Safety in the workplace is all about keeping everybody safe and well at work. When we talk about being safe at work this includes not only physical and mental safety, but importantly overall wellness and wellbeing. This even extends to issues such bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
As a principle, the mwah. approach to safety is that all employees should return home from work in the same (if not a better) condition as they were when they arrived at work.
For businesses and leaders, it is important to create and maintain a safe workplace for more than just the obvious reason making sure your team do not get hurt while in your care and to avoid costly worker’s compensation claims. We know that workplaces that have great safety cultures and practices also experience;
- More productive teams and work environments
- Reduced absenteeism levels/less absenteeism than your competitors
- Happier teams
- A stronger brand reputation – in eyes of employees (current and potential), consumers, government and suppliers
- Reduced business operational cost and disruption
- A more innovative and business improvement focussed culture
It’s a pretty slam dunk business case.
Workplace safety is one of those areas which can seem a bit daunting; there is a lot of legislation and a lot of rules! While this may be a little overwhelming, there is a good reason that this space is as heavily governed as it is – because the outcome of getting it wrong is significant, and can result in long term negative impacts for individuals (and their family and friends), teams and businesses.
Don’t panic though, managing safety in the workplace can be done effectively by doing the right thing and caring about people. This means;
- For business – driving a robust safety culture and good safety systems and processes.
- For leaders – bringing the business approach to life, supporting your team to achieve a safe approach to work every day and importantly personally role modelling great safety practices and behaviours.
- For your team – being individually and personally accountable for their own safety and the safety of those around them, and owning initiatives that improve safety in the workplace.
The best approach to safety is when everyone in the business works together and collectively takes responsibilities for making the workplace a healthy and safe environment that supports the wellness of everyone in the team.
© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human
The role of a leader in safety
The role of a leader in safety is critical. As a leader, it is your role to drive a real safety focus and great safety practices into everything yourself and your team do every day.
The concept of safety in modern businesses goes beyond traditional risk assessment, ‘near miss’ reporting and PPE (personal protective equipment). While these types of physical safety requirements are still critical, leaders are now also being tasked with better supporting and managing mental health and more holistic employee wellness. This can include everything from supporting the mental health needs of individuals, to maintaining an environment where everyone feels safe and able to perform at their best. It’s a big, but important job.
As a leader, it is your role to understand the broad areas of safety that impact your team, and to work with and empower the group to implement the safety and wellness practices needed to support them. To help you do this, here are some practical tips;
- Talk to your team about safety and make it real. What are the aspects of safety most relevant to their roles/their environment/their workplace? Why is safety personally important to each person (i.e. who do they want to go home to)? What could go wrong in your environment? What has gone wrong before and what was the impact? What could be done better? How could risks be proactively managed? Make safety part of the everyday conversation and a priority for you and the team.
- Get your team involved – safety works best when it is owned by everyone. As a leader, you will not be aware of every issue, hazard or risk that your team faces, nor will you have every answer on how to manage these issues. Empower and challenge your team to own their personal safety and the safety of each other. Give them the ability to fix the things that are unsafe. Given them a voice to raise concerns and then work with them to address and resolve issues. Consult with them about issues in the workplace. By everyone having a role and ownership in driving safety, you are more likely to achieve better results.
- Educate your team- help your team understand safety issues and how to resolve them. Make sure they understand the safety process, systems and practices of the business. Invest in their safety development. This could be transferrable skills like problem solving or Lean Sigma or specialist education in mental health or lifestyle health at work. If a particular issue is raised by the team, seek out (or ask your team to seek out) some team education that everyone can participate in.
- Measure safety and set improvement targets. What gets measured gets done. Set clear and meaningful performance indicators for safety (e.g. total number of incidents, lost time vs. medical treatment incidents, near misses etc.) and set targets to improve current performance. Find a way to make this real for the whole team and get them involved, even if their job may not, at first glance, be accountable for safety.
- Reward good safety behaviour – this one is simple. If you see or hear of an individual or team doing something great, tell them it’s great. Showcase it across the business. Show them their effort and commitment to safety is important and valued. Reward them in the same way you would if they won a new customer or improved team efficiencies.
- Role model good safety behaviour – all the time, even when you think no one is looking. Your team will look to you to set an example. Make sure you walk the talk to encourage them to do the same.
Your role in wellness – yours and everyone else’s
Everyone at work is responsible for their own wellness. Wellness looks different for everyone including what makes us and keeps us well and how we best support wellness in others. At mwah. we see wellness as being a combination of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional factors. You can learn more about Wellness here.
