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Leadership plays a critical role in health, safety, sustainability and wellbeing, by setting the culture, the ethics and the standards for work environments. Influential leaders understand that health and safety is not just a compliance requirement, but a fundamental way of how businesses conduct themselves, identifying and mitigating risks, creating a successful, harmonious, sustainable organisation.

Changes in the world, changes in the workplace

The recent pandemic has focused leaders to manage during volatile times. Leaders are recognising the rapid change of our working environment, emerging hazards, changes in work patterns, working remotely, new technology, the ever presence of continued macroeconomic and global uncertainty. 

Strategic management of health and safety

To manage new risk and evolving environments, there is a need to leverage strategic resources, strengthen board relationships, build knowledge, flexibility and capacity. We all recognise the value of human capital, ingrained into our corporate values and behaviours, knowing that healthy, safe environments create engaged employees who perform more effectively and efficiently, making better decisions and ultimately driving down risks in a business.

The standard of UK occupational health and safety in 2024

Leaders and their boards are accountable for the legal compliance, and this is achieved by setting strategic direction, standards and values, ensuring that those responsible are accountable, measuring the results and taking action where needed. The HSE report that 60% of large UK companies discussed occupational health and safety (OHS) at least quarterly in board meetings, 67% set and published objectives for health and safety, and 70% received audit and performance reports related to health and safety. Encouragingly 85% of the boards had a named health and safety director. Leaders also take active roles by engaging in health and safety initiatives, conducting safety tours (walkabouts), engaging with staff about their own health and safety and holding management accountable with performance objectives and indicators.

Leadership and responsibility in health and safety

Setting the business trajectory not only determines the success of safety, but also creates long-term value of a company.

With these responsibilities, leaders can be expected to play an important part in the governance of safety and other multifaceted roles, which includes fostering a positive safety culture, encouraging employee engagement, and driving continuous improvement efforts.

A heavy responsibility lies with leaders, who may have limited qualifications in safety, partial understanding of their legal responsibilities and previous engagement with health, safety, sustainability and wellbeing might have been at operational levels. As such, this can create challenges for leaders to confidently, make informed decisions, adapt to the changing risks and working environment and articulating a clear vision and mission for health and safety. There is a significant difference between managing and leading, knowing and acting on responsibilities is essential for Governance. 

Ten important questions you should ask yourself as a leader

These are the ten questions leaders should ask themselves to be effective.

  1. How do you define health and safety leadership?
  2. Do you positively and actively engage in health and safety dialogue, strategic direction and health and safety programmes at senior level?
  3. Do you have some accountability for health and safety performance? And is the accountability within your job description, performance objectives and reviews?
  4. Do you understand the key risks to the business, how to measure those risks and actions needed to mitigate?
  5. Is your organisation compliant with health and safety legislation and standards?
  6. How often do you talk to your teams about health and safety in a meaningful manner?
  7. Does every leader in your organisation understand your health and safety goals?
  8. What do you see as the biggest challenge to further improve both health and safety performance and culture?
  9. Have you completed health and safety leadership training within the past 12 months?
  10. Do you have the appropriate knowledge and competence to influence, challenge and act on informed health and safety decisions at senior level?

Building competence and vision in safety leadership

Competence of a leader is one of the most important factors to ensuring vision and culture is embedded, decisions on OHS priorities are implemented, and boards can make reliable and informed decisions. Education is the starting point. To be a next-generation leader is being aware of your moral, legal and financial responsibilities and drivers, understanding effective leadership skills and styles to motivate and encourage safe practices. The skills learnt in health and safety leadership courses, are often transitional to other management qualities and people management skills, empowering a leader to an optimum performance and supporting a board in a more effective and meaningful way.

To enable leaders to thrive in our ever changing and dynamic environment, managing risks effectively, strengthening board decisions, leaders need to build knowledge, flexibility and capacity. 

Accelerating health and safety leadership development

Accelerate your health and safety leadership by attending British Safety Council’s Health and Safety for Directors and Senior Managers course. You’ll learn about personal liabilities, how to reduce risk in the workplace, and the positive impact that good health and safety can have on the bottom line.