There has been a significant uplift in the level of activity around Health and Safety management systems with State and Federal government agencies joining with industry sector associations and others in the calls to promote - and in many cases require - their uptake.

Implementing a Health and Safety management system implies the expenditure of substantial resources for all organizations that elect to do so. Over 95% of this real economic cost is attributable to the time inputs from personnel working within the organization on program development (drafting policies, procedures and the like), training (most personnel will be trained) and auditing (internal and maybe 3rd party).

Most expect the implementation of management systems and the investment of resources this implies to create operational efficiencies and other Health and Safety performance gains: less incidents; better compliance with regulations and ongoing reductions in Health and Safety impact. Achieving meaningful Health and Safety performance improvement along these lines will reduce Health and Safety liabilities. It will also reduce the level of management distraction which is almost always associated with poor performance. Better Health and Safety performance will generally also lead to greater operational flexibility arising from enhanced trust with stakeholders (employees, neighbors, regulators, etc).

Worryingly, a number of studies carried out in the UK, Europe and the US over the past two years have concluded that management systems do not give rise to meaningful performance improvement. This ought to be a real source of concern to all who are seeking to encourage their uptake, not least those regulatory authorities that are intending to provide regulatory incentives to organisations which have implemented management systems.

The findings of these studies are surprising for some. Others - especially those with muchexperience in the field - have been questioning the value of traditional document-focused approaches to H+S MS implementation. The traditional approach is to first develop a body of documented policies and procedures to meet the requirements of Health and Safety management systems standards like OHSAS 18001 and then expend effort implementing these (much training) and then follow up with conformance audits on an ongoing basis. Those who see little value in this approach argue that it cannot yield meaningful performance improvement, because:

  • it focuses on conformance - with the standards - rather than the achievement of performance outcomes or an organization's real ability to deliver same; and

  • the document-focused model that underpins the traditional approach is at odds with the way that managers actually deliver results.

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