OHS: How to plan it, fund it and get everyone on board

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Dealing with one of safety’s toughest challenges – funding projects on worksites that senior managers never see – fall prevention specialist, CARL SACHS, has also become an expert at attracting funding for OHS. He shares the secrets of successful investment in safety.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals tend to be idealistic, as they should. Capital expenditure decision-makers, on the other hand, are often a tad more hard-nosed. Both find the other’s approach immensely frustrating and that can be a big problem when it comes to funding safety-related capital-intensive projects.
Surprisingly, the secret to finding common ground lies in the OHS professional’s stock in trade, the risk assessment. The pure logic of combining probability with consequences to assign a risk rating is something that resonates with many senior company officers, who are increasingly attuned to risk management in an uncertain global business environment.
The key is to present the information in a format that very clearly reflects the organisation’s objectives, whether they are prudent corporate governance, reputation management or sheer compliance.

The place to begin is with an audit. Uncover and document what is already in place and the current compliance gaps, then set a baseline for improvement.
At the heart of the audit lies the risk assessment’s matrix of the probability of injuries and their seriousness. This ranking system helps create a list of priorities. The first step towards legal compliance and successful corporate communication is the accurate documentation of the facts.
And, while documentation is a necessity, do not be tempted to produce a daunting wad of paper designed to strike fear into the hearts of senior management. Clarity is the secret to winning capital expenditure approval.
For this reason, audit reports should be presented very simply. Photographs of each hazard should be matched with plain English explanations and a colour-coded risk rating, and the results should be summarised in tables. This ensures that even the most time-poor decision-makers rapidly appreciate the relative urgency and importance of projects.
Illustrating reports to demonstrate hazards is particularly valuable when the decision-makers are physically remote from the hazards. In my experience, prominent hazards are normally dealt with more rapidly than others that may be associated with greater risk, but are quite literally ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

The next step is to team the prioritised areas with controls that minimise risk and maximise safety. Again, the good news is that the safety professional’s best friend – the hierarchy of controls – tends to work well for corporate accountants, since the lowest order control for any risk is also often the cheapest over its lifetime.
From a management perspective too, the most complicated safety systems are generally the least effective. Any fall prevention system that involves a harness, for example, also brings the need for second workers, rescue plans, regular inspections and a tide of paperwork.
Sadly, this is where many facilities managers face their greatest challenge. The main source of information about controls is equipment vendors, who are also generally enthusiastic promoters of complex, expensive solutions.
Remain stubbornly true to the hierarchy of controls and, almost invariably, there will be significant lifetime savings and safety gains to be won. Such practicality will also win OHS professionals many friends at the executive management level and invaluable respect from users.
So, how then to get the safest, most workable solution and a proper costing? Choose your providers with great care. Look for those who participate at an industry level, are trainers, are independently accredited to relevant standards, who provide impressive referees and, importantly, have a suite of solutions on offer so they can supply the appropriate match for your circumstances.
Ask to see sample reports in advance and, for a real insight, learn how they manage their own safety obligations. Photocopied safe work method statements (SWMS) for a height safety installation, for example, warn that a service provider’s safety credentials are little more than skin deep. Specialists are normally best geared up to do the job correctly and can often deliver savings due to greater efficiencies.
Match the costings with the priorities identified by the risk assessment to create a budget. Of course, no organisation can realistically address all risks instantly, so the budget could have several phases to allow for systematic project management.

With a risk assessment and a budgeted list of priorities, the business case for OHS capital expenditure now simply needs a rationale.
In most cases, compliance with safety obligations alone is sufficient, but not always. In the name of flexibility, most work health and safety laws are open to interpretation and sometimes even conflict with other mandates.
It is also true that many substantial safety gains are made beyond mere compliance in terms of productivity, lower insurance costs, improved morale and fewer lost time injuries.
The most compelling call to action is the one that best mirrors the goals of your organisation, explains former chamber of commerce adviser and current OHS consultant, Jo Kitney from Kitney Occupational Health and Safety.
“Meeting health and safety obligations is a moral as well as legal obligation; however, there can be differences in values and beliefs for health and safety between organisations and within organisations,” Kitney states.
“Decisions made by employers and business managers can be influenced by what they think and how they feel – and this can make the difference between resourcing health and safety, or not.
“To find money for health and safety means looking beneath the line and establishing the organisation’s value base for health and safety. It is difficult to do so, but there are times when below the line aspects of health and safety management have to be challenged, to ensure that those making decisions are aware of the implications – personally as well as for the wider organisation,” she adds.

Even the most robust safety systems come unstuck unless the people they are designed to protect take them seriously. Ensure that employees and contractors of varying skill levels are working safely by following a few basic principles.

1. Consult with users
The first is clearly to consult with the users of any safety system very early on and often throughout the process. An unworkable safety system is a dangerous safety system because it forces users to take perilous shortcuts.
A safety system that is difficult to manage is similarly frightening, so it is important to consider the resources and skills of the people using the equipment right from the start, so safety is inherent in the design rather than an afterthought.
Using fall prevention as an example, a vertical ladder line may suit a telecommunications environment where two riggers are working, trained in rescue and doing this on a daily basis. It, however, will not suit a school where teachers or grounds staff climb onto a roof to retrieve balls.
Apart from skills and resources, the conditions of use also need to be understood. If people need to carry tools onto the roof, for instance, a narrow opening presents an additional hazard. It is also important to make sure that a truly representative group is consulted, which may go beyond the normal workplace boundaries. Employees may carry out completely different tasks to those of contractors and visitors, who are equally as entitled to a safe environment.
It goes without saying that design concepts should be shared with and approved by users to ensure a sense of ownership as well as real-world functionality.

2. Implement training and protocols
Many of the most successful OHS projects require little or no training because they build safety into existing processes. On the other hand, some require serious skill levels coupled with careful administration to make them effective.
Beyond the skills of the user, work positioning systems, for example, demand inductions, administrative controls, rescue plans, a buddy system and regular inspections. It is essential in situations like these that users and the administrators responsible for the management of the safety system are well-supported with training.

3. Provide management with feedback
Don’t forget to include senior management – the people who approved the project – when it is time to celebrate project outcomes. Update the proposal document to create a review report, complete with before and after pictures and testimonials from users.
Feedback in this format will be very welcome, builds a useful relationship for the next OHS project and is a great way to demonstrate compliance with your friendly workplace safety authority inspector.

OHS is often perceived as a cost rather than an investment and as a tangled web of red tape. Ironically, OHS professionals are better equipped than most to present a compelling business case for capital expenditure. Like so many things, the key to success may just be simplicity.

Carl Sachs is the managing director of Workplace Access and Safety, and takes an active role in the development of fall prevention standards, representing the Facility Management Association of Australia on the committee for AS1891 – Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices, and the Master Builders Association on the committee for AS 1657-1992: Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – design, construction and installation.

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