As a leader, your first responsibility is to look after and prioritise your own wellness. If you are not well, you will not have the energy, focus or maybe even the physical ability to support your team to be well. Take this responsibility seriously. Your team will look to you to set the scene around wellness management. If you role model and show that this is important, it will give your team permission to do this for themselves (and to support each other to do this).
From a team perspective, your role as a leader is twofold; supporting individual wellness and supporting team wellness. Do this by understanding what wellness looks like in each case, and agree or build a simple wellness plan to help keep this front of mind and/or address any areas where there are issues or deficiencies. You may also need to help educate your team on what wellness is and how this can be achieved personally and as group. There are some great resources here to help you (link to wellness).
Your role in Mental Health
Supporting mental health at work is key responsibility of leaders. It is estimated that 1 in every 5 workers at any one time are experiencing a mental health issue. Logically this means that from time to time there will be someone in your team (or the broader team) who may need some assistance here. Supporting mental health in the workplace doesn’t mean becoming a counsellor or Psychologist. It means supporting a person’s fitness to do their role using the same approach you would if they have a physical condition (like a broken leg, cancer, diabetes etc).
To practically support mental health in your team;
- Provide education and information about mental health in the workplace. This will not only provide the team guidance around how to support themselves and others, but it will also show the business’s (and your own personal) commitment to supporting a mentally healthy workplace. There are a number of organisations who specialise in helping businesses to educate themselves and their employees about mental health at work. Their details can be found in the “becoming expert” section.
- Encourage your team members to disclose mental health issues and work with them on a plan to support their health and wellness. This may include things like a return to work plan, making adjustments to work practices, flexible working hours etc.
- Check in on team members if you notice changes in their behaviour or if you know they are having a tough time. Ask how they are doing. Ask if they need support and what it is. If you can, provide the support directly. If you can’t provide the support, help the individual get connected to somebody (or an organisation) that can. Help them get healthy and well as best you can.
Your role in Ethics
Environments that challenge the ethics of teams can also be a risk to health and safety. Working in an environment where you don’t agree or trust the practices, values and/or principles of the business can be very detrimental to the wellness of your team and yourself. It can cause stress, anxiety, guilt or even shame, which are all factors likely to hamper wellbeing at work.
While most businesses strive to act ethically in all that they do, there may be times where decisions made are/appear to be misaligned with the ethics of yourself and/or the team. As a leader, you may not be able to resolve every value clash between your team and the business. Nor will you be able to make every decision or design every plan or strategy meaning, you won’t be able to ensure “the ethical” approach is taken on every occasion. This doesn’t mean you have no control over ethics in the workplace and their impact of these on the team. Thing you can do include;
- Seek more information about the ethical challenge. Sometimes lack of context or information may distort the perception of a decision or approach. You may find that once you know more about a situation, the ethical and fair choice was taken by the business. If context helps explain the situation, share this with the team. If the context doesn’t help explain the matter, don’t mispresent information or “cover up” bad business practices to try and “protect” or appease your team. They will likely find out the truth and then will question your honesty.
- Openly discuss ethical challenges with your team. Try not to shut down thoughts or ideas you don’t agree with. Make it safe to talk about the things that challenge them. You don’t necessarily have to agree, but you should allow and support the discussion. This is a great way to foster a culture of transparency and make it “safe” and comfortable for the team to explore even the tough issues.
- If a team member is having specific concerns about business ethics (that are unlikely to change) and their own wellness is being impacted, as a leader it is important to have the difficult discussion with them about the sustainability of the employment relationship. An example here may be about a person working for a tobacco or liquor business when they have serious concerns about the impact of these products on the community. A good approach here is to work through the issues with the individual and openly discuss the options available to them. Focus on prioritising their wellness and how this can be done in an environment where their personal ethics and business ethics may be misaligned. This may include supporting them to find another role, move to a different team or even find out more information on a topic to help them become better informed.
- Don’t allow unethical behaviour to occur in your team. This is best done by focussing on both what an individual achieves and how this is done (for example, not rewarding extra sales if this was achieved by lying to a customer). Team members will know if there is unethical behaviour occurring around them and this can often make them feel unsafe or stressed. Create an environment where this behaviour is not accepted and where addressing/identifying such behaviour amongst the team is rewarded.
Your role in managing conflict
Unresolved workplace conflict, or poor workplace conflict resolution skills can create a challenging environment for your team to work within. It can be stressful and uncomfortable and create feelings of fear, distrust and even aggression. This can make your team feel unsafe and challenge their ability to stay well.
