Is Health and Safety on the Balance Sheet?
It is unlikely you’ll see Health and Safety Culture on company balance sheets, but there is plenty of evidence to say that it is one of the largest assets or liabilities. Financial performance is strongly interconnected to risk management maturity, and today’s smart leaders know that health and safety must be strategically linked to every decision, and every employee.
Building a mature health and safety culture is easy at first, but it requires true leadership to transform it from: ‘employees may unfortunately be harmed physically or mentally’ (think stressed), to demonstrating: ‘employees are our greatest asset, their wellbeing is more important than profit’.
Lip service and posters won’t do it anymore. Conveniently low ‘lost time’ or historical ‘injury statistics’ won’t reassure future Boards or Investors. Just a guess at the quality of health and safety culture will be seen the same as a guess at the financial wellbeing of a business. Broadcasting objectives focused on injury and fatality rates, and then doing more of the same that caused them in the first place will be judged as just plain lazy.
An immature health and safety culture risks employee and business harm, and is not good enough any longer. Measurement, better understanding, and improvement are now the work of senior managers and leaders everywhere.
What to do?
First, put some architecture in place to inform and prioritize action plans.
Ask for, and get some agreement about what the future safety of employees should look like. That shouldn’t be too hard. No one comes to work to be harmed, and no Board, CEO or Executive wants an employee injured or killed on their watch.
Then find out the status quo. Measure the current health and safety culture, and why it exists in its current form. Are employees fearful about the response they’ll get to an incident? Can they challenge the decisions of those with more authority? Will they stop unsafe work no matter who is doing it? Is H&S seen as a risk focused on compliance, or as a strategic advantage that improves value?
Blame, fear, complacency, and lack of awareness are all aspects of culture we’ve identified tens of thousands of times in our surveys, but only once a light is shone on them is anything done to improve them.
Once you have the results from a robust measurement tool create a list of what is most critical, where there are quick wins, and what will provide the best return on effort.
Then, take action.
Include human centred safety KPIs into executive and management objectives. Educate Board members about the importance of health and safety culture and ask a powerful influencer to champion its improvement. Find ways to make health and safety a competitive advantage to attract future employees, customers and investors. Measure and report progress regularly.
Build a feedback loop.
Try stuff. Your action plans won’t always work as intended, so find out fast if what you’re doing is getting the outcomes you want – or not. If they aren’t, try something else.
Use dashboards benchmarked against your survey results to check the risks that really matter are being reduced, and you are getting the benefits you wanted.
Human centred activity will quickly morph into tinkering around with technical detail if it is not constantly reinforced during the early stages of culture improvement, so keep asking what tangible things are being done to change the culture, are they working, how are they being measured.
Keep referring back to the original architecture to check if you’re moving closer to it, or away from it.
Remember building a health and safety culture that is worthy of being included on the balance sheet is a journey with lots of ups and downs, but in doing so you’ll be ahead of the pack as perceptions about employee health and safety are inevitably transformed.