According to Quentin Hearn, group manager of OHS at Chandler Macleod, cutting costs should never equate to minimising safety.
Hearn’s role sees him developing and driving OHS risk reduction initiatives on a daily basis, and requires a detailed understanding of safety systems, incident types and workplace cultures across a wide range of workplaces.
“The main trend in the industrial space is the reduction in occupational health and safety (OHS) and HR resources,” said Quentin Hearn, group manager of OHS at Chandler Macleod. “With that comes OHS and HR responsibilities being pushed down the line to people who may not have adequate experience in those functions.”
He explained that these trends are the result of economic pressures, which inevitably lead to pressures to reduce costs.
According to Hearn, this can be problematic as the inheritors of the OHS responsibilities are often insufficiently trained or lacking insight as to why they are completing the work.
“It can become a compliance based role rather than actually looking for those things that have the potential to cause injury,” he told HC. “Cutting jobs can translate to people doing a lot more, causing employees to become distracted or rush through their work – both of which are often causal factors in OHS incidents.”
The high risk mining and energy resource industries were the first and most heavily affected by OHS redundancies due to the downturn in global commodity prices
Hearn told HC that this had a “flow on” effect, as companies that supported these industries had to follow suit and make similar reductions in numbers across their businesses.
But the biggest problem, Hearn said, is that when new people are tasked with OHS duties, they are failing to understand the ‘why’.
“I think that the best approach to take when looking at cutting back a team is understanding the risks involved and the effects they could have on employees and the leadership of the company,” he explained. “When cuts have to be made, try to avoid losing experience.”
“When there are financial pressures on any organisation, senior leaders should remember to remain strong on their safety messaging,” said Hearn. “This reminds employees that senior leaders care about the safety element of work and are continuing to focus on the wellbeing of their staff – not just the dollars.”
He pointed out that safety can also heavily influence efficiency, as serious incidents can have a highly detrimental effect.
“Savings made from cuts to injury prevention resources can be dashed in one incident,” said Hearn. “Big incidents can affect public perceptions and the bottom line of an organisation, as well as upsetting the workforce.”
Hearn told HC that the most common mistake he sees is employers failing to make attempts to minimise unnecessary administration work for their reshaped OHS team following staff cuts.
“Often, larger teams have larger admin burdens, so cutting the team but leaving them with that burden is detrimental to their work,” he advised. “Employers should try to minimise that admin work, capturing only the information that matters, in order to maximise the OHS team’s time spent amongst workers in these high risk workplaces.”
In times of economic strain, many employers will be faced with the responsibility of minimising their teams – but how can you cut costs without risking a bigger price?