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21 October 2013

This month our guest blogger is Louis Wustemann, Managing Editor, Health and Safety at Work and The Environmentalist

This year’s IIRSM conference in association with Health and Safety at Work aims to focus on health and safety in the context of wider business risk management. The reason is simply that placing safety management in that bigger picture is the next step for a profession looking to integrate itself more closely into the way organisations are run.

For safety practitioners, doing a job to the best of their ability can legitimately seem to be all about discharging their moral duty to make sure no one is hurt in the pursuit of profit and protecting the organisation from prosecution.

But in my experience, safety directors in the biggest corporations don’t frame their priorities in terms of avoiding enforcement action. Instead, they talk in terms of meeting corporate objectives, whether it is providing excellent customer service or optimising production quality and quantity. Maintaining a safe workforce, free from accidents with all the downtime and distraction that comes with them, meshes neatly with the larger organisational aims. It also helps protect the corporate image, that other overarching risk concern of big business.

Safety heads know that they get more traction in aligning themselves with those organisation-specific risk concerns (though the claim of most mission statements to be homegrown is belied by how similar many of them sound from one corporation to another – perhaps there are only a certain number of things you can aim to be excellent at after all). In industries such as oil and gas and construction, the safety imperative is often explicit in corporate goals but that is because those industries have had long and bitter experience of how easily they can get turned away from their aims by understating the importance of minimising accidents.

Regulatory compliance and the moral imperative don’t evaporate as objectives when the safety team talks in terms of organisational priorities and risk control; they should be more than satisfied as a result of meeting goals which set the bar even higher. After all, a slip accident in a supermarket may not attract enforcement action, but it still does nothing to improve the shopping experience of the customers who witness it.

Familiarity with your organisation’s risk management objectives and fitting your work into them objectives does nothing to affect the fundamentals of safety management, it’s about the way the work is interpreted (in the sense that one language is interpreted into another) to match the organisational culture.

This year's IIRSM and HSW annual conference will be held on 14 November.

Louis Wustemann, Managing Editor, LexisNexis