The articles, experiences and studies on the topic of leadership are countless and their aim is to clarify the scope of a widely shared but hard to define subject.
Of the many descriptions available, we propose that of Warren Bennis, who describes leadership as the “ability to transform vision into reality”. In general organizational terms, it is clearly a complex but generally known process consisting of the concrete activation of objectives and strategies expressed by the Management. When put in the setting of workers’ health and safety, the borders of this concept seems however to become blurred.
When discussing safety, the Employer is generally seen as the person with the greatest legal responsibility, in reference to workers’ rights and duties.
Many company departments (but not all of them yet, unfortunately) have, in time, accepted the systematic management of safety, through implementation of a voluntary standard of excellence.
In both Legislative decree no. 81/08 (law) and OHSAS 18001/2007 (voluntary standard), the Employer is only involved with regard to decision making and expenditure, little more than within the scope of the traditional “command & control” system.
Ever since Legislative decree no. 626/1994, however, the main focus has been on the human factor.
How can it be that, despite talking with increasing emphasis on the awareness, involvement and behaviour of workers, coordinators and managers, people have been forgotten about the Employer?
That is indeed the case but, fortunately, the new version of the OHSAS 18001 standard, called ISO 45001:2018, helps to fill this gap.
Within the next few months, companies that apply an Occupational Health and Safety Management System will have to meet the specific requirements laid down by this new standard. The previous version laid down that the Management should set objectives, establish guiding principles and provide dedicated resources. One fundamental need had not, however, been expressed but has now fortunately emerged: Occupational Health and Safety Management has been given the place it deserves within the general company management, strengthening a process of profusion of responsibility and awareness, increasingly less tied to the management (almost exclusive) of the company’s Health and Safety Department.
Paraphrasing Maslow and his theory of needs, the need for the health and physical safety of people must not be relegated to a secondary level of attention. On the contrary, involvement and awareness, vital elements for effectively preventing accidents, must be guaranteed.
From this point of view, the new 45001 standard requests the company management to supplement the exercise of “management” (in the sense of hierarchy and formal influence on the structure) with that of leadership, that is, the implementation of voluntary actions with a “social” and cultural influence, in order to establish the company’s values, to set an example and promote the personal protection objectives themselves.
Leadership may colloquially be translated as a request to management to make its presence felt: in the field, through constant dialogue with the worker, the organization of events (safety walks) and awareness campaigns with direct, visible encouragement from the management; in the offices, through the elaboration and analysis of specific KPIs of a high management level, not only the classical accident frequency and gravity indexes but also the assessment of trends, drifts and economic impacts of health and safety performance. This serves to reach a dual aim: personal protection and safeguarding of the company’s image and property.
It is certainly necessary to adopt a structured approach based on the collection and processing of data, which are difficult to manage with the traditional tools (mainly spreadsheets). There is thus a marked need for computerization.
But what data are we talking about?
Examples include the level of managing the compliance of installations and buildings, implementing obligatory training, health surveillance and emergency management.
The aggregate analysis of this huge database allowed, only possible through the IT innovation, constitutes an important strengthening of the input for decision-making e and identifying errors and opportunities.
Today, we are lucky spectators of a new phase in the cultural evolution of Occupational Health and Safety and Governance.
With best safety leadership wishes.