WHS Reporting and Due Diligence: Some practical thoughts

My social media feeds have been abuzz recently following the release of Safe Work Australia’s report, Measuring and Reporting on Work Health & Safety. In part (or perhaps wholly) it is my fault for suggesting the report focussed on activity over assurance and could be problematic in that regard.  (see for example LinkedIn, Measuring and Reporting on Work Health & Safety, Everything is Green: The delusion of health and safety reporting).

In several comments and emails, I have been asked to provide some “practical” examples. While it is difficult to provide something that will satisfy everyone, below I offer a few questions that might be useful to interrogate the efficacy of health and safety reporting in your organisation.

I would preface the example below with an observation on due diligence.

Despite what several commentators and marketing campaigns might have you believe, due diligence cannot be satisfied with a checklist, or by attending a WHS training session. The concept of due diligence existed long before WHS legislation, and it has been examined by courts and tribunal in many areas of business. One of the underpinning concepts of due diligence is “independent thought”.

It is incumbent on an individual who is charged with exercising due diligence to exercise a level of independence to understand the “thing” they are required to be diligent about. If that thing is safety, due diligence requires more than passively accepting a monthly WHS report. Due diligence requires independent thought and challenge to understand what you need to know about health and safety and whether the report is informing you about what you need to know.

So, in the spirit of that inquiry, what questions might you ask?

What is the purpose of health and safety reporting?

It might seem trite, but I think it is a legitimate question to start with. After all, if we do not start with a purpose, how to we judge effectiveness?

To many, the purpose of health and safety reporting might seem obvious, but if the history of workplace health and safety has taught us nothing else in the last 30 years, it has taught us about the dangers of assumptions. Do not assume to know the purpose of anything in health and safety – actually know the purpose and test against that purpose.

In many organisations, health and safety reporting is sold as a legal requirement, so in keeping with that theme, perhaps the purpose of health and safety reporting might be

To demonstrate the extent to which our health and safety risks are managed so far as reasonably practicable.

But before the comments start flowing about legal expectations being our minimum standards (sigh!), perhaps we can agree on something like:

To demonstrate the extent to which our health and safety risks are managed.

For those of you who aspire to “zero”, I will leave it to you to come up with your own purpose statement for health and safety reporting. Good luck.

What is the purpose and relevance of an element of health and safety reporting?

Health and safety reports might be filled with all sorts of statements and data. But what purpose do they serve?

A very popular health and safety reporting metric is the number (or percentage) of corrective actions closed out following an incident investigation.

On its face, that statistic is nothing more than a measure of activity – how many things have been done against how many things should have been done. On its face, and at its highest, it might be a measure of “operating discipline” – we are good at doing the things we said we would.

But if the purpose of health and safety reporting is to demonstrate the extent to which our health and safety risks are managed, it does not seem to add much value at all.

Another way to think about a statistical set of action items being closed out is to consider them as an indicator of the effectiveness of incident investigations. After all, the quality of incident investigations is very important to the overall quality of health and safety management and something that inquiries are likely to look at in the event of an accident (See for example Everything is Green: The delusion of health and safety reporting)

Perhaps if people had spent more time asking this question about injury rate data over the past 25 years, it would not have pride of place in safety management today.

What assumption do we have to make if an element of health and safety reporting is going to have value?

If we argue that the number (or percentage) of corrective actions closed out following an incident investigation tells us something about the quality of incident investigations, what assumptions do we have to make?

If 100% of corrective actions from incident investigations have been closed out, and I have a sense of comfort from that, I am making several assumptions. I am making assumptions:

  • About the quality of the incident investigations;
  • About the strength of the reasoning and analysis leading to the findings;
  • That the corrective actions have a strong, logical relevance to the findings;
  • That the corrective actions will be effective to address the issues identified in the incident investigation;
  • That the corrective actions have been closed out, as opposed to ticked off in a data base;
  • That the corrective actions have been well implemented; and
  • That the corrective actions are effective to address the issues identified in the incident investigation.

None of these issues are revealed by the number (or percentage) of corrective actions closed out following an incident investigation.

Indeed, if a health and safety report could show 100% of corrective actions from incident investigations have been closed out without any of the assumptions above being true.

And if these assumptions are not valid, and if a major accident happens, and if it is found that incident have never been properly investigated[1], how can it be said that an organisation and its management was serious about health and safety and exercising due diligence?

I have always believed, at its core, health and safety management is about controlling health and safety hazards.

To some extent, I do not care how organisations say they manage health and safety – safety 1, safety 2, safety differently, visible felt leadership, rules, procedures, prescription, discretion, people are the problem, people are the solution etc., etc., etc. – prove to me that it works. Prove to me that what you do controls the health and safety hazards in your business.

If two people die in an electrical incident at your workplace, nobody cares what your last safety culture survey reveals. You need to demonstrate how the risk of electrocution was managed in your organisation, and whether it was managed effectively.

No one cares what your TRIFR rate is, no one cares how many action items have been closed out, no one cares how many safety interactions your managers have, no one cares how many hazards have been reported, no one cares how many pre-start meetings you have conducted ….

The relevant issue is whether health and safety hazards have been effectively managed.

The things we do in the name of health and safety only matter to the extent that they have a role to play in managing health and safety hazards.

If the number of action items closed out after an incident investigation is important to how hazards are managed, we should be able to explain how and demonstrate the relationship.

Health and safety reporting only matters if it gives us an insight into how well we manage health and safety.

What does your health and safety reporting really tell you?

 

[1] See for example the Royal Commission into the Pike River tragedy.

4 thoughts on “WHS Reporting and Due Diligence: Some practical thoughts

  1. Thank you Greg, hopefully all the lovely pie charts and bar graphs can go out the window and some real issues be addressed. I have been guilty of ticking the box in an incident investigation ( usually on a OHS computer program) because it is so much quicker than writing a couple of paragraphs.
    What role does a Board play in Due Diligence? What information do they need to make decision and directions for safety?

  2. Thanks Greg, again, another great and encouraging article. It provides down to earth, practical, realistic points.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s