Safety Leadership – The Key to Behavioural-Based safety

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Common law dictates that every employee has the right to a safe working environment, which places the onus on the Employer to ensure that this happens. Unfortunately in the Eastern Cape, small to medium size companies still see Health and Safety (H&S) as an unnecessary expense, a nice to have, or a requirement for obtaining a contract.

With this mind-set, employers will fail in reaching their true potential in becoming an employer, supplier or investment of choice. The majority of local companies within the Eastern Cape have never even heard of the terminology “Behaviour Based Safety” (BBS) which was introduced 3 decades ago in other countries. BBS can be described as a process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people’s attention and actions on their and others’ daily safety behavior. BBS is an element of safety system that, should it be neglected, the safety system itself may still exists but the achievement of the reduction of injuries on duty would not be attained since the natural human behaviour is to take the easier, quicker, and less safe path. For BBS to work, the employer must understand that safety performance is driven by the leadership of the organisation.

Safety leadership is the process of interaction between leaders’ and co-workers (the followers), through which leaders can exert their influence on their colleagues to attain the safety goals set out in the Health and Safety policy. Leaders are responsible for living the values, developing of procedures, and enforcing accountability in H&S or, in layman’s terms, “safety leaders set the standards of safe behaviour within their company”. It is expected from a safety leader to be someone who expands their H&S awareness around them, but also provides not only leadership in managing their own safety behaviour and also motivates their colleagues to strive for minimal risk exposure. A good example of this would be a cleaner being able to address the CEO of the company regarding a breach of a health and safety rule without the fear of being victimized.

Only through leading by example, would top management and safety leaders be able to make a real change in the behaviour of employees. The advantages would be far-reaching for an employer who will benefit from a decrease in absenteeism resulting from IOD’s, a reduction in workmen’s compensation claims, reduction in fines and criminal liability, and a subsequent increase in profit.

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