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Survey sparks workplace safety concerns

 Wednesday 6 April, 2011

A major survey of more than 3,000 Australian business people has revealed that urgent action is needed to improve the safety culture at many workplaces.

The 2011 Business of Safety survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Management VT and the Safety Institute of Australia attracted the participation of CEOs; Board members; managers; support personnel; and safety specialists.

More than 40 per cent (41%) of the occupational health and safety (OHS) personnel surveyed did not believe their organisation had a ‘well entrenched OHS culture.’ That view was shared by a quarter of human resources (HR) personnel and senior managers involved in the survey. In contrast, just 11 per cent of CEOs and Board members held that view.

Furthermore, almost half of OHS personnel (49%) who participated in the survey believed that efforts to minimise OHS risks were being impacted by concerns about reduced productivity. A quarter of CEOs/board members and senior managers also expressed that view.

Federal Government statistics on workplace fatalities reveal that on average more than 400 Australians die each year from work related traumatic injuries and thousands more suffer long term injuries. 

“You can’t build and sustain a successful organisation and attract the best employees if you have a second rate workplace safety record.  If some CEOs and senior management think they can shave the safety budget without impacting on workplace culture, profits and performance they are in for a shock,” said CEOs Susan Heron of the Australian Institute of Management VT and Gary Lawson-Smith of the Safety Institute of Australia.

“In the midst of a long term skills crisis, pacesetter companies realise the provision of a safe workplace is more than just delivering on what every employee has a right to expect, it is now a competitive point of difference in the battle to attract and retain talent,” they said.
 
The survey also revealed a worrying gap between the views of CEOs/Board members and OHS personnel when it came to answering the question: “Does top level management ‘walk the talk’ (action matches words) on OHS in your organisation?” Eighty-eight per cent of CEOs/Board members and 70 per cent of senior managers said ‘Yes’ compared to 47 per cent of OHS personnel and 55 per cent of HR personnel.

Ms Heron and Mr Lawson-Smith said a key imperative for Australian organisations was to ensure OHS personnel were given the necessary management and leadership training so they could better engage with top level management and lower level personnel to drive workplace safety improvements.

“Organisations need to create a safety culture in which OHS personnel see themselves as more than just technical specialists but as leaders and managers making a significant contribution to organisational performance,” the CEOs said. 

The survey discovered that only 41 per cent of OHS personnel had participated in management and leadership training.
 
OHS survey participants were also asked what elements of management training and professional development they needed most and the three top responses were:
   -Lead innovation and change
  -Strategic planning
  -Manage people and performance. 

Other key survey statistics were:
- ‘Competing priorities’ (39%) and ‘Insufficient resources’ (29%) are top factors that impede on an organisation’s efforts to meet or exceed its health and safety performance targets
-40% of survey respondents do not believe or are unsure that OHS communication between managers and their direct reports is effective
- 78% of survey respondents support workplace safety to be taught in primary and secondary schools.