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Fit for purpose : Getting health and safety reporting right

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Health and safety professionals are constantly being asked to refine, improve or change their regular reports to their boards and executive teams. But why do safety reports matter so much? And how do you know what will work best? Professional company director and international health and safety expert Dr Kirstin Ferguson offers some suggestions.

A key opportunity for health and safety professionals to demonstrate thought leadership in health and safety, lies in the quality of the internal reporting being produced for senior executive teams or for the Board. In board meetings there is a much greater focus on the usefulness of health and safety reports being produced, regardless of industry. Further, as the safety governance approach of an organisation matures, so too does the expectations and knowledge of those receiving the reports. For example, as board directors become more experienced in reading and analysing health and safety reports it drives an ever increasing expectation of better quality reporting from health and safety professionals within the business. This provides a real opportunity for the health and safety profession to add value and influence the quality of health and safety discussions inside boardrooms.

Often I hear from health and safety professionals who feel frustrated by the low level of discussion during board meetings, where much time is spent on minor incidents. When you delve deeper into the dynamics of the board discussions around health and safety, more often than not the reporting template being used is inadvertently creating these frustrations.

Health and safety professionals should work closely with their CEO and board on getting reporting right and understand that what is ‘right’ will continue to evolve. It is essential that health and safety reporting focus on the metrics and commentary most helpful to driving positive safety outcomes, as the board discussion that follows will reflect the quality of the report received. For example, if your reporting focuses primarily on lag indicators then the conversation will most likely focus on minor personal injuries including slips, trips and falls – rather than the significant near miss that also happened during the month but which either wasn’t included in the report or was not even captured.

The best reporting, both written and oral, makes health and safety relevant and interesting. On one board I sat on as a director there was a particular hazard which had been raised in a board paper for discussion and we talked about the hazards based on the written description in the monthly board report. As we were relying on words to explain a very technical task, it was difficult for board members to really appreciate the risks involved. The next month the health and safety professional presented the same task to the board, but this time presented a video of it being undertaken by an employee, while talking through the risks and the mitigation strategies being adopted. A much more robust discussion followed!

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