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April 1, 2016

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Safety governance: What is it and why does it matter?

Getting safety governance frameworks working effectively, and understanding the safety governance maturity of your business, is incredibly important for health and safety professionals. Professional company director and international health and safety expert Dr Kirstin Ferguson explains why.

While they may not be involved in day-to-day management of a company, board members influence the tone and safety culture of an organisation through the questions they ask, the focus they place on key organisational issues and the messages they given during direct interactions with employees. An effective safety governance framework will ensure that senior leaders – including not only senior executive teams but also company boards – have the tools, knowledge and structures in place to maximize the safety performance of the organisations they lead beyond mere compliance with relevant safety legislation.

In recent research, safety governance was defined as 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 the legislation is ensured.

It is important for health and safety professionals to identify the level safety governance maturity in their organisation in order to be an effect agent of change at the board and the senior executive level. The pathway illustrated explains the various stages of safety governance maturity and the following questions can help you identify where your organisation sits.


Transactional – Does your board and senior executive team generally see health and safety as the responsibility of the health and safety team? Do they tend to become engaged in health and safety only after an incident has occurred? Do you have a culture of ‘production over safety’? If so, it is likely your organisation is at the transactional stage.

Compliance – Is compliance with health and safety legislation the main driver of reporting to the senior executive team or board? Are they primarily focused on ensuring the minimum legislation standards are met? If so, it is likely your organisation is at the compliance stage.

Focused – Have you noticed the senior executive team and board asking more detailed questions lately, often wanting to drill down into the causes of incidents with much greater understanding? Does your senior executive team and board consider site visits an important part of their safety leadership role? If so, it is likely your organisation is at the focused stage.

Pro-active – Do you feel that most of your senior executive team and board ‘get’ safety? That is, they understand that a strong safety culture involves much more than simply compliance, and requires safety leadership both inside and outside the boardroom? If so, it is likely your organisation is at the pro-active stage.

Integrated – Do your senior executive team and board seek to understand the safety impacts of every decision being made across the organisation? Does the concept of ‘safe production’ set the tone for all health and safety discussions? If so, it is likely your organisation is at the integrated stage.

kirstin fergusson

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is a professional company director on public, private and government boards; and an international expert in safety governance and safety leadership for boards and senior executives. Dr Ferguson can be reached via , you can follow her on Twitter (@kirstinferguson) or connect on Linked In.


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Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp
8 years ago

I have read a number of articles describing the safety culture or maturity of an organisation. Like the examples in this article they are all based on an archetypes. The reality is that large organisations do not fit any one type, there is often an overlap between different parts of the business. Interesting models nonetheless, but most models don’t fly in practice.