The idea of occupational health and management systems is rather complex and several definitions exist. The debate about OSHMSs is evident that there is no universal knowledge of the concept of occupational health and safety management. Rather there exist many models and approaches which are frequently merely sub elements regarded as complete management systems. Although the fundamental objective is to improve the health and safety of employees, at a more indebt level, one can find a variety, for example by using prevention as a fundamental company objective, by projecting the employer’s responsibility or by improving the employees’ participation and their representatives.
Occupational Health and Safety management system can be defined as a set of harmonized and incorporated processes, that allows a business or organisation to be able to control and manage their occupational health and safety issues in a homogeneous, orderly and effective way. It also enables organisations to comply with the requirements of legislation and also to initiate current best practice. Because it uses a systems approach, it helps guarantee’s a reliable and systematic approach to health and safety management throughout an organisation.
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Implementing this type of system is an indication that an organisation is taking a coordinated approach to the prevention of occupational health and safety risks. It is a choice that explicitly sets out to:
- Improve an institutions responsiveness and performance in OSH
- purge or reduce health and safety failures
- predict change
- Ensure overall uniformity with other management policies
- Contribute to improving the Company’s image.
H&S Management System Models
There are two recommended approaches depending on the organisational needs of the business and with the objective that the approach will be integrated into the total management system. One is based on successful health and safety management HS (G) 65. Another model is OHSAS 18001, the international standard for health and safety management systems. The international standard recognises HS (G) 65 and uses essentially identical principles. Both models are very similar with some minor differences.
Effective health and safety management systems should have clear processes to follow, such as clear directives that describes who does what and when. Effective health and safety management systems should also have Control Forms in place that are used to control the important steps in the process. These should be simple, clear and easy to use as they will, when concluded, records that are necessary for the continues effectiveness of the management system.
Some of the basic components of an effective management system are thus:
- developing a sound policy,
- developing procedures,
- monitoring performance and
- Reviewing the effectiveness of the management system.
The various models of management systems standards are in effect establish on the same values of management as those of general management. Management systems based on OHSAS 18001, AS 4801-2000 and ISO 14001 are prescriptive than others that are base on HSG65 and, to a great extent, ILO-OSH 2001, which base greater concern to the responsibility of people in the management of occupational health and safety risks.
Reserach Evidence Of The Effectiveness Of H&S Management System
Some research has been carried out to assess the effectiveness of Occupational health and safety management systems. Frick et al. (2000:2) pointed out that the lack of critical assessment is astonishing despite the fact that:
‘OHSM has evolved internationally as the major strategy to reduce the serious social and economic problem of ill-health at work’.
On the other hand, there are some researches that base their findings on the effectiveness of OHSMS, and which will be grouped as the ‘effectiveness research’.
The first (effectiveness research) is a project started in the late 1970s, by researchers at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the USA to look at the different characteristics of companies with outstanding health and safety performance. In the first two stages of the research, matched pair comparisons were undertaken of safety programme practices in companies with high and low injury rates (Cohen et al., 1975; Smith et al., 1978). The third stage of the research looked at the health and safety programmes of five companies with commendable health and safety performance (Cohen & Cleveland, 1983).
Some sensitive issues were identified in the NIOSH research and other research linking the practise of health and safety management with injury result data (Simonds & Shafai-Sahrai, 1977; Viner et al., 1989; Gallagher, 1994; Zohar, 1980; Chew, 1988; Shannon et al., 1996; Simard & Marchand, 1995; Eyssen et al., 1980). Research findings of the studies suggest the fundamental and critical role played by senior management employees (managers) in successful health and safety management systems, the role of effective communication, employee participation and consultation in the whole process.
Another research conducted in the nuclear industry have identified further conditions for the effectiveness of health and safety management systems. Marcus’ (1988:251) research of externally induced health and safety innovations in nuclear power companies following an incident (Three Mile Island incident) found autonomy to be a fundamental factor for the effectiveness of Health and safety management system. Nichols and Marcus (1990) in their research emphasize the eventual negative impact of the lack of management attention from vital production and safety requirements. There are some factors that stand against the adoption of effective health and safety management systems. These include:
- the difficulties faced by small firms,
- subcontracting arrangements, and
- contemporary labour market changes.
