Workplace health and safety (WHS) officers have a strict and uncompromising responsibility to both workers and the workplaces they are employed in. Their main focus is the prevention of accidents, injuries and work-related illnesses in the workplace. That means understanding the latest legislation and industry best practice, creating and implementing health and safety policies, and exercising the appropriate due diligence at all times. It is an obligation that is ongoing, which means WHS officers are on duty every minute of every day, not just when an incident occurs. Now, despite the complex nature of the role, there is one fundamental problem that WHS officers often tell me they face and that is effectively communicating their health and safety message to the broader business. Even with the most thorough and carefully written policies, procedures and plans, if WHS officers can’t get the whole organisation on board, they will struggle to create the safest possible workplace.
The Importance of Communication
Communication is vital to any successful leadership role, whether it is in a small team or a large organisation. Without using the right strategies, information will be misunderstood, forgotten or simply ignored. And, communicating isn’t as easy as just saying your well-rehearsed monologue as and when it suits. Messages need to come at the right time and be delivered in the right way if an audience is to be engaged and feel involved in what you’re saying.
Effective communication is especially important when it comes to conveying health and safety messages. If the wrong message (or no message) is received, the result can be dangerous as employees and contractors can become safety risks to themselves and others.
What Barriers do WHS Officers Face?
There are generally two key groups that WHS officers need to approach, and each has its own challenges. Firstly, they need to get executive level ‘buy in’ to make health and safety a priority. They need to find ways to make senior leadership sit up and listen, using terms and language appropriate for promoting health safety initiatives alongside other key business priorities. Secondly, they need to get wider teams and groups to adopt their health and safety initiatives. Both can be an upward battle, albeit for different reasons:
- Getting the senior management onboard – the challenge here is getting the executive team to sit up and listen. WHS officers are fighting against a mountain of other priorities in the boardroom; it’s easy for health and safety to be side-lined.
- Engaging the workforce – workers don’t always feel involved in the plans that come from the WHS team. It can feel far removed from their actual job and they may be reluctant to take on the additional tasks. People however, often welcome new initiatives when they feel like they have contributed to them. If they don’t believe that their ideas are listened to, they may be reluctant to commit to the WHS process. On top of that, if the messages aren’t being supported by the upper management, they may deduce that safety in actual fact isn’t a priority.
WHS officers face the challenge of communicating at all levels within an organisation. They need to find a way to make everyone understand the importance of safety and buy in to the process
How Can WHS Officers Improve Communication
Improving communication has the power to boost safety culture and make WHS a shared responsibility, and that makes the job of a WHS officer significantly easier. Fortunately, there are several steps that can be taken to improve communication:
- Start at the top – safety messaging should be driven from the executive level. WHS officers need to help them to understand the importance of safety for the business. Once they get the message that safety reduces staff attrition, increases productivity, reduces costs and boosts brand, they are much more likely to pay attention.
- Listen to workers – communication is a two-way street and, as such, feedback should be encouraged. Workers should feel able to voice their opinions and concerns without any fear of negative consequences. Sometimes letting workers express their thoughts anonymously can encourage engagement.
- Act on feedback – encouraging feedback is no good if it isn’t taken seriously. Workers should be able to see that issues are listened to and acted upon. This will empower them to become involved in safety initiatives.
- Accept criticism – we all have room for improvement, so if feedback is directed at WHS officers, it should be taken as constructive criticism. After all, the aim is to achieve safety compliance, and that means doing everything effectively, including all safety-related roles.
- Empower workers – if you want your workers to report hazards and safety incidents promptly, you need to make it easy for them. Communication should be simple and facilitated by technology and online tools where relevant.
- Report back to the top – as we’ve mentioned, the role of a WHS officer is ongoing, and communication should form a continuous loop. And when workers realise that their reports and feedback form part of a broader business vision, they will be encouraged to keep working towards safety goals.
Ultimately, if everyone understands the importance of safety initiatives, the processes for measuring risks, implementing controls and ultimately improving the business, then they will be far more likely to get on board. And the only way to ensure they understand is to communicate effectively. By communicating and building a safety culture, WHS officers will face far fewer problems in achieving their WHS goals. And, that means a safer workplace.
For over a decade, Conserve has helped organisations overcome contractor management challenges. We can help you develop a contractor management service that will be not only effective but will make your organisation safer, while minimising your overall risk. Request a demo now or visit the Conserve page for more great content.
Subscribe to our newsletter