Tom O'Neil: Health and safety - a board decision

By Tom O'Neil

There has to be a strong focus at the highest level.
There has to be a strong focus at the highest level.

There has to be a strong focus on health and safety at the highest level. As most of us are aware, there was a terrible event recently at St Kentigern College, with a prop razor wrapped in duct tape slicing through two young men during a stage performance. In terms of Health and Safety, this could not have happened at a worse time for the school, with new laws meaning the college could be up for a $600,000 fine if the school or the principal were found to be in the wrong.

The Terrible Cost

With at least one Kiwi killed at work per week, and the financial loss of work-related injuries and death costing more than $3.5 billion a year, having a board committed to taking an active part in the leadership and resourcing of this vital function is paramount.

Board Responsibility

Chief Executive of the Institute of Directors, Simon Arcus, believes that "the director's role is to provide leadership by setting the tone for the entire organisation.

That means ensuring health and safety is a priority. The law has given a real clarity to board members about who is responsible for Health and Safety in their organisation."

Sadly, high up in many organisations, those sitting around the board table do not have strong health and safety expertise or competencies. They have left this function to others lower down the tree to perform, while the traditional board responsibilities such as financial performance and strategic planning have been the focus.

Recruiting for Health and Safety Competency

Richard Stone, Executive Director of management recruiters JacksonStone & Partners, believes there has to be a strong focus of Health and Safety at the highest level in the organisation. "Events of recent past have made crystal clear the obligations of effective leadership and due diligence at board level. It's vital that when recruiting board members, a balanced board is vital, with Health and Safety being a key component of the board mix". Simon adds that "in some organisations, the Health and Safety committee includes board members, senior management and staff." This is a great way to communicate to your organisation that the health and wellbeing of your team members is important.

Health & Safety as a Board Member Competency

Though all board members need to be up to date with the new legislation, many will not have been exposed to this function and its legislation in any tangible way. Simon says "bringing on new board members to upskill others at the top table is a real key".

Though ensuring strong governance in terms of legal and financial compliance, organisations are now going to see a whole new species of board member "rise to the fore" -- the Health and Safety specialist. Their role will be to lead Health and Safety strategic delivery, ensure adequate resources are available for best practice initiatives, train their colleagues in these principles, and become the Board "champion", monitoring performance and acting as a conduit between the organisation and board.

Health and safety risk management must be truly represented at the board level. Make certain if you are recruiting for the top table, ensure this is a major focus when selecting a balanced board.

Tom O'Neil is an award winning business speaker, best-selling international author. You can contact Tom on tom@tomoneil.com

- NZ Herald

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