture starts: at the head of the organization. In this regard, the people at Dupont Chemicals, a long time leader in health and safety, state in their book Industrial Safety is Good Business :

"Health and safety has always been the responsibility of the management line at Dupont."

If everything stopped there, OSH management would be a piece of cake. Just sign a policy, and that's all there is to it. Unfortunately, reality isn't that simple. Once upper management makes this strategic commitment, it must then be cascaded down to all hierarchical levels of the organization in a uniform manner.

This is precisely what Industrial Safety is Good Business says: "Concern must begin at the highest level and descend gradually throughout all operational levels."

This is where the problems start ... There is often an attempt to develop an OSH culture that is parallel to management practices, whereas it must take root at the very heart of these practices. It is along this path that culture must cascade across the entire organization, not along a path paved with isolated actions.


The Working Environment 

Because health and safety are primarily hazard management, some basic principles of hazard management are unavoidable. The first – and the most important, the basis of our legislation – is that of eliminating dangers at the source.

This takes place primarily in the work environment in which employees are located. In this regard, Sections 2 and 3 of the Act respecting occupational health and safety (OHSA) state:

2  The object of this Act is the elimination, at the source, of dangers to the health, safety and physical well-being or workers.

3  The fact that collective or individual means of protection or safety equipment are put at the disposal of workers where necessary to meet their special needs, must in no way reduce the effort expended to eliminate, at the source, dangers to the health, safety and physical well-being of workers[…].

The question then is who can help us create a work environment that meets legal and operational requirements and manages the dangers that can be found there. 

The first people involved are those who designed this environment: the architects, engineers, project managers and their multidisciplinary teams, contractors, but also management teams and employees who are or will be the main users.

The task is not over once the work environment has been designed in accordance with to all legal requirements, it must be maintained. Then comes the need for inspection routes, where managers and employees need to get involved; preventive maintenance schedules; the execution of corrective measures by maintenance personnel; the management of changes in the process carried out by the engineering, maintenance or operation teams, etc.

In short, there are dozens of opportunities to involve your staff in all stages of this first element, which aims to eliminate and reduce hazards at the source.


Choice of Equipment and Material

Hazards that could not be eliminated at the design stage or at the source should be eliminated otherwise. Again, we find ourselves in a design process, but on a smaller scale, that is, in the choice of equipment and material used. 

For example, a building was designed too small; the traffic lanes are too narrow, and the employees must inevitably co-exist with forklifts. An employee could be hit by a lift. Hazards must therefore be managed in a different way. 

Railings protecting employees, barriers, visual and audible alarms, convex mirrors, forklift decelerators, blue LED lights and other devices can be added to compensate for design problems. the work environment This is called reduction at the source.

The question of stakeholders therefore arises once again: who gets to have a say in the choice of equipment and material meeting legal and organizational requirements? Management and supervisory teams, OHS coordinators and committees, and certainly the employees who are the main users.

After all, no one knows a workstation and its requirements better than its main user and immediate superior. This is the second strategic area in which to involve your team members in a planned manner at all levels of the hierarchy and in different roles. Now let's see where these roles come from.


The OSH Management System

What is the OSH management system? It is a set of management procedures and operational procedures, programs, policies and regulations that define the expected commitment of all stakeholders within the organization and their roles and responsibilities by order of priority. 

To summarize, it could be said that it is a matter of specifying who does what, when, where and how in terms of OSH at the level of operations and management, so as to leave no room for improvisation. This is what is at the heart of the culture; this is the baseline on which everyone can rely to understand the role they play and what they must do.

Where hazards can not be eliminated or reduced at source, they must be eliminated by another means, hence the importance of defining roles and responsibilities and respecting them in their entirety. In terms of prevention management, we should leave nothing to chance. 

A commonly misunderstood aspect of OSH management is that employee's involvement in health and safety is essential to the management system. The way we engage our employees should not be improvised, but rather defined, systematized and managed like everything else. This requirement is found in all management systems.

For example, Section Participation and Consultation of the OHSAS 18001 standards, (International Occupational Health and Safety Standards) states the following:

The organization shall establish, implement and maintain a procedure(s) for:

  1. the participation of workers by means of their:
  • appropriate involvement in the identification of hazards […];
  • appropriate involvement in the any incident investigation;
  • involvement in the development and review of OSH policies and objectives;
  • consultation in case of changes affecting their OSH;
  • representation for occupational health and safety matters.

Moreover, in the CSA Z1000-F14 standard (Canadian standard for OSH management system), Section 4.2.3 Workers' Participation, states the following:

Worker participation is an essential aspect of a company's OHSMS [Occupational Health and Safety Management System]. The company must:

  1. ensure, at all levels of the organization, that workers and their representatives are actively involved in the OHSMS, including those who are exposed to hazardous events, by implementing the necessary mechanisms, time and resources so they can, at the very least, participate in the processes of: i) planning (Section 4.3); ii) implementation (Section 4.4); iii) assessment, corrective measures and preventive measures (Section 4.5);
  2. provide workers and their representatives with timely access to relevant information and OHSMS processes to ensure their participation in the system; and
  3. encourage workers' participation by implementing mechanisms to: i) support workers' participation, such as identifying and removing barriers to participation; (ii) mobilize existing health and safety committees or workers' representatives […]. 

