The official online extension of HR Professional, the magazine of human resources thought leadership

Promoting a Culture of Health and Safety

10/19/2016 by Kim Takata

The role of human resources in integration, cultural alignment

No one understands the nuances of an organization to the extent that the HR department does. HR has the opportunity to partner with and influence many internal teams because they understand how roles, policies and procedures, business requirements, culture and structure all support the strategic priorities of the organization.

With an aging workforce, constant legislative changes and new hazards emerging daily – including fatigue, mental health, violence and harassment and post-traumatic stress disorder – the role of HR continues to shift and expand. While HR leaders may not necessarily know the ins and outs of health and safety (H&S) from a technical perspective, they are expected to respond appropriately to H&S issues and challenges as they arise. Recognizing the importance of this is critical in promoting and sustaining an effective internal responsibility system (IRS).

Roles and responsibilities

For smaller organizations, HR is often responsible for H&S, making it easier to address, promote and identify issues. However, in larger organizations, HR will often work in tandem with a dedicated H&S manager or department. These separate roles can become siloed, and perhaps even compete for resources; yet, when integrated, these allied forces can create a positive impact across the organization.
How can an organization integrate the roles and responsibilities of both HR and H&S departments to provide innovative solutions for workers? How can H&S leaders work optimally in partnership with employers, employees and unions to mitigate operational losses, occupational health issues, accidents and injuries? SUBHEAD: Ensuring alignment and integration with all employees

Since H&S has long been viewed as the responsibility of everyone in an organization, HR can play a key role in bringing alignment and facilitating conversations. HR can work alongside the H&S manager to support that role, and/or be part of a joint H&S committee. Both roles can work together to develop policies and advocate for H&S while at the same time overseeing communications and reporting. Alignment where there is overlap will also assist with a more engaged workforce – it’s important for HR to play a key role in representing workers, providing support for safety concerns, coaching and providing additional H&S training.

Preventing and managing emerging workplace health and safety issues

Recently, issues like workplace mental health, workplace violence as well as responding appropriately to aggressive behaviours are becoming major concerns for Canadian employers. The effects of all are costly to both the worker and organization. Organizations are asking: what needs to happen in the workplace to successfully implement a program? Where do you start to garner support and inspire and unite workers in an attempt to bring about meaningful change? The first step is laying the foundation for success in the area of physical and psychological occupational H&S. Identifying the risks, controlling the hazards and ensuring workplaces have the necessary tools to meet legislative requirements are all part of aligning with the work environment as well as the culture and system within an organization. To help workplaces embrace a participatory approach to H&S, it is important to allow people to come together to discuss the cause or problem and work collaboratively to devise strategies or methods for action.

There are many different approaches that can be applied in the workplace. For example, a tiered approach requires the assignment of a “change team” to identify and analyze relevant issues and propose, implement or monitor potential solutions. Training and education is then part of the implementation process and will help build capacity to tackle the issues.

Why a safety culture?

Implementing a culture of H&S ultimately means increased work satisfaction combined with decreased absenteeism and overtime. This means increased productivity and quality of service.
The roadmap to success also requires an effective H&S management system at the top, which includes the following pillars:

  • Leadership and commitment
  • Hazard identification and risk assessment
  • Risk management and control 
  • Evaluation and corrective action 
  • Strategic review and continual improvement

Once established, workplaces can begin to fill gaps between knowledge and evidence available across various sectors by providing optimal solutions for managing these types of issues in the workplace.

The responsibility for a safe and healthy workplace falls on every person in the workplace to the degree they have the authority and ability to exercise it. Through a participatory approach, workplace parties become actively involved in the recognition, assessment and control of workplace issues. This approach usually begins as a grassroots movement that integrates H&S into all aspects of work. Once it is embedded into the core of business operations, the participatory approach becomes the norm, creating a greater sense of community and an opportunity to shift organizational safety culture.

Kim Takata is manager, Human Resources and Employee Relations at the Public Services Health & Safety Association.