Research conducted in Australia by Gallagher (2000) was based on the relationship between OHS type and system performance. This is the only major empirical research of health and safety management system effectiveness in Australian industry. Research evidence was collected in the mid 1990s from some twenty organisations that had implemented an occupational health and management systems. The systems in these organisations were grouped according to Gallagher’s cross typology based on management structure/style and control strategy. Performance was then evaluated using three criteria
- Incident/claims trends,
- changes in performance relative to industry benchmarks, and
- An assessment through an audit tool based upon Safety MAP.
The research findings suggest the type of occupational health and safety management system may influence its effectiveness or failure. There was a tendency for innovative/safe place enterprises (adaptive hazard managers) to perform better than traditional/safe person enterprises (unsafe act minimisers). Adaptive hazard managers stand out from the remainder by the vigour of their focus on elimination of hazard as the underlying purpose of their system activity. They had an organised approach to the management of hazard for the full spectrum of hazards, in contrast to other cases where systems activity variously had an underlying risk management or cultural change purpose, or appeared to be base at improving the health and safety system as an end in itself. Gallagher’s findings strengthen the results of the various ‘effectiveness’ research that highlight the important role played by top managers and of employee participation and engagement
‘’That the most senior managers should drive health and safety change and that health and safety representatives should move away from the margins of health and safety management, into more mainstream health and safety management planning, implementation and review.’’
In his analysis of the Esso gas plant disaster, Hopkins’ (2000) provides a thorough case study of how lack of management commitment can cause a system to fail in practice. Esso had its own occupational health and safety management in place called Operational Integrity Management System (OIMS), once complemented by many as an ideal system and one which company audits suggested was operating at peak level. Reviewing material from the Longford Royal Commission, Hopkins identifies a number of failures in the Esso system that directly contributed to the disaster:
- Defective auditing processes,
- Failure to adequately identify hazards and assess risks,
- A hands-off management strategy,
- Absence of procedures to deal with the immediate set of incidents,
- Inadequate training,
- Poor communication mechanisms
- Inadequate hazard reporting system.
All the above can in a sense be seen as some of the barriers to the effectiveness of an occupational health and safety management system. Hopkins (2000:147) on the other hand challenges the critics of Occupational health and safety management systems who argue that the Esso disaster discredits the idea of an OHS management system and points instead to the need for ‘organisational mindfulness’, an idea said to account for the reliability of high reliability organisations. Hopkins suggests that mindfulness can strengthen an OHSMS by highlighting the aspects of health and safety management that are essential for high reliability.
A further research by Dell (2000) was out to identify the conditions of an effective OHSMS and the needed interventions to ensure the systems characteristics are well understood and applicable to industry. Dell draws the differences between proactive and reactive systems, the later marked by reactive activity following an incident; the former by proactive hazard management linked to quality and continuous improvement philosophy. Of the fifteen companies assessed, more than half have no management focus on health and safety and high levels of legislative non-compliance and no fundamental system in place. Of the remaining companies with some sort of system in place, the systems are mainly reactive in nature with no indication of proactive logical hazard or risk management activity. System performance remains difficult to separate given these sub-optimal conditions.
Barriers To The Effectiveness Of H&S Management System
The evidence from research suggests that Occupational Health and Safety management systems are likely to fail because of the following reasons:
- The inability to meet primary conditions for Occupational health and management systems effectiveness (by not customising systems to organisational needs, imposition without consultation, relax top management commitment and non-employee involvement).
- The inapt utilisation of audit tools (where they become an end in themselves, are base on misdirected management goals, and are conducted without any expert auditor skills, standards and criteria).
- Application of the system in hostile contexts (small business, precarious employment, contractors and labour hire companies).
Case Study Of My Experience In The Effectiveness Of H&S Management System
These case studies are base on my experience on a review which was undertaken by ASHMAN & ASSOCIATES LTD CAMEROON between 2001 and 2009. These studies include:
- A review of occupational health and safety management systems used within the Cameroonian chicken processing industry.
- An evaluation of injury prevention within a large governmental department with multiple locations across Cameroon.
- The development of a strategic plan for injury prevention within a large governmental departmental involved in the running of detention centres.
- The approach towards injury prevention with the Douala reference hospital
- A manufacturing company involved with the making and distribution of textiles.
