Policies are the backbone of any management system. They set out an organisation’s commitments and provide a benchmark for achievement. They are endorsed by senior management who must sign them to demonstrate their commitment to achieving their promises to implementing systems for better health and safety, environment management and major accident prevention.
The importance of a signed policy seems clear, at least for the senior manager who is held accountable, but who are they signing it for? This might depend on who it is you ask. The site manager who has ultimate responsibility for a safe and efficient process might say that they sign it themselves on behalf of every one. After all, we all play a part in making sure these policies are achieved. On the other hand, they, or indeed any other team member from the wider workforce might regard it as just another piece of paper. What does the signature mean if the commitments in the policy are enforced by procedures and processes which must be followed anyway?
If we could wind back to where it all began to develop a mutual understanding and appreciation of the principles that underlie policy making, the systems in place to achieve the commitments would be implemented with equal rigour across the organisation. A shared attitude will result in safety becoming a perceived normal practise rather than a reactive box ticking exercise, ultimately leading to better standards and an appetite for continuous improvement.
To bridge this gap, a healthy safety culture is key. Guidance on safety culture suggests a number of different ways to achieve a positive culture, but ultimately they all boil down to communication and engagement.
Communicating why policies and management systems are in place instead of simply making people aware that they exist helps to build a mutual understanding and trust across the organisation due to increased visibility and demonstration that risk is being successfully managed. Within the organisation this can be achieved by creating channels for employees to communicate any concerns they might have, and demonstrating to them that this is taken seriously by publishing outcomes and safety performance.
Within the wider industry, sharing and gathering information on best practise and previous incidents develops a reputation for high standards and commitments to safety, which will be reflected on site. When people are recognised for doing well, they are motivated to uphold their positive reputation and go beyond the basic requirements to demonstrate ongoing commitment.
Active involvement demonstrates to the workforce that safety is a joint exercise. Enabling those on the ground to take part in exercises such as risk assessments, design and surveys both demonstrates that the organisation has a commitment to safety and develops a sense of ownership. Asking those with unique experience and knowledge in a process to get involved in safety management has a mutual benefit; senior managers gain a more representative picture of what goes on on the ground and where they should focus resources, and the workforce have the opportunity to experience first-hand what the arrangements for safety management are. Ultimately this takes the feeling of ‘box ticking’ away and nurtures trust and confidence in the commitments to safety outlined in policies.
A healthy safety culture creates morale and this perceived culture can have as big an influence on safety outcomes as the safety management system itself by linking the people to the processes. As an emphasis on safety climbs higher up the agenda, so does motivation to keep that momentum going and strive for ever improving standards.
In order for the signature to have any value, the policy must have the endorsement of everybody who will play a role in making sure the commitments are met. By ensuring that the site has a healthy safety culture, and implementing the principles of successful safety cultures into policy making, this endorsement can be achieved. Consider involving others in creating policies and providing training in what they are and how they are achieved. Reiterate the importance of every role in achieving the commitments by making them visible on multiple platforms and communicating successes in both written form and verbally. With site wide endorsement, a signed policy becomes a tool to achieve a common goal of safety.