Levels of health and safety at workplaces
Upholding acceptable levels of health and safety at workplaces is critical to the productivity and well-being of all people occupying a premise, and to the overall performance and integrity of an organization and the growth of national economy (Hopkins 2002). According to Fleming & Lardner (2002), occupational health and safety is commonly protected through legislation, programmes, best practices, services and standards devised to prevent occupational injuries and accidents. For example, labour programmes proactively work with employers toward reducing job-related illness and injuries through provision of information aimed at bolstering health and safety within organizations.
Every organization is expected by law to have a management system in place to help: observe workplace, machinery, materials and premises safety; inform people on how to protect themselves or react in case of an accident; provide employees’ compensation in the event of challenges related to occupational injuries, illnesses or accidents; and, comply with health and safety policies (Taylor 2012). Compliance with these responsibilities and requirements prevents an organization from experiencing occupational health and safety issues, thus eliminating prosecution and/or penalty problems. However, “effectively managing for health and safety is not just about having a management or safety management system. The success of whatever process or system is in place still hinges on the attitudes and behaviours of people in the organisation”, and this is the core this research. Therefore, this paper seeks to critically evaluate how attitudes and behaviours at work impacts on the effectiveness of implemented health and safety management system – processes, guidelines and policies.
What is SMS?
A Safety Management System (SMS) refers to a documented formal organizational approach to health and safety management, which entails systematic, top-down business structures, policies, procedures and accountabilities to guide parties (employer and employees) in adhering to safe occupational habits in the course of their day to day work (Glendon, Clarke, McKenna 2006). An SMS includes industry and global best practices and standards in addition to relevant legislation elements to help implement effective health and safety control measures in a structured scheme (HSE 2013). All parties are obligated to comply with provisions of implemented SMS to ensure they are assured of proper prevention from risks associated with occupational health and safety, and are at disposal of remediation or recovery capabilities in the event that a disaster strikes.
As a best practice, organizations should seek approval from an independent audit authority or regulators to ensure that their SMS solutions are effective in proactively mitigating against health and safety risks. An SMS solution provides a business with the capability to (Broadbent 2004):
- Effectively identify risks and mitigation procedures.
- Gain a baseline audit consideration elements for regular assessment of health and safety policies, programmes and procedures.
- Make sound decisions with respect to health and safety risk control.
- Guarantee health and safety to all parties hence improving workforce productivity and confidence and the overall business performance.
- Achieve an interface for effective knowledge and information sharing between the business and safety regulators.
- Bolster customer confidence and trust, because people would like to be associated with an organization that upholds occupational safety.
- Meet legal obligations with respect to occupational health and safety laws and regulations.
- Promote a solid health and safety culture.
Attitude and behaviour
Attitudes consist of a relatively persistent set of feelings, beliefs, perceptions, and behavioural inclinations toward personally-tied social groups or symbols. An attitude makes an individual to psychologically tend to evaluate a certain entity with some degree of effectiveness or cognition. Attitudes play a key role in shaping an individual’s behaviours by influencing how one acts or behaves depending on particular beliefs and conditions. Behaviour is a collection of actions done by an individual or a group. It is the consequent of conscious and/or subconscious thoughts. Organizational management are presented with all kinds of employees with disparate personalities, attitudes and behaviours, and they must work towards adjusting them to leverage their positive aspects (Kreitner 2008).
How SMS relates to the attitude and behaviour (critique of the statement)
HSE (2013) observed that “effectively managing for health and safety is not just about having a management or safety management system. The success of whatever process or system is in place still hinges on the attitudes and behaviours of people in the organisation”. How true is this statement? Is having a sound SMS enough to militate against health and safety risks or there are some human elements such as attitudes and behaviours that promote the effectiveness of such a safety management solution? Guldenmund (2000) stresses that a vibrant, sound SMS solution stems from workers’ dedication towards upholding the “right” thing as stipulated in the SMS policies and procedures at all times, even when safety agents are not around. This way, all the safety aspects are complied with leaving no room for overlooking any SMS provision. Therefore, the effectiveness of an SMS solution lies in employees’ adherence to positive attitudes and behaviours toward particular implement SMS’s health and safety provisions.
Although compliance with implemented SMSs is always mandatory, the decision to always follow stated procedures, policies or codes or not to rests with individual workers (Cooper 2000). Individual actions constitute a considerable element of effectiveness of an SMS rather than the sheer volume and depth of the safety framework. Therefore, it is important to sufficiently focus on addressing human aspects of SMS implementation rather than investing too much effort towards the formal, systematic documentation of health and safety controls. OSHA (2014) claims that the focus should be on human elements of instilling a positive attitude to workers as well as creating awareness on safe habits to help incline behaviours of the workforce towards adopting the implemented SMS. This way, both formal and human elements of health and safety will be considered in the SMS implementation, leveraging its capacity to truly control risks.
