Here we gain insight from Beverly Coleman, a Chartered Safety Practitioner, on how to keep health and safety at the forefront during the somewhat turbulent time when two organisations merge.
Business mergers are common and often. Over recent years there have been a number of high-profile mergers that have gained a large amount of attention: Facebook and Whatsapp, Amazon and Wholefoods, for example. Merging provides organisations with opportunities to expand, reach new customers, enter new markets and gain financial leverage. Inevitably, the merging of two organisations equates to change, which is not always welcome.
The impact these mergers have on clients/customers and employees should be given high priority. The changes to both internal and external business procedures need to be reviewed as does the way health and safety are managed to ensure that clients/customers, employees, contractors and members of the public are accounted for.
Considerations need to be made across the spectrum: the safety management system, health and safety training, reporting of accidents and incidents, policies and procedures and vitally ensuring that the safety culture of the newly merged organisation is a positive one. Given that an output of two large organisations becoming one is stress, dissatisfaction and anxiety, a positive safety culture can be the toughest part of the process to complete. So, what are the areas that organisations should focus on to ensure that health and safety are managed effectively during the time transitional period to ensure a lasting legacy?
1. Safety Management Systems
Establishing the safety management system is a crucial first step when merging two organisations, forming the basis on how safety will be managed effectively. The systems of both organisations should be reviewed to decide which will be taken forward into the new organisation and under what framework: HSG 65, ISO 45001:2018 etc. This exercise takes time because all of the components that make up a safety management system such as policies, procedures, risk assessment methodology, supply chain management, accident/incident reporting and training need to be reviewed and approved at the senior management level.
2. Safety Culture
While many employees welcome change, mergers affect how things are done, which can have a detrimental effect on the attitudes and behaviours of employees, sometimes leading to increased unwanted events. Employee involvement is a way of alleviating this. Involving employees in meetings where health and safety are discussed and initiatives for the new organisation are approved give a sense of ownership and dispels the feeling that management is making decisions for them and not with them. Employee questionnaires are a good way of getting a feel for the current culture but getting out and speaking to employees is the best way to get a flavour of how employees view safety and how they implement it into their everyday working lives. Ensuring that all employees view safety, in the same way, will have a reflection on the overall ethos of the newly merged organisation. In addition, new joiners to the newly formed organisation are less likely to be adversely influenced by peers who have a negative opinion of safety.
3. Consultation & Communication
Being inclusive and keeping everyone in the loop ensures nobody feels that they are left in the dark. Additionally, consideration must be given to those on the ground who are often the last to hear of major changes. Engaging with employees and gaining their feedback will increase commitment and aid decision making.
Equally, a lack of communication during transitional periods can lead to resentment, frustration and anxiety. Communication can be done in a variety of ways from one-to-ones to away days. Employees who work off-site should not be forgotten about. Employees from both legacy organisations should receive consistent communications on the changes that affect them.
One thing that is inevitable during this process is that employees will leave. This could be due to the change being unwanted, they may feel that their role changes in a way that impacts their values, personal life and commitments or the change has made them redundant. With their departure goes all of their knowledge and experience. As well as employers having a duty to ensure that employees are trained, research has found that trained employees have fewer accidents. Training requirements for some roles may differ as job titles and responsibilities change and it can be hard to establish who of the remaining employees have had what training.
Bringing two organisations together provides the opportunity to look at the training provision and decide whether it is fit for its purpose and covers the range of existing and new risks that may have been identified. Managers are in a good position to discuss the changes to the organisation with their team members and relay the role that training plays in ensuring they can do their work safely and return home at the end of the working day.
5. IT Challenges
IT systems play a vital role in effective health and safety management; they are integral to communication, record keeping and incident reporting. A sizeable amount of work goes into the merging of IT systems. While two systems may run concurrently for a period of time, one ultimately needs to be implemented. Employees need to be able to report accidents and incidents that occur in the organisation from day one and need to know how this is to be done, even if the solution is an interim one. Workshops, intranet stories and briefings are a great way of informing employees on what they need to do, where records should be kept and who to contact for help during thr transition.
At times of change, safety can often trump health with employee wellbeing put on the backburner while due diligence and business operations are put in order, but without well and functioning employees’ organisations will not thrive. Wellbeing initiatives are welcome during transitional periods, not only do they demonstrate the traits of a human and kind employer, but they can provide respite to employees who are finding the changes difficult. Developing a working environment that promotes health and wellbeing contributes to a positive culture.
About the Author
Beverly Coleman is a Chartered Safety Practitioner, Trainer and Writer. You can connect her with her on LinkedIn here.
Shirley Parsons are global leaders in HSEQ Recruitment, search and staffing services. We are an ever-growing global HSEQ talent network built on long-term relationships, industry knowledge, and geographic expansion.