Health and Safety Help! - The importance of leadership in reforming health and safety culture


11 August 2020

Improving health and safety culture in your business has to start with leadership. Many companies will pride themselves on having ‘good’ health and safety; they have the policies drafted, hold regular health and safety meetings and undertake risk assessments.

But does this indicate good health and safety? There have been many occasions, even following an accident in the workplace, when an MD, CEO or board of directors have been astonished that this could have happened to them.

Whatever you may have thought of Margaret Thatcher’s political views and policies, she made a good point when she said “Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.” Leadership is at the heart of developing and maintaining a positive health and safety culture in the workplace. It is a matter for the board of directors to lead by example. The HSE recommend a four point agenda for “embedding the essential health and safety principles”. This agenda consists of core actions which allow the board or individual board members to set the right standard which can then be adopted by those they are leading in the business. An abbreviated version of the agenda is set out below.

  • Plan: whilst the board must set the direction for health and safety management, it must also establish that a health and safety policy is much more than a document.
  • Do: ensure you establish an effective management system; taking ownership and responsibility of health and safety.
  • Check: keep up to date with monitoring and reporting. It is essential that there is a robust system of monitoring in place.
  • Action: undertake a formal boardroom review of health and safety performance.

As Harold Geneen says, “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.” Being visible and walking the walk and taking the talk has a big impact on health and safety in the workplace.

Richard Branson said: “A good leader does not get stuck behind a desk.” Arguably, business leaders not only need to set the standards and see that they are complied with, but also to lead by example and in doing so, set the right tone within the business.

If you want to hear more about this subject and learn some useful tips from experts and those in the industry on engaging the workforce in the promotion and achievement of safe and healthy conditions, look out for details of our rescheduled annual Real Health and Safety Conference on our Events pages.

This article is from the summer 2020 edition of Health and Safety Help!, our newsletter for professionals tasked with health and safety matters. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at August 2020.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at August 2020.