By Michael Brittliff
With the processes involved in bringing workers back into pre-COVID workplaces, risk management and planning within health and safety management systems are paramount. It’s also important to confirm that workplace conditions are safe for workers to return to. We all need to assess our monitoring programs and ensure that such programs reflect the changes to workplace conditions both at home and at work.
With our ever-changing environment there is an enhanced appreciation that a robust risk management framework will surely underpin all safety decisions moving forward. We know that for most workplaces, the risk profile will need reviewing and, as outlined in ISO 45001, having a greater understanding of the context of the organization will certainly benefit. We know that safety management systems will need to evolve to mitigate the current and foreseeable risks to the business. Change management processes will become familiar territory as many of us will work with change every day. With it will come simplified and more efficient ways to process change. This new environment means we have to trust our workers, as we realize we can’t be watching them all the time and, more importantly, with change happening all the time, we can’t prescribe the controls and procedures for every risk they may encounter in their work.
There is a real likelihood some elements of our safety system will be made redundant.
I see this as an opportunity rather than a burden. It is an opportunity to re-balance your system. If we can get the fundamentals working really well, for example our training and competency programs for workers and supervisors, we can rely on people’s expertise and insight to support normal work as it is done. This allows us to fine-tune our application of risk and change management, of course always considering the hierarchy of control. However, when it comes to administrative controls, we should have the competency to know what is a hard and fast, black and white rule vs. the situations where more flexibility is possible. The recent Body of Knowledge publication on Rules and Procedures mentions defining our “Hard Boundaries” for safety and those opportunities to deviate from the rules/procedures should the work situation require it (and provided it is safe to do so). A healthy consultative framework that engages the right people in discussions around procedures will be imperative to ensuring effective implementation of the process.
Yes, we need procedures and yes, we need rules—and they need to be simple and clear to the end user. However, more than ever a balanced and adaptive safety system is required. If we move too far one way or the other in our system, i.e., no defined or hard boundaries or too many prescriptive rules, we will erode the trust that we are trying to instill in our workers, they will lose the independence to make decisions about their work, and tasks will be seen as compliance-driven with big brother checking our every step. A balanced and adaptable system will only enhance the trust that has started to emerge through these changing times.
About the author
Michael Brittliff is a health and safety professional with more than 20 years of experience providing OHS consulting and auditing services to a range of industries across Australia. He is currently a founder and director of Verus Australia, an Exemplar Global-certified master OHS management systems auditor and Queensland government-approved self-insurance auditor. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.verus.com.au.