The strategy for employee involvement and engagement at all levels must also be implicit in areas such as objectives and programs (which stress the importance of setting goals for all levels of the organization), communication, OSH policies, management of corrective actions, ongoing improvement and change management.

For the third time, the question arises: who has a role to play in the development of OSH policies, procedures and programs? Employees and their supervisors can participate by means of their field expertise; the management teams, by means of their approval and allocating the resources required for their execution; the coordinator, by means of their knowledge of specific requirements, the CSS by validating effectiveness; engineers by means of their technical understanding of the equipment, etc. 

A management system is not something that you develop independently in your office based on standards, but rather an organizational project that lays the foundation for the desired culture of prevention. More people participating in all levels of the organization mean less resistance to change. 

When they are stakeholders, people understand more about the risks they are exposed to and why preventive measures need to be put in place, and they may have even been involved in the choice of these preventive measures. 

With respect to change management, here is a good example of the intrinsic definition of employee involvement in our management systems found in Section 4.4.7 Change Management of the CSA Z1000 standard.


Managing change is most effective when the organization anticipates the potential impacts and consults with workers and their representatives. Internal changes that may result in new hazards and risks include major changes:


• to facilities, processes or activities; 

• to procedures or methods of work;

• to machines, equipment or tools;

• to the organizational structure and in terms of staffing;

• to the company's products, and

• to the services, material or suppliers.

Employee participation, communication, the participation of other elements of mobilization are not simply the "flavours of the month" – they must all be specifically defined and applied. Once these elements are developed, they must be supported through a rigorous human resources management system.


The Human Resources Management System

The behavioural problem with regard to health and safety is often referred to as if it were a purely personal issue, involving employees' values, beliefs and habits. 

However, our organizations' human resource management systems are the management tools we have to manage human behavior in this culture. Unfortunately, the mechanisms that support OSH management systems are too often poorly used or misused.

The basis of a human resources management system begins with task descriptions defining tasks and roles (OSH and others) to be performed by managers and other categories of employees. The people who can participate in the drafting and approval of job descriptions are mainly managers and human resources (HR) staff.

The next step is to recruit employees based on the criteria, roles and responsibilities targeted in these job descriptions. HR and the managers in question must choose a candidate that meets the requirements of the position and the values ​​of the organization.

Once the right person has been recruited, they must be welcomed. Those who participate in this stage include the management which clarifies the company's requirements, values and objectives; the supervisors who present departmental issues; the employee representatives who present the employee's rights; the OHS staff and instructors who present various programs, etc. 

To complete the welcome, department co-workers can help by participating in mentoring and coaching programs to ensure that the various programs, procedures, rules and the like are properly taught and understood. All these elements are once again only some of the many examples where the everyone's participation may be solicited.

After the welcome, the probation period begins, i.e. the employee or manager's first 90, 100 or 120 days of work during which the their ability to carry out their role is evaluated. Assistance from the co-workers, in collaboration with the immediate superior, is practically essential in order to properly support the new employee in their integration.

After the probation period, the company will need to solicit the employee throughout their career regarding various elements of their hazard management strategy. They may then request that the employee participate in improving and maintaining the working environment, choice of equipment, material and PPE, revising the rules and procedures, risk analysis, inventory of legal requirements, investigations and analyses, inspections, training, lockout and entry procedures, audits, committees, welcoming new employees, meetings, promotions, suggesting improvements, recommending corrective measures, and many other possibilities.

During his years of service, the employee will be entitled to regular evaluation meetings with their boss to show that their are fulfilling their role and to inform their boss about their particular support needs.

As for deviant behaviors, always keep in mind that they can not occur if they are not tolerated. For this reason, in most employment contracts, there is a gradation of sanctions targeting (specifically or not) OSH failures. This role of authority is performed by the manager along with the human resources department. But a minority of employees are involved in disciplinary measures, which is why good practice must also be strengthened.

When it comes to reinforcement, their is no room for improvisation. When it comes to acknowledging your employees' good performance, your imagination is the only limit: from a pat on the back to the recognition of the president, the team dinner and the privileged parking space, recognition must be present at all levels, and its deployment must be well defined.



In conclusion, always keep in mind that health and safety are the management of hazards and it is our legal obligation to eliminate and reduce hazards at the source. 

This is the management team's first commitment and a very strategic area in which to involve its employees in order to develop a healthy OHS culture.

Thereafter, the participation of all, at each organizational level, will be required for the implementation, revision, improvement and training as well as other factors that make up a company's health and safety management and human resource management systems. 

In short, health and safety culture is not something parallel to management, but something that is intrinsic to it. In other words, managing hazards means planning, organizing, directing and controlling hazards. 

In this respect, culture starts from the commitment of the highest level of management and cascades throughout the company by means of the participation and contribution of all hierarchical levels in terms of planning, organization and hazard control.

So if you want to stop dreaming of an OSH culture and actually want to get one, you have to do management and, unconditionally, get as many people as possible involved in the right areas. 

If you are stuck in the nightmare of involving people all over the place without having deployed a management system, continue to involve them at all levels, but stop the isolated actions and structure your management.