Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork – the OH&S nightmare

Most businesses find OH&S a great cost and irritation, but good companies save time and money by making OH&S a part of the operational decision making process. By ANDREW DOUGLAS

By Andrew Douglas


OH&S paperwork

Most businesses find OH&S a great cost and irritation, but good companies save time and money by making OH&S a part of the operational decision making process.

I was asked to speak on the excessive use of paperwork in occupational health and safety and why it doesn’t work at the Safety in Action Conference on 30 April 2008.


I canvassed a number of businesses before the conference, and these were the questions they repeatedly asked:


  • Why do my operations people feel that the OH&S people impede production and use a language that workers don’t understand?
  • Why is there so much paperwork?
  • Why do workers, supervisors and operational managers repeatedly fail to comply with the paperwork?
  • Why, despite all the money spent on OH&S, is the site still unsafe, the workers compensation premium continues to grow and labour replacement costs for sick leave and workers compensation continue to grow?
  • Why does the careful measurement and control around lost time injuries (LTI) not improve the injury rate, seriousness of injury or speed of return to work of injured workers, leading to a blow out in workers compensation premiums?


The answers are simple:


Businesses fail to integrate OH&S into the operational decision making and as a result the OH&S manager is trying to weld the hole in the Titanic rather than steering it away from the iceberg.


The more isolated the OH&S manager gets from operations the more he/she generates paper rules to try and prevent risk.


The more the OH&S manager generates the paperwork in isolation, the more “OH&S-speak” it becomes, and the less it mirrors reality.


Operations is consumed by cost reduction and production. Once the divorce is complete between operations and OH&S, operations will conceal risk to avoid lost production and costs, concentrate only on LTIs and ignore proper risk identification, return-to-work strategies and targeted termination. It creates an operational hiding culture in OH&S and workers compensation.


The result is increased risk of injury, seriousness of injury, premium cost, production loss, quality loss, increased casual replacement cost and ultimately the rise of industrial relations problems emanating from workers pulling against the business.


Yet the remedy is not difficult.


Owners and senior managers have the skills. OH&S must be integrated into the operational management of the business and inform decisions such as capital expenditure, machinery purchase and commissioning.


OH&S should be developed from the ground up, with policies written by the workers at the coal face so that they represent reality and the workers are trained and skilled.


Finally, make OH&S a core value in the business. Once workers see adherence and commitment to the values underpinning OH&S, they can understand it, implement it and are committed to it. Then the business enjoys productivity, profitability, quality and innovation benefits along with the cost savings surrounding workers compensation, casual replacement labour and prosecution/lawyer costs.



Andrew Douglas is the director of Douglas Workplace and Litigation Lawyers




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