Dame Judith Hackitt & Andrew Sharman’s 5 tips for getting business to ‘own’ HSE

I recently delivered a webinar with my colleague Dame Judith Hackitt for Barbour EHS and SHP Online to share ideas on how to engage senior leaders in owning health and safety at work.

We were amazed to find more than 800 people from around the world joining us online for the one hour session and were impressed with the level of engagement from attendees. Sincere thanks to everyone who joined us.

The webinar came from concepts that Dame Judith and I have set down in a new book, ‘Mind Your Own Business: What Your MBA Should Have Taught You About Workplace Health & Safety. It is aimed squarely at enhancing operational leaders understanding and impact in workplace safety.

There were several participants who felt senior managers considered health and safety ‘the job’ of H&S advisors, rather than operational leaders, and they wanted to change that.

Some people suggested the book would help them to assist managers in finding the balance between managing operations and safety. Others felt they lacked the ‘language of business’ or authority to challenge senior people and hoped the book might help.

We were inundated with over a hundred extra questions that we didn’t have time to answer online during the live Q&A. In this article, we seek to cover off five of the key themes practitioners raised in their questions:

1. Stop Looking Good and start the chat!

Leaders don’t really want to be staring at Looking Good Indexes (aka LTIFR charts) – they just don’t yet know what they need.  Next time you present your monthly update, skip the numbers, look ahead and get straight onto the activities you are working on to create safety at work rather than looking over your shoulder to prevent recurrence of past accidents.

Go for dialogue not nodding heads. Use questions to pull leaders in and create discussion. Show why good safety is good for your business and shift from it being a priority issue to a (core) value (-adding activity).

2. Focus on people, not procedures

The insurance industry, accident lawyers and the media have created a culture of fear for businesses today.  While an effective risk management system is important, real change comes from placing people at the heart of what you do.

This doesn’t mean posters telling them they’re responsible for their own safety, but rather leaders asking sincerely what workers feel needs to be done to improve safety at work.  Other questions (shared by our webinar audience) can include: “How safe do you feel right now?  Why is that? or “If I were working with you right now, what would I need to know to be safe?

3. Stop ignoring the silent Hof H&S

With over half a million new cases of Occupational Ill-Health popping up every year at work in the UK it’s time for practitioners and leaders to do more.

This isn’t about playing at Doctors & Nurses. 80% of all new cases are split evenly between musculoskeletal and stress/psycho-social risks and there’s so much brilliant free resource out there to get you started on these issues. It would be crazy to ignore how much impact can be made quickly in most organizations right now.

4. Culture grows top-down

Workers are more likely to be committed to safety, and motivated to act when they see leaders genuinely walking the talk.

Consider eliminating ‘safety walks’ and instead have leaders talking about safety as a core pillar of the business. Leave the BBS observation cards and audits on the desk and have leaders get to know the people on the shop-floor and share a little of themselves too.

5. Safety is a team game

In our experience, it’s rarely a commitment to safety that’s lacking amongst operational leaders.  The bigger challenge for most is being able to communicate on safety in a way that is meaningful, feels authentic, and engages workers with an inspiration not just to think about safety at work but to see how safety contributes to the success of the business, the department, the team, and the individual.  No one style of leadership is best – you’ll do well to cultivate a blend of transactional, servant and transformational leaders.

So there you have it, five steps to get things moving in your organization today.  And here’s a bonus: a great starting point is to ask leaders just why safety is important to them – help them to cut through the corporate spin and the words they think they should be saying and get it coming from the heart – then ask them to get on the floor and share this with the workforce.  No script, no checklist, no routine.  Put simply, we call it minding your own business.

Watch Andrew Sharman’s TEDx talk: ‘Evolving fear into function’

Professor Andrew Sharman teaches leadership and safety culture at the European Centre for Executive Development (CEDEP) in Fontainebleau, France and consults to Fortune 500 organizations around the world.  Find out more at www.RMSswitzerland.com

*SHPonline readers can grab a copy of Judith Hackitt and Andrew Sharman’s new book Mind Your Own Business: What your MBA should have taught you about workplace health & safety with a whopping 25% discount using the code MINDSHP25 at www.FromAccidentstoZero.com

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Categories: Culture And Behaviours, Feature, Features, Leadership and innovation, New Safety and Health, Safety Management, Workplace psychology

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Andrew SharmanClive WaringMark LightTWDBAndrew Floyd Recent comment authors
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Andrew Floyd
Andrew Floyd

Am impressed. About time we talked about people rather than objects and the futile counting and metrics of zero, along with the nonsense of curves and pyramids.

