Safety Governance & Leadership

Safety Governance & Leadership

Safety Governance

When considering the role of board members and senior executives in health and safety governance it is necessary to consider the corporate governance framework in which they operate.

The concept of safety governance is designed to ensure that boards have the tools, knowledge and structures in place to maximise the safety performance of the organisations they govern and lead, beyond mere compliance with relevant safety legislation.

Safety governance is the relationship between board members and senior executives in the safety leadership of an organisation and provides:

  • The structure through which the vision and commitment to safety is set;
  • The means of attaining safety objectives are agreed;
  • The framework for monitoring performance is established; and
  • Compliance with relevant legislation is ensured.

Every organisation moves along a continuum as they develop a safety governance framework. It is essential to recognize where your organisation may sit in terms of safety governance maturity in order to influence change progressively and effectively.

To help identify where a board may currently sit in terms of their approach to safety governance, a five stage safety governance pathway has been developed based on research.

The five stages identified are:

Transactional – where the board takes a minimal approach and see safety as a management responsibility with the board generally only engaged after an incident has occurred.

Compliance – board is focused on their legal responsibilities and will ensure safety reporting is in place (initially focusing largely on lag indicators). Compliance with legislation is the main driver rather than seeking to understand factors such as safety leadership and its impact on safety culture.

Focused – where boards become more focused on issues beyond compliance, a vision for safety outcomes may be articulated, safety included in the board charter, lead indicators introduced.

Pro-active – in this stage boards are becoming much more comfortable with their role in safety leadership and may seek even greater safety performance, a board sub-committee focused on safety may be established, Chairman and CEO may make personal commitments to safety in annual reports.

Integrated – safety is completely integrated with the operations of the organisation. The link between high safety performance and business excellence (or safe production) is understood and accepted.

Safety Leadership

While often removed from day-to-day operations, board members and senior executives of large corporations set the tone and safety culture of an organisation through the questions they ask, the reporting they seek and the way they conduct themselves when visiting sites and interacting with employees.

The important safety leadership role of this group of senior leaders has regrettably been highlighted after recent high profile disasters such as the Pike River mine explosion and BP Texas City oil refinery fire.

Board members and senior executives demonstrate safety leadership in the boardroom through four key criteria –

Vision – this refers to a leader’s ability to publicly articulate shared safety goals that resonate across all levels of an organisation. Senior leaders demonstrating vision will inspire others, set high standards for safety behaviours, establish safety expectations and solicit commitments to safety from others.

Personal commitment – where leaders have a sincere, visible and genuine dedication to safety that demonstrates care for the welfare of others. Senior leaders with a personal commitment to safety exemplify a positive attitude to safety in the workplace, role model safe behaviours and help solve safety issues on behalf of employees.

Decision making – this involves promoting sound assessment of safety issues while also providing an opportunity for open communication between all levels of an organisation. Senior leaders promoting decision-making ensure safety concerns are heard and employees are included in the safety planning process.

Transparency – this involves being open to scrutiny of safety performance through monitoring and communicating the effectiveness of safety initiatives. Senior leaders demonstrate transparency through formal and informal communications which celebrate safety successes, as well as openly communicate safety challenges as they emerge.

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Safety Disclosures

Effective safety disclosures align with the key criteria of safety leadership as well as the safety governance frameworks of organisations. Rates of public disclosures of safety related activities have steadily increased over the past decade.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson’s PhD research identified 24 categories of safety disclosures that are included within annual reports and CSR reports. Each of these categories can be considered under the broader safety leadership criteria of vision, personal commitment, decision-making and transparency.

The research also identified the changing trends in safety disclosures over the past decade, as well as rates of disclosure by industry sector.

For further information, please download the whitepaper Going public on safety leadership – Best practice safety disclosures for annual reports and CSR reports-compressed or a copy of Dr Ferguson’s PhD thesis for a more detailed analysis.

About Dr Kirstin Ferguson

Dr Kirstin Ferguson has a PhD in the field of safety governance and safety leadership and was awarded the QUT Colin Brain Governance Fellowship, as well as the Dr Eric Wigglesworth Medal by the Safety Institute of Australia, for the contribution of her research to the field of corporate governance and workplace health and safety respectively.

Dr Ferguson is an Adjunct Professor at the QUT School of Business and has previously been CEO of a global health and safety organisation. She has written widely on safety governance and safety leadership in industry journals including OHS Professional, Safeguard Magazine, Safety Professional and IOSH Magazine.

Dr Ferguson has also spoken at numerous international conferences in her area of expertise including giving keynotes at the US National Safety Council Campbell Institute Symposium, UK IOSH conference, NZ Safeguard Conference and the Safety Institute of Australia Conference.

You can find out more about Kirstin’s professional career here.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson receiving the QUT Colin Brain Fellowship for her PhD research

Journal Articles

Connecting EHS and your Board – Campbell Institute, February 2017

How to launch a board career as a health and safety professional – SHP Online, June 2016

IOSH 2016 Conference preview (Interview with Dr Kirstin Ferguson) – IOSH Magazine, May 2016

Shifting the conversation : Moving away from ROI to aligning safety with business strategy – SHP Online, May 2016

Safety leadership at the top – SHP Online, March 2016

Health and Safety Guide : Good Governance for Directors – Institute of Directors NZ & Worksafe NZ, March 2016

Fit for purpose : Getting health and safety reporting right – SHP Online, February 2016

Becoming a health and safety leader – SHP Online, January 2016

Leading the way – Safeguard Magazine, January/February 2016

How to engage boards in safety – OHS Professional, December 2015

Beyond compliance : Applying a risk lens to your EHS practice – EHS Today whitepaper, October 2015

The vital role of OHS professionals in safety governance – OHS Professional, June 2015

Ask the Expert : The four criteria of safety leadership – National Safety, June 2015

The influence of safety leadership at board level – SHP Online, May 2015

Safety governance and leadership for directors and senior executives – NZ Business Leaders HSE Forum, May 2015

Getting business leaders more involved with health and safety – Radio NZ Nine to Noon, May 2015

Safety from the top down – Australasian Mine Safety Journal, April 2015

Getting safety on board – OHS Professional, December 2014

Interview on Mental Health in the Workplace
Safety Leadership for Boards and Senior Executives
Conference Speaker
Dr Kirstin Ferguson has opened international health and safety conferences including in the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia with her keynote addressed on health and safety leadership, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, and the importance of effective safety governance. Kirstin also discusses the importance of leading with emotional intelligence and building trust in workplace health and safety efforts.

Kirstin speaks from both her perspective of having been a CEO of an international health and safety organisation, a board director having chaired a number of health and safety committees as well as her award winning PhD research in the field.

For more information or to arrange Kirstin to speak at an event, please click here or submit an enquiry using the form below.

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