Each of these case studies involved an objective of assessing the effectiveness of the occupational health and safety systems for developing an injury prevention model suitable for the culture and hazards associated with the respective workplaces. Each project primarily involved the following methodology:
- A review of the workplace’s injury history for the previous three to six years and identification of the primary types of injuries as well as their location and causal agents.
- A review of incident reports and safety committee minutes, as well as consultation with key stakeholders in identifying the variety of hazards that is evident within the respective workplace.
- A series of walk-through inspections and audits of targeted areas within the workplaces.
- Technical assessments based on a risk management approach for identifying hazards, with assessing based on legislative and best practice models, and development of appropriate risk controls.
- Maintaining consultation with the stakeholders throughout the risk assessment approach and monitoring the adoption and evaluation of recommendations.
- Integrating the results of the risk assessments into a range of appropriate business plans relevant for the size and scope of issues managed in the business.
- Debriefing the senior management of the organisation on the major findings and recommendations.
- Developing key performance indicators, in consultation with the stakeholder groups, to ensure an approach of ongoing implementation and continuous improvement with respect to addressing injury prevention in the workplace.
Results of Experience
On the basis of the research conducted in these workplaces, a range of business imperatives were clearly identified within those companies which were successful in addressing occupational health risks. The key imperatives were as follows:
- Management commitment and active participation
- Participation of the employees
- Setting of goals and measuring performance
- Integration of Occupational health and safety strategies into business plan
- Positive feedback and recognition of achievements.
The commitment of senior management and their participation in the prevention systems was vital. The direct involvement and commitment of the senior management was the major determinant within specific workplaces as to the level of improvement and sustained performance in injury management. Without their commitment and participation, the prevention appeared to achieve a ‘glass ceiling’ above which the performance appeared not to improve. This was particularly evident where responsibility for OHS management was delegated to a ‘middle level’ manager, in particular those with non-operational responsibilities, such as human resource managers or OHS officers.
The successful integration of OHS with other management systems will ensure that the long term objectives of the organisation incorporate a desire to develop OHS initiatives through each stage of the design and development process.
It is evident from these case studies that the five basic imperatives outlined should be key components of a system which will produce a sustained focus on injury prevention. Many of the OHS management systems available on the market were found to be too complex and too time consuming and costly to implement and maintain for the majority of the businesses assessed. However, the requirement of at least a simple system which contains these key imperatives would seem a sensible starting place for organisations contemplating a programme focusing on injury prevention at the workplace level.
Implicit in many of the research reviewed above to show the effectiveness of Occupational Health and Safety management system is the finding that OHSMS sometimes work under the appropriate conditions. It also alludes to the significant importance of top management commitment and employee involvement in the whole process. A general agreement also emerged that the effectiveness of Occupational health and safety management systems depends on concrete top management commitment and employee involment which were relentlessly described as essential and inter-linked. Top management commitment is regarded as a pre-requisite for embarking on a systems approach in the first place. Without this whole concept of top management commitment, an OHS management system cannot be effective or is likely to collapse into a token exercise. Employee consultation and Involvement was also considered equally important to its effectiveness.
- Cohen, A., Smith, B., & Cohen, A. (1975) Safety Program Practices in High vs. Low
- Accident Rate Companies – An Interim Report, National Institute of Occupational
- Safety and Health, Publication No 75-185, Cincinatti.
- Cohen, H., & Cleveland, R. (1983) Safety Program Practices in Record-Holding Plants, Professional Safety, March, 26-32.
- Dell, G. (2000) Current Safety Management Practice: Does a Systematic Approach
- DeliverPaper presented at the First National Conference on Occupational Health
- and Safety Management Systems, UWS, Sydney.
- K. Frick & P. Jensen & M. Quinlan & T. Wilthagen (Eds.) Systematic OHS Management: Perspectives on an International Development, Elsevier, Amsterdam.
- Gallagher, C. (1997) Health and Safety Management Systems: An Analysis of System Types and Effectiveness, National Key Centre in Industrial Relations, Monash University, Melbourne
- Gunningham, N., & Johnstone, R. (1999) Regulating Workplace Safety: System and
- Sanctions, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Health and Safety Executive (1991) Successful Health and Safety Management, HMSO, London.
- Hopkins, A. (2000) Lessons from Longford: The Esso Gas Plant Explosion, CCH Australia Limited, Sydney.
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