For leaders, managing workplace conflict is about role modelling good conflict management behaviour. This includes having the tough discussion, at the right time in a way that is positive, constructive and achieves great outcomes for those involved. It also means helping your team manage workplace conflict by educating them on practical approaches that work, coaching them and if required, assisting them to work through conflict with each other and broader stakeholders in the business.
As a leader, the worst thing you can do is to let conflict fester and to continue unresolved. Even when tricky or difficult (or you consider it petty), take the time to support your team to work through and resolve issues.
We have a whole section on resolving conflict in the mwah. knowledge base you like to check out.
Your role at the Christmas (or other) Party
There is a workplace myth that often gets thrown about in relation to Christmas (or other) parties, conferences, long lunches, team building events etc. – “what goes on tour stays on tour”. As a leader, we know (or we hope) you know this is not true. Anytime you or your team is at a business sponsored event or activity, or anytime an employee is performing business activities (e.g. travelling for work, attending a client or supplier function), they are essentially deemed by law to be “at work”. This means the expectations, policies and requirements of the team and their behaviour are the same whether they are at their desk at 9am on a Tuesday morning, or on a nightclub dance floor, at 11pm on a Friday night at your work Christmas party.
As a leader, it is your role to ensure your team are aware of the expectations of them while attending these types of events and functions. Ensure they are informed about what kind of behaviour is ok and not ok, and explain the impact why it is important (i.e. so they keep themselves and each other safe while at work). Importantly, make sure you role model the right behaviour. In addition to education and expectation setting, some other approaches you may use to create a safer environment for business functions/activities include;
- Having designated start and finish times for work events.
- Managing and limiting the amount of alcohol available during functions (open bar may seem like a good idea at the time but is rarely ever a good idea in the long run). This is particularly important if you have people on your team who have trouble with alcohol.
- Providing transport home (cab charges, buses etc.).
- Providing sufficient food and non-alcoholic beverages at functions.
- Picking activities that are appropriate and safe for everyone. Think carefully about events like pool parties or about risqué locations or event entertainment that, while intended in fun, may offend others and make them feel unsafe at work.
The other thing you ought to think about for the Christmas party or any other work function, is that, as the boss, you should also be host. You’re charged with keeping people safe. Now is not the time to find yourself being carried to a taxi with one shoe missing. Instead, think of the Christmas party as your way of saying ‘thanks for a great year’. Have fun, but don’t need anyone else to look after you. You have the privilege of looking after your team.
Your role in the outside-of-work-stuff
Safety at work doesn’t stop when a person’s leaves the office or the Christmas party. It extends to their life outside of work as well. As a leader, you are not personally responsible or liable for everything that happens in an individual’s life outside of work. However, as a leader, you should care about the holistic person in your team and understand their safety and wellness at home will have an impact on their work, performance and interaction with and contribution to the team.
To make it simple, it is best to break this down into the things you are “liable” for outside of work and the other things outside of work that impact a person’s health and wellness that we know you will want to help manage because you are a kick arse leader.
The liability side- This includes the things “related” to an individual’s employment that may be outside of work hours or are not strictly related to work outputs/events. This may be a team member bullying another via their personal social media, sexual or physical assault unrelated to work (e.g. at a social football game, at a party) or even a personal relationship breakdown between team members for issues not related to work.
There is no text book approach with how to deal with these matters, however the priority is clear – keeping your team member/s safe and well at work. Speak to the team members involved and understand what has happened and where they are personally at with the situation. How are they feeling? What are they concerned about? How could these concerns be addressed?
In some cases, the issues outside of work may be serious enough to result in disciplinary action or termination (e.g. assault, bullying). Other case may call for either informal or formal mediation/expectation between team members to allow them to work together (noting that this approach is generally unsustainable and can leave one or even both parties feeling uncomfortable). Work with the impacted team member/s and seek to implement a solution which best supports everyone to feel as safe and well as possible in a way that is reasonable and practical for the business.
The kick arse leader side – This basically covers everything else in an employee’s life. Financial challenges, addiction issues, domestic violence, relationship problems or personal health concerns. Your role as a leader here is simple, to care and to support. Listen to the individual. What’s going on? What support do they need? How can you help? Are there any factors at work which are making things better/even harder for the employee?
In either scenario, be aware that things outside of work will directly and demonstrably impact the safety and wellness of your team while at work. This means that even if things are not “your responsibility”, they will ultimately end up being your responsibility, so it’s important that are managed well in the first instance.
Your role in work-life balance
Technology, global teams and ever increasing workloads challenge our abilities to manage our own workloads and work life balance every day. Throw in responsibilities for friends, family, sport or the community and it can be very difficult to manage and balance everything you must do in your life. We know that it is a challenge to consistently achieve a balance between work and life and if not done well, this can negatively impact on your own wellness at work and the wellness of your team.