HSE (2013) notes that effective management of health and safety is beyond merely implementing an SMS, but success remains in creating a safety culture, which rests on the organizational workforce’s attitudes and behaviours. This translates to: are people doing what they are required to do? The policies and procedures may be provided, but do people have positive attitudes and behaviour with regard to health and safety practices. What are the implications of undertaking health or safety procedures badly or ignoring them? To a large extent, attitudes and behaviours constitute cultural issues and musts be considered in the implementation of an SMS to bolster its effectiveness (Cooper 2000; Hopkins 2002). Therefore, organizations should plan for proper change management scheme through training and promotional campaigns to enhance SMS acceptance and create a positive culture characterized by positive attitudes and behaviours regarding health and safety. This way, people will comply with provisions of an SMS as a formality or culture regardless of whether enforcement personnel are present or not. Consequently, the effectiveness of SMS solution is inclined towards better success.
Lack of dedication of the workforce in complying with an SMS is one of the major reasons behind poor health and safety practices, despite presence of safety guidelines, standards, policies and procedures (Roughton & Mercurio 2002). Legally, organizations are supposed to provide information, train, and involve and consult the workforce in full participation in the health and safety management. Effective workforce involvement and consultation creates a positive culture, whereby employer-employee relationships are based on trust, joint brainstorming and problem solving, communication, and collaboration (Blewett & Shaw 2001). Involving employees in identifying, assessing and devising mitigation measures eliminate challenges that may arise from a feeling that implemented health and safety policies and procedures are imposed on them, an issue that may cause negative attitudes and behaviours (Taylor 2012). Consequently, the effectiveness of the SMS is hindered due to issues such as workforce rejection or reluctance to adopt specified safe practices. Therefore, the importance of influencing the workforce towards SMS improved acceptability and compliance with health and safety requirements cannot be ignored.
Safety arrangements that deny employees a chance to be heard are more likely to face rejection issues (HSE 2013). Consequently, the workforce may have negative attitudes toward implemented health and safety measures. In addition, the workforce may practice unsafe work habits either intentionally as a protest or unknowingly due to lack of training and/or instruction. For example, the workforce may be short of information about safe use of equipment leading into health hazards such as injuries. As a result, the sheer SMS implementation is rendered ineffective.
Research on occupational health and safety has confirmed that creating a sound safety culture has the greatest single impact on reduction of accidents and injuries (OSHA 2014). Therefore, organizational management must treat creation of this culture a top priority. A safety culture constitutes shared practices, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions regarding occupational health and safety issues that exist in an organization. According to Fleming & Lardner (2002), a safety culture is what creates attitudes that shape human behaviour; therefore, such a culture makes everyone to feel more responsible for health and safety and pursue it at all times.
With proper attitudes and behaviours toward safety, employees tend to go beyond implemented safety management controls to identify and assess unsafe conditions, and try to remedy them. A company whose workforce have positive attitudes and behaviours regarding work safety typically experiences limited at-risk incidents, consequently reducing accident rates, staff turnover, penalties, and absenteeism, while bolstering productivity (Broadbent 2004). Of great relevance to occupational health and safety is a model of workforce attitude and behaviour transformation (Glendon, Clarke, McKenna 2006). This is a key driver of a safety culture that collectively entail values, attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Consequently, employees and the public are enabled to act in a manner that makes them truly healthy and safe within particular premises.
For example, in a sound safety culture environment all workers would feel confident and comfortable reminding colleagues and the management to wear personal protective equipment such as sun glasses or gloves. Such attitudes and behaviours would not be perceived as over-zealous by anybody, but would be greatly valued by the company and possibly rewarded. When everyone acts responsibly by routinely looking out for the welfare of co-workers and pointing out unsafe practices and behaviours it becomes easier to follow set health and safety policies and procedures, thus boosting the effectiveness of the implemented SMS solution. Therefore, the effectiveness of an SMS solution greatly relies on the intention (attitudes governing the understanding and implementation of safe principles) and the ability (behavioural practices involving personal desire to comply with safe principles) of people towards observing an organization-wide health and safety culture rather than the sheer documentation of safe work practices.
Health and safety management is a fundamental organizational process that must be considered with seriousness evident in other business management aspects. An SMS provides solutions geared towards mitigating against organization-wide risks in business operations through a set of procedures, policies and processes that all parties must comply with in order to enhance workplace safety. Creating a significantly safe working environment is crucial to business success as it helps maximize staff productivity and retain employees. Organizations have a legal responsibility to ensure that their businesses do not cause health or safety problems to staff and the public.
It is evident that occupational health and safety co-exists with many factors, and human elements of attitudes and behaviours play an integral role in achieving considerable SMS solution’s effectiveness. A sound health and safety culture in an organization is a fundamentally valuable thing, an implementation that every company must develop internally. For effective running of an SMS solution, organizations must sufficiently and timely involve and consult employees in the entire course of identification and planning from remediation procedures to ensure acceptability and eventually instil a positive attitude and behaviour in the workforce. Through an effective change management plan, organizations are able to instruct and train the workforce on healthy and safe practices. This plays an integral role in shaping the workforce’s attitudes and behaviours toward understanding, embracing and practising health and safety requirements when doing their job. Therefore, organizational leadership must devise ways to build and enhance desired levels of safety culture in order to achieve effective SMS solutions.
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