Workplace Safety: From Compliance to Effective Risk Management

The creation of safer work environments developed largely as a result of legislative and regulatory requirements. Gradually, however, organisations have become increasingly proactive about workplace safety, recognizing it as an effective means of risk management, resulting not only in a better work environment, but a more profitable one too.Workplace safety, traditionally an area defined – and dominated – by regulatory compliance, is progressing into one of the foremost areas of risk management for companies. Firms – in particular those operating on a global scale – are recognizing the economic and management benefits of moving away from site-specific solutions, and embracing firm-wide safety management systems.Firms operating from, and within, the US are bound by the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) regulations, as set out in the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act [1970]. This Act requires that all employers covered under the Act provide safe and hazard-free workplace and employment, as well as complying with the standards set out in the Act. Moreover, it authorizes the US Department of Labor to conduct inspections and propose penalties for violations of the Act; currently there are over 2000 nationwide inspectors, and over 200 offices nationwide, tasked with providing technical and investigative support to ensure the application of, and compliance with, the Act.Companies initially responded to these regulations by implementing systems on a department-by-department basis. These systems were primarily designed to keep records and report relevant incidents, thereby ensuring appropriate compliance with the Act’s provisions. In addition, the systems were generally department-specific, focusing on precise areas addressed in the Act (such as Waste Management, Incident Tracking, and Air Emissions Management); while larger companies tended to use external systems developed by consulting firms, many developed their own in-house arrangements. In both cases, this resulted in systems implemented on a site-by-site basis, without regard for a cohesive, firm-wide application. Even now, many companies still operate such patchwork systems, resulting in difficulties with information collation and reporting, as well as more fundamental issues with the management and sharing of EH&S information on a firm-wide basis.Matters started to improve in the late 90s, with the creation of The Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Services (OHSAS) Project Group. This international collaboration was designed to address the confusion and fragmentation of global health and safety systems by creating a single unified approach. In 1999, the Group published the OHSAS 18000 Series, which had two specifications: 18001, which provided requirements for an OHS management system; and 18002 which gave implementation guidelines. In particular, 18001 was designed to enable companies to develop and register integrated quality, environmental and occupational safety and health management systems.In addition to this global initiative, firms are more and more embracing environmental health and safety issues beyond mere compliance: it is increasingly seen as a risk-management issue, with the result that systems are being developed and implemented on a firm-wide basis, designed for incident prevention rather than mere reporting and information gathering. With the greater globalization of firms, this translates into global-wide systems, collating and reporting on issues on a multi-jurisdictional basis.Furthermore, it is no longer accepted as sufficient for EH&S systems to work independently of other business management systems. To ensure comprehensive and efficient application of the OHSAS framework, as well as total compliance with regulatory requirements at state levels, systems ideally should operate alongside the firm’s global Enterprise Resource Planning, and be recognized as an essential component of such. This requires the application and integration of fundamental safety modules, including: Inspection and Audit; Incident Management; Document Management; Training & Personnel Management; and Corrective Action.Finally, to ensure both effective risk management and comprehensive compliance, while retaining a global presence, a firm’s EH&S systems should be designed “from the ground up”, with input from relevant line-managers to ensure cohesive and widely-accepted application, as well as comprehensive integration with existing systems. Flexibility and accessibility is also essential, to ensure effective enterprise-wide reporting by key personnel.

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