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman

Thanks Andrew, we appreciate the positive feedback. What else can you add to the list of things to help leaders ‘mind their own business’ with safety?

Andrew Floyd
Andrew Floyd

May I respectfully suggest the works of. Dr Robert Long. Rob Sams. Allan Quilley. Sydney Decker. ET AL.May I also suggest principles that I have adopted from Rob Long. ‘High-Reliability Organising Principles’ (Collective Mindfulness) These include:- Preoccupation with Failure. Reluctance to simplify. Sensitivity to Operatives. Commitment to Resilience. Deference to Expertise.
A strong focus on human centred systems, developing, risk maturity and improving resilience.
(Source Dr R Long)

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman

Hi Andrew, some good titles for reading there – all of which I include in my 2014 book ‘From Accidents to Zero’. Rob Long has an interesting perspective indeed. In addition to the reading list – what practical actions are you taking in your workplace that engage your leaders in safety?

Mark Light
Mark Light

Great advice by you both and at last pragmatic safety advice, people not numbers :-), keep up the good work.
Ownership would be a great way forward too, as often Directors believe only MD is ulitmatey responsbile. Director/Senior Manager H & S training should be compulsory

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman

Thanks Mark for your positive feedback, we appreciate this. What have you found successful to get senior leaders engaged? What’s worked for you?

Mark Light
Mark Light

Hi Andrew, Thanks for your reply, it is still difficult to get Senior leaders engaged, especially when nearly every aspect of business is target driven driven, and KPI’s can be tweaked to suit. I believe one of the best ways of Leadership engagement still remains face to face, delivery of IOSH Director.Management or similar safety training and regular bulletins, with real life expamples of fines/prosection. As important are proactive Management Reviews and the outcomes of these, continual improvement process is a clear indicator of where you are at with safety. The other aspect I try to drive is that of… Read more »


Engaging and communicating with Senior management is key and can be difficult. are there IOSh courses or others training about skills or ways to use to get the message across / just be listened too as a Safety professional talking to their senior team. any tips or techniques?

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman

Hi TWDB, yes, agree! In fact, our (Judith Hackitt & I) new book is aimed at exactly this challenge, perhaps have a read of that (use the SHP discount code above to get 25% off). You could also look at this article on my LinkedIn space: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6362166184045015040/

And finally, IOSH have a new course – a National Level 3 Qualification – called ‘Safety & Health for Business’ which is directed towards engaging leaders in safety.

Clive Waring
Clive Waring

I fully agree with the 5 steps and also like the two old but effective theories of top Managers leading by example and them spending time in the work area talking to people at all levels. I believe that most people really value speaking to senior people and sharing views. I have delivered many behavioural safety courses in the UK and around the world and seeing the top people attending the courses has always proved valuable and appreciated. (Lead from the top/front).

Andrew Sharman
Andrew Sharman

Thanks Clive, ‘MBWA’ (‘Management By Walking Around’) seems to have lost its grip in recent times, but there can’t be a better way of showing commitment, setting the tone, and building rapport with workers can there?

Author Bio ▼

Andrew Sharman

Andrew is the CEO of RMS Switzerland, a global consultancy specialising in safety behaviour, culture and leadership. With offices in the UK, and Switzerland.  RMS has an enviable track record of improving culture and enabling excellence for NGOs and blue chip organisations around the world through industry sectors including aviation, automotive, mining, construction, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and FMCGs. Find out more at www.RMSswitzerland.com

Andrew is also Professor of Leadership & Safety Culture at the European Centre for Executive Development in Fontainebleau, France, and Professor of Risk Management at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  He is a Chartered Fellow and Vice President of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH); a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management; and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Far from being risk-averse, he loves adventure sports including climbing, free flying, sea kayaking and swimming with sharks. He uses these pursuits to re-energise the language, perceptions and functions of safety and risk management and align the disciplines with broader organisational issues driving positive impact and enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and businesses.

Read Andrew’s New Rules of Safety series on SHP here.

Andrew’s book From Accidents to Zero is one of the fastest-selling books on safety culture of the 21st  century, find out more at www.fromaccidentstozero.com and enter code SHP 25 to receive an exclusive 25% discount for SHPonline readers.

January 12, 2018

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