Does Health and Safety remain a focus for business leaders?
This week marks three years since the UK first went into lockdown. At this point, health and safety became the focus of many businesses - psychological health for those working at home alone and an unrecognisable challenge for those still in the workplace. HSEQ Directors were playing a pivotal role and had a seat around the table at board meetings.
Now, three years on, we spoke to Martin Bardle, Global Health & Safety, Security and Quality Compliance Director at Reckitt Benckiser, to see whether health and safety remains a focus of business leaders and if HSEQ Directors still have that seat around the table.
Yes, they do.
“I believe there is still that seat at the table. There is still an engagement with the EHS community but there has been a shift of expectations about what the seat encompasses. Before it was about protecting the organisation and driving down things that would increase liabilities. Now, I see there is a greater expectation, not only on protection but on enhancing the company more broadly. General colleague wellbeing and wellness is a much bigger conversation.
“We need to demonstrate how these capabilities translate into general business success as well as all the basics in place to protect people - lines, signs, barriers and risk assessment are still needed before you get to culture change and conversations about other health and safety topics.
A stay-at-home policy was put in place at Reckitt Benckiser on March 16th, 2020. However, during the pandemic many colleagues carried on manufacturing in factories across the world - the new way of working hadn’t translated to a lot of people as many didn’t have the option to work from home.
“There were lots of people who had to do a hero approach for a long time during covid, write new ways of working and covid protocols leading to working longer hours. It’s easy to forget about your personal needs when you’re always considering the wellbeing of others and that was a concern for those in EHS. They needed a team around them and people to answer to and check on them as well, luckily in my experience I have had that.”
Time to develop skillsets.
Martin believes that for those who have gone back to ‘just the health and safety person,’ it’s time for them to develop their skill set.
“Whether it’s the translation of legislation, guidance on human rights issues in emerging markets or, human resources working on-site and remotely, business leaders will need to have advice and information ready to act upon without delay. To be successful or to continue the success brought on through covid, it is now about demonstrating a more holistic approach to HSE. Directors will need to have leadership and collaboration skills to be at a head level. If you don’t have these it makes it difficult for some people to have the same engagement and influencing factor with senior leadership.”
He also says HSEQ staff need to have wider skills, such as being able to engage with functional colleagues such as those in HR, who could deliver a wellbeing programme alongside them, finance teams who can support investment and operations teams where the work gets done.
‘Demonstrate collaboration with other functions to be collectively successful.’
Martin is also a trustee and chair of the health and safety committee at St Anne’s Community Servicescharity. He believes this role has given him the opportunity to improve his own workplace performance.
“Being a trustee of the charity has shown me the working relationship between the board of Trustees, the CEOs and HSE directors from the other side. Being on the board means I know what they want and what they’re looking for. But it is also a chance to give back. I would urge HSE directors to expand their character and develop knowledge and interests in any way they can. Be agile and develop a taxonomy of skills, especially broader leadership acumen, not just in health and safety.”
Use time effectively.
Other ways HSEQ Directors can use their time effectively is by developing their digital and communication skills.
“CEOs don’t have a lot of time and what health and safety practitioners need to consider in order to keep their seat at the table is where we work, how we work, what skills we need, and what organisational culture we need. The good practitioner is able to balance appropriate risk with the executive community, consider what to bring to the CEO and hone their skills so when they do get that opportunity. Being able to deliver messages digitally and effectively on MS Teams or Zoom will help them to be taken seriously when the ability to meet face to face is not available."
What do CEOs need to do?
It's the CEO's responsibility to make sure a company has the right systems to call upon and then the right people to ensure staff know how to implement them.
CEOs need to set a good example and bring the best out of HSEQ staff.
“During covid they looked around their business to see who could help them navigate that complexity best - successful people were the ones who were able to research quickly and deliver business information that others can act upon. It’s one thing telling people to make sure they log off, take breaks, do different activities during the working day - but if they don’t see management doing it then that reinforces their position, that the leader is saying it, but they don’t mean it.
“CEOs must demonstrate leadership that they engage with the programme too. They also need to be more challenging on the skills of the HSE function - give them more management, recognise expertise they can bring and include them in other business decisions. If you’re seen as just the health and safety person, then you don’t get the wider business context.”
Rising to the challenge
Martin believes that we have the opportunity to rise to this challenge post covid and is something we can deliver on.
“Although we think health and safety is the top value of our business, which of course it is, CEOs have other business drivers including investors competing for their time. We need to do the basics, then ensure it is the company culture and value that drives performance forward. Health and safety and protection of colleagues fits nicely into that space - for example, Dow Jones has a sustainability index and H&S performance is included in that. We do an annual report on health and safety statistics to demonstrate to investors and society that we are a safe company that takes the health and safety of our colleagues, sustainability and management of the environment seriously."
With the next Beyond HSEQ seriestaking place on May 4th, key discussion points include exploring your biggest fears and threats to what you do, reconnecting with the very human essence of what you do and developing communication skills to influence at the top level of your organisation.