The fish rots from the head down

Fish, according to popular wisdom, always rots from the head down. Consequently, regulations and standards insist on the involvement of top management in all business dynamics related to safety. Undoubtedly, top management defines the entire company policy, and therefore also that of safety. It establishes plans and programs for the future development of the organization, and it allocates resources. Making the long story short, top management makes the choices for the company’s strategy, in that never ending war which is the conquest of the market. Safety is just one of its various aspects; its relevance within the overall strategy of the organization can derive, for example, from the necessity to comply with the laws. However, this is the minimum degree; this kind of attitude will quickly present major limitations. For some divine curse, in fact, the law identifies the minimum expected behaviour to obtain a result, however, which is always the maximum: the complete protection of the psychophysical integrity of the worker. It is like a paradox of ancient Greek philosophy, whereby it is possible to reach the goal only when you decide to overcome it, which means that full compliance with the requirements of the standard can only be achieved by considering having to go beyond those.

When planning a goal of this kind, there is no need to be frightened by ethical considerations: there are markets in which the safety of workers and the protection of the environment are held in high regard, and companies that fail to take care of them cannot enter or have a short life. These are all those in which organizations are exposed to the action of large pressure groups, which may be such because they are made up of numerous subjects, such as consumer associations, or because they have great capacity for action, such as banks. For companies that decide to compete in these markets, complying with the law is only a starting point, because they know that their ability to do business will be greatly affected by the reputation they will be able to earn.

Once the management of an organization has defined the extent and objectives of its effort, whether it should limit itself to just obtaining compliance with legal standards, clearly for fear of the punishments that may be incurred, or whether it wants to go further, perhaps to access more profitable markets, it will have to adopt strategies to maximize the economical return. In this situation, we are led to focus on the technical and regulatory aspect, neglecting that the tendency of human groups to adapt to the messages and concrete behaviours of leaders, is an aspect that techno-geeks lead to underestimate. All this within any kind of organization, no matter how extensive, because the same dynamics present in any social sphere apply. A health, safety, and environment plan should therefore assign some resources to these issues, defining a communication strategy that has in the company management and in other leadership roles, such as elderly workers with respected experience, or young technicians of recognized competence, its own active testimonials.

The goal of an HSE communication strategy is undoubtedly to reinforce the importance of this aspect, in the eyes of all members of the community-organization, and it is pursued:

  • Adopting widespread behaviours of compliance with the rules.
  • Giving open support to those who respect them and to those who are committed to their control.
  • Recalling anyone who does not respect these rules, in a constant and irrelevant way of the role they occupy in the organization.

Informal behaviours of peers and superiors have a great influence on the perception of how health, safety and environmental protection are taken into consideration in the workplace: in small and less structured companies, the management is close to production activities, so it must be directly involved in these tasks. In the more structured ones, it will be appropriate to plan public initiatives, to make explicit the support of the management.

These can be, for example, periodic inspections conducted by top management in the production areas, together with the safety manager and the department managers, to be able to promptly intervene on the conditions encountered, naturally respecting the rules in force, such as the use of PPE, the smoking ban, respect for transit and safety areas… These inspections should be conducted with a frequency such as to avoid any kind of preventive staging, so to show the working conditions as they actually are every day and to ensure the workers on the sincerity of the objectives.

To obtain the maximum result, it is advisable to implement a communication campaign: a program, and resources, for at least one year, will avoid the counterproductive effects due to the silent renunciation of any initiative, because no plan was made. The elements of the campaign may concern, for example:

  • Incentive campaigns for the virtuous behaviour of workers, with bonuses paid directly to them or – better – money sums set aside by the company for social objectives, agreed with the workers themselves or their representatives.
  • Periodic campaigns on issues relating to safety and the environment, perhaps with objectives related to work, such as cleaning an area, the maintenance of a machine.
  • Bulletin board and poster communications.
  • Meetings and, why not, parties.

Author: Antonio Pedna

Independent QHSE Manager & Adviser | Master of Architecture and Construction Engineering | TechIOSH

I am a specialist in QHSE in large construction sites with over 20 years of experience in the building business.

Based between Izmir, Turkey and Milan, Italy, I work in the world of large infrastructure projects in Italy, Africa and Middle East, a highly competitive environment, where the attention to technical detail, organization, management and reporting is taken to extremes.

I’m chartered Architect, Master of Architecture and Construction Engineering, Technical Member IOSH (TechIOSH), I achieved the NEBOSH International General Certificate in Health and Safety (NEBOSH IGC) and I’m qualified Safety Manager and Safety Coordinator (RSPP, CSP/CSE according to the Italian regulations) and qualified lead/third part auditor for management systems.