Work-life balance is a difficult one to manage as a leader, as it’s not something you can “achieve” then walk away from. Rather this is something you must consciously work on regularly to ensure you are not only balancing your own work-life, but you are supporting your team to do the same. Simple approaches you can use to do this include;
- Personally, role modelling good work-life behaviours (e.g. not always being the last to leave the office, doing things outside of work and sharing these with your team). Setting a good example will give your team permission to take ownership of managing their own work-life balance (and overall health and wellness).
- Help the team agree on good practices for supporting each other to achieve good balance. This maybe email black outs (e.g. no emails on weekend or after 8pm, unless it is an emergency), supporting flexible working times or sharing leave over preferred periods. It is important that the team agrees the practices that they want and that suit their life. For example, in some teams it may be preferable for people to work and send emails after 8pm when their kids are in bed.
- Help you team instil good time management practices. You can find more information about this here. (link to time management in accessibility).
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and why they matter
An EAP service provides free, confidential counselling and support to employees and their families. An EAP service is generally funded by the business and is offered to employees as an extra way to support their health and wellness while at work.
A good EAP provider will generally be staffed with Psychologists or specialist counsellors who will work with your team to provide support, advice and guidance for any work or non-work related issues they may be experiencing (including addiction, grief, relationship challenges, work stress etc.). The goal of an EAP service is to provide your employees with support when they need it over a series of counselling sessions (generally 6 – 8 sessions). For longer term support, an EAP provider may also help an employee to source and transition to another support service which may be provided by their GP via a mental health plan.
The law doesn’t require businesses to provide their team an EAP service, but if they can this it is a great thing to do. EAP gives employees an opportunity to talk to a specialist in a safe, non-judgemental environment about issues they need help with. These are often issues that you as a leader may not be aware of and that are hampering the employee’s wellness (and often productivity) at work. An EAP service can also reduce the stress on you as a leader, as it allows you to connect your team with specialist support when they need it (and you not qualified or are not the best person to provide it).
EAP services are generally flexible in terms of how and what they offer, and are not usually a high cost people expense. This means that if you are good business, this is something you should be able to reasonably afford even if you a small, medium or very large.
How to set up an EAP
There are a number of great EAP providers available on the Australian market. Approach a few providers and discuss what services they offer and the suggested plan that would best meet the needs of your industry and workforce (as some jobs are more emotionally or mentally challenging than others and thus may need more support).
As a guide, a good EAP service should offer a range of counselling approaches (phone, face to face and/or online), should offer both ongoing and emergency support to your employees and their immediate families, should offer a specialist leader/manager support and should have good practices in place to support the escalation of serious issues (e.g. issues where a person’s safety, or the safety of others is at risk). A good EAP provider should also provide regular reporting (monthly or quarterly depending on volumes) and will identify trends/common areas of concern to help the business understand and address these (such as workplace stress, mental health etc.), without providing an employee specific identifiable data.
Once you have selected a provider, communicate the introduction of the EAP service to the business in a way they will hear it. That may be in site based briefings, an all staff email or even posters on a wall. Be sure to communicate this service as a benefit (because it is)! Let your employees know how the service can be used and that any specific access will be kept confidential. Encourage others leaders and team members to offer this service to their teams/colleagues when they are going through a difficult period of need a little extra help.
Most of the bigger EAP providers also have great arrangements for small businesses, so don’t think you need to be giant business to get an EAP working well. It can work for every size business.
© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human
There is limitless information out there about managing safety, but it can be daunting to dive into this and find what you are looking for. To help you get dive deeper into this space, your state based government safety body has a range of information, tools and resources available to you. You can access more information via;
NSW: Safework- https://www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/
VIC: Worksafe – http://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/
QLD: Worksafe – https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/
TAS: Worksafe – http://worksafe.tas.gov.au/home
SA: Safework – https://www.safework.sa.gov.au/
WA: Worksafe – https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe
ACT: Worksafe – http://www.worksafe.act.gov.au/health_safety
NT: Worksafe – http://www.worksafe.nt.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx
Safe Work Australia: In addition to the State based government safety bodies, there is also a national body – Safe Work Australia. This body is focussed on driving and coordinating national safety policy and reform, with a view to achieving better and more consistent practice across Australia. More information can be found here – http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/ourmembers/pages/members
Want to know even more?
How to be a great safety leader –
How to drive a safety culture – https://www.comcare.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/60575/Workplace_health_and_safety_culture_PDF,_67.3_KB.pdf
Supporting mental health wellness at work:
Heads Up: https://www.headsup.org.au
© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human