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8 things a CEO can do to improve workplace health and safety

What can CEOs say and do on a day-to-day basis to demonstrate better leadership on health and safety?

What can CEOs say and do on a day-to-day basis to demonstrate better leadership on health and safety?

To answer that question the Forum commissioned the development of a model that summarises the characteristics and actions of a world-class CEO safety leader.

Check out the Forum’s guidance for how chief executives can lead on safety.

Click on any of the headings below to reveal more details:

Clarifies the vision and focus

I am clear that nothing is more important than the health and safety of my people; I communicate that in a compelling way, I foster a sense of urgency, and I set a personal example for others to follow.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Personally review the health and safety vision and reflect whether your actions and words align with this vision
  • Run workshops with staff to collectively review the health and safety vision
  • Organise an event to revitalise the vision, and invite board members along
  • Be prepared to withdraw from ventures or locations if health and safety standards can’t be achieved
  • Attend a safety leadership programme
  • Set aside regular time to reflect on your safety leadership practices. Ask others for feedback
  • Keep asking what could go wrong and how do we know we are working safely

Understands health and safety is an investment

I commit the necessary resources – people, equipment, systems, information and time – to strengthen safety culture and performance and to create a sustainable Zero Harm Workplace.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Include your health and safety plan in your business plan and business cases
  • Question your existing performance and set annual improvement targets
  • Resource the safety function with sufficiently dedicated professionals
  • Identify, and remove, obstacles that prevent your company from achieving its health and safety goals
  • Make health and safety performance a key factor in selecting senior management
  • Highlight the strategic benefits of health and safety; promote improving your company’s safety culture as a long-term investment
  • Ensure your board and senior management focus on improving health and safety outcomes
  • Network with other chief executives to develop alliances; identify best practices to bring back to your business

Gets personally involved

I actively seek opportunities to be involved in safety activities like incident investigations, frontline safety meetings and safety briefings.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Challenge unsafe behaviours and practices at all levels of your company
  • Proactively address health and safety issues; be available to discuss health and safety whenever needed
  • Know what influences a strong safety culture. Initiate and support activities to build a strong safety culture
  • Make time to reflect on your safety leadership practices and contribution to your company’s health and safety performance. Acknowledge your shortcomings and be willing to learn
  • Use safety leadership coaching to improve your knowledge and leadership. Visit other successful companies to share health and safety learnings

Engages their organisation

I inspire and work with my people so that we go the extra mile to achieve our common safety goals.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Personally provide constructive, positive feedback to employees for a job done safely
  • Check that people are satisfied with responses to any health and safety concerns raised
  • Think critically about health and safety performance and seek continuous improvement. Do not accept that the status quo is as good as it can get
  • Support the development of health and safety learning opportunities in the organisation and in the wider community (e.g., health and safety training, attending health and safety related conferences)

Recognises contributions and safety achievements

I take time to find out about and acknowledge the effort my people put into safety, and I look for meaningful ways to celebrate our safety successes.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Be on the lookout for good safety behaviours and practices and provide individuals or groups with immediate, positive recognition
  • Take time to talk to people at all levels of the organisation about their safety practices and achievements
  • Provide the resources and/or funding to celebrate health and safety achievements at all levels of the organisation
  • Look for new, creative, and meaningful ways to celebrate health and safety successes (e.g. family health and safety days)
  • Keep a close watch that recognising and rewarding health and safety achievements does not encourage over-reporting of positive outcomes and under-reporting of negative outcomes

Manages the risk

I ask the right questions and I insist on timely, accurate and impartial information to ensure that safety opportunities and risks are balanced.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Speak your mind honestly and openly and expect the same in return. Ask to be given honest and unfiltered information about health and safety, even if it is not good news
  • Monitor how you respond to health and safety information that is not positive
  • Check the detail, accuracy, independence of investigations of all incidents and near hits
  • Make the changes recommended by independent health and safety assessments
  • Provide the board with accurate and transparent health and safety information, even if it will not be well received
  • Ensure that health and safety opportunities and risks are balanced

Monitors the right outcomes

I regularly monitor safety process and performance outcomes to know how my business is tracking, and I change the way we do things to reflect what we learn.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Track the time taken to resolve health and safety issues and the effectiveness of corrective actions
  • Track health and safety performance against internal and external benchmarks and against sound, evidence-based criteria
  • Develop an analytical mind-set, questioning what the health and safety measures are really saying, looking for patterns and trends in the data
  • Be preoccupied with failure, constantly asking ‘what could go wrong?’
  • Take time to ‘get on the balcony’ and view health and safety performance from a distance to gain a more encompassing perspective
  • Monitor safety leadership competence and commitment across the organisation

Lets their people get on with it

I give my people the tools and responsibility for making the business safer, healthier and more productive, and I hold myself and them accountable.

Getting it started

Moving it along

Keeping it going

  • Make it clear that everyone is responsible for a healthier and safer business, assigning responsibilities as appropriate and delegating authority
  • Hold yourself and others accountable for achieving a level of performance that is aligned to their specific health and safety goals
  • Empower everyone to challenge authority and stop work if that work is perceived to be unsafe. Practice this yourself to demonstrate that it is okay
  • Participate in health and safety processes as a team member not as the leader
  • Encourage staff to exercise leadership in all directions: Lead up, lead down, and lead sideways (e.g., ask employees ‘who have you influenced today?’)
  • Include health and safety criteria in everyone’s performance review and make health and safety a criterion for promotion into leadership positions
  • Engage and work with your senior leaders to build a safety culture that will deliver the health and safety vision
  • Resist pressure to take responsibility for solving health and safety problems off others’ shoulders. Rather engage them to work with you to find adaptive solutions