Take a holistic approach to environmental health and safety

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With effective environmental, health & safety performance a fundamental responsibility of any organisation’s senior leadership, Chris Newson, Environment, Health & Safety Director at Make UK, explains the importance of taking a holistic approach which covers leadership, competency and compliance.

The most important responsibility a company has is to ensure that its people and environment are kept safe from harm. This is not just simply a box ticking exercise to comply with the law and avoid potential prosecution, but a moral imperative to ‘do the right thing’ by employees and the working environment. Those companies that take this view are far more likely to have better productivity, employee morale and better prospects for recruitment and retention of key staff.

Effective environmental, health & safety (EHS) performance within an organisation comes from the top. Senior leaders have both collective and personal responsibility for EHS and developing a positive workplace culture from the top down, which runs through the DNA of the company. For example, if managers are not seen to be wearing PPE then other employees are less likely to wear it. There is no point in training employees how to do risk assessments if pressure from senior management means there isn’t time to do them or if they are seen as a cost. Put simply, EHS initiatives that don’t have the full and active support of senior leaders who own it and drive it through the organisation are doomed to failure.

Rather than looking at EHS initiatives as ‘we’ll send you on a training course’, the best companies take a far more holistic approach which looks at a training programme at three levels and, which benefits people at all levels of the organisation. These are leadership, competency and compliance.

Leadership ensures that any senior management team has a buy-in and becomes an asset rather than an obstacle to organisational change. To get your senior team on board, you need to demonstrate why they should care and then give them the tools to do something about it, not just offer off-the-shelf training. Additionally, leaders need to make tangible commitments and measure success.

Competence is described as having “sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities”, which comes from a variety of sources. For EHS practitioners, this is likely to come from qualifications provided by organisations such as the Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) or the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA). Both of these organisations provide resources and tools, research and knowledge sharing, along with training and qualifications to meet the real-world needs of employees.

Finally, compliance training is a crucial type of training needed to inform employees of an organisation’s regulations, policies, or adherence to laws. Compliance training is often mandatory for employees because it serves to protect an organisation’s values, policies, and commitment to the law. Such training could include data and cyber security, data protection and GDPR, basic health and safety training, environmental management, and anti-bullying. However, it will largely depend on the type of activity your organisation is involved in, and training for banking and insurance will be somewhat different for those involved in manufacturing.

By following these three guiding principles, organisations can make a very real difference to their workplace culture and not just keep their people and environment safe from harm, but make a real difference to their performance.

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