Directors - walk and listen

15 May, 2015  |  News


Company directors who wish to get to grips with health and safety need to get out of the boardroom and onto the shop floor – and to listen more than they talk.

This advice – from the chairman and chief executive of Refining NZ – was given to a room of around 70 directors at a health and safety workshop run as part of the annual conference of the Institute of Directors in Auckland in April.

“Have the courage to go out on site and talk to people,” said CE Sjoerd Post, who underlined this point several times in the session. It is, he said, the best way for directors to assure themselves about health and safety. “Your people are subject experts. If you are director of a coal mine you need to go to the bottom of the pit.”

The company’s chair, David Jackson, advised the audience their role during walkarounds was mainly to listen, not to talk; to be a sounding board in conversations about health and safety to get a sense of what is going on, and to observe how people interact with their supervisors. “I end up in very interesting conversations. Too many directors don’t do this.”

He said directors and senior managers also had a responsibility to model good safety behaviour, and noted that during the emergency procedures housekeeping which began the session some in the audience had paid scant attention. Similarly, he has seen senior executives travelling by air carry on conversations with their staff while cabin crew are going through the safety demonstration. Directors who are serious about health and safety would stop and pay attention.

Jackson said the Refining NZ board had not followed the IoD’s health and safety guidelines – which recommend setting up a separate board committee – but instead viewed OHS as a matter for the entire board. The topic starts every board meeting, and each meeting includes at least one “deep dive” into a topic related either to personal safety, occupational health, or process safety. At regular plant shutdowns board members are invited to come on site and attend toolbox meetings with team leaders.

From a chief executive’s perspective, said Post, managing health and safety is the most difficult part of the job. If you have a staff of 500 and only five of them don’t ‘get’ health and safety, the organisation could fail. “It’s a very difficult thing to get right.”

There was a question from the floor: what about people who don’t want to get on board with health and safety? Post’s response was simple: “Fire them. If you have someone who clearly isn’t on board the most effective thing is to let them go.”

Source: Alert24 15/5/15, www.safeguard.co.nz