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WHS Practitioner/Advisor – Challenges for WHS Practitioners/Advisors: what can I do?

Investing in health and safety

As a WHS practitioner/advisor you know that health and safety is not achieved in isolation. Although a primary focus of your role is to ensure the health and safety of all workers, this does not mean that you do this alone or without support from others. It is the executive and senior leaders, as officers under the WHS Act who are tasked to ensure that the PCBU meets all of their WHS obligations and they seek to do this though your role as a WHS practitioner/advisor.

Your ability then to influence, and advise those leaders on health and safety matters and the requirements under the WHS laws, is paramount to how these obligations are achieved.

Influencing upwards

Mastering the art of effective upwards communication and how to effectively influence up the chain of command is an essential skill for a WHS practitioner/advisor to possess.

Recognising the various influential factors (i.e. stakeholder expectations, underlying cultural issues and knowledge of contemporary safe work practices) that are likely to impact on the decision making process and overall attitude towards safety, is important to understanding their preferred platform for overall safety management.

By understanding these factors, you will be better able to influence senior leader interpretation of their role in the safety management process and drive forward the agenda for positive health and safety change in the workplace.

Some practical tips for influencing upwards that you may find useful include:

1. Understand their point of view and use this as a starting point for influencing safety culture:

  • make an appointment with the most appropriate senior leader or manager within the organisation and ask them some open-ended positive questions such as:
  • what do you consider important for me to focus on?
  • from your observations can you highlight any best practice approaches to health and safety that we could be using?
  • what ideas do you have to improve the health and safety performance of the organisation?
  • consider the timing of the appointment to ensure that the manager is able to give your request the attention it deserves.

2. Comprehend the need to effectively and continually market the importance of health and safety to all leadership levels:

  • consider various words that describe the leader or manager and align them with strategies to appeal to their personal traits
  • develop and implement a plan for marketing health and safety to the senior leaders and managers. Tip: utilise existing governance and decision making forums to draw attention and focus on the health and safety issues and strategies
  • consider the best medium for communication. e.g. face to face, electronic documents via email
  • use ‘business language’ relevant to the audience you are speaking with and provide information that justifies the outcome you are seeking. Tip: use data to illustrate the issues
  • outline how granting your request will assist senior leaders and managers to do their jobs more effectively. Tip: highlight the increase productivity and cost reduction benefits
  • engage internal resources to assist in the design, planning and implementation of marketing and communication strategies and business processes.

3. Demonstrate your capacity for leadership through on-going actions that align with the organisations direction and vision for the future:

  • explore your organisations vision and consider how health and safety aligns with this vision and strategic direction
  • demonstrate your commitment to health and safety by modelling leadership behaviours
  • as a subject matter expert, continually promote the importance of workplace health and safety by providing consistent advice, guidance and messages.

The notion that health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace has the potential to benefit both workers and leaders is now accepted as a key business driver. An investment in health and safety acts to support an organisations current safe work practices by supporting health and safety goals to purposefully impact and enhance both individual and organisational productivity.

What’s the hard return on employee wellness programs?

Wellness programs have often been viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative. New evidence tells a different story. Not dissimilar to attitudes and perceptions about safety - a comprehensive, strategically designed investment in employees’ social, mental and physical health pays off (Harvard Business Review, December 2010).

The return on investment on comprehensive, well-run programs can be as high as six to one. The outcomes are seen through:

  • lower costs: the savings on health care costs
  • greater productivity: less absence, better performance
  • higher morale: employee pride, trust and commitment increase, contributing to a vigorous organisation.

Where investment in wellness programs are integrated into work practices, the return on investment can be substantial to the business.

What do you see are the benefits and links to safety outcomes by integrating health and safety programs and strategies? Do your wellness programs support safety prevention?

Worker and manager engagement

Motivating workers to become more committed and active in organisational health and safety is often cited as a major challenge for WHS practitioners/advisors.

Workers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) are the people who directly face the hazards of a job, and often have valuable knowledge, expertise, and motivation to improve health and safety. This often puts workers in the unique position of being the ones who set the health and safety standards in the workplace.

Managers are also a key player in how workers engage on health and safety but often have conflicting priorities on their time that can detract from the importance of health and safety. Managers should be encouraged and supported to make time to listen to their workers wherever possible and be aware of the importance of establishing open and honest communication channels to workers.

Practitioners/advisors can effectively engage with managers and workers by being clear about the level of engagement and by taking into account other business priorities that may impact on the uptake of any programs or incentives for health and safety e.g. timing clash with key business activities.

On any normal working day we communicate on a number of different levels. We do this by:

  • talking to other team members
  • seeking support and guidance from friends and other colleagues
  • discussing work practices and other issues with managers
  • using the internet and intranet to gain updates and information
  • using a range of social media options to stay in touch.

To assist managers and workers to be more engaged with health and safety, you as the WHS practitioner/advisor need to use all of the available and established channels to assist them to contribute their ideas and concerns about health and safety.

Managers and workers should be encouraged to use the following as ways to ensure they are contributing to effective communication:

  • contribute at meetings
  • access and seek information from your intranet
  • use emails to clarify, and provide a two way communication approach
  • establish an open and constructive approach to talking to your colleagues and mangers
  • consider the barriers to communication in remote and isolated work locations (e.g shift work, working on your own, isolated by distance or team support, working from home) make contact daily where possible.

The WHS laws and change management

Any change management program can significantly impact on the overall health and wellbeing of workers. It is therefore essential that a WHS practitioner/advisor influence and drive the need for a risk management approach at all levels of the business to identify and manage hazards that are associated with the change management process. . Your role in assisting a PCBU to identify and manage any change management risks and hazards is extremely important. You are often the key link between senior leadership and managers at all levels in:

  • clarifying who is directly responsible for driving the ongoing implementation of the change process e.g. the Executive, WHS and HR practitioners, change agents?
  • communicating key change issues to your workers: use all your available and established channels to engage your audience (meetings, web, intranet, email, blogs, posters, etc)
  • empowering workers by getting involved in implementing the change in their workplace and providing feedback on systems, policies and procedures.

Seize opportunities to build and foster networks

  • As a WHS practitioner/advisor you understand the benefits of building robust and supportive networks. Actively engaging with other practitioners/advisors, in like industries and through professional associations, can assist you in how you approach health and safety issues in your business.
  • These networks provide valuable opportunities to share better practice and lessons learnt. Developing and maintaining professional relationships can assist you to build a strong and resilient professional community. Networking is really about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time and involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return.
Page last updated: 05 Mar 2019