OH must emphasise importance of risk management

Occupational health (OH) should take a more active role in persuading senior managers and employees to take risk management more seriously.

“OH tends not to get where real decisions and strategy are made. But [company] boards want all risk wrapped up together,” said Julie Kerr, OH adviser at the British Library.

She said that in the past senior executives have been focused on meeting the requirements of their auditors rather than improving the safety of the workplace. Board members relied on the Institute of Directors for advice and were not aware of other bodies responsible for health and safety.

“Boards do recognise the Health and Safety Executive, but the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) and the Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) do not hit their consciousness at all,” said Kerr.

She urged OH professional groups to collaborate with professional bodies in health and safety and business continuity. “Some of you have got to start pulling together these organisations and take the view that these are friends and not foes.”

Approaches to risk management were changing from the negative approach of the past which focused on disaster recovery, compliance, insurance, audit, health and safety. “That to me doesn’t sound like exciting stuff,” said Kerr. “It sounds negative, but that’s where risk management comes from. Quite frankly, I’m surprised anyone went into risk management.”

The challenge now was to get employees to take responsibility for health and safety, known as ‘dynamic risk assessment’. “It is moving towards risk being everybody’s responsibility,” said Kerr.

She said OH practitioners should educate staff to empower them to make decisions for themselves – for example, by using tools for online assessment.

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