Effectively planned and executed work health and safety (WHS) practices are good for a business and especially good for its staff. It's not just an important legal and workplace obligation; WHS is every business or department's moral and social responsibility to ensure that the people who make it all happen are well looked after and therefore safe, happy and productive.
Above all else, WHS is focused on looking after people. But reducing accidents and injuries also cuts down on injury-related costs and lost productivity, while enhancing an organisation's reputation and fostering staff loyalty. Research has shown a clear link between health and safety in the workplace and long-term business efficiency and sustainability.
For a truly effective WHS program to flourish, it requires great people to manage and implement it. Let's take a look at five key skill areas that those who are considering a career in WHS will want to actively develop:
Like anything, if you need to twist someone's arm or really work hard to convince them to get involved in something, it's unlikely they will ever truly flourish or excel in that area, and the same is true for WHS.
Those who are contemplating a career in WHS will see the inherent value in going above and beyond their role to ensure that people at work are safe, and recognise how that also translates into the best outcomes for the business.
But even if a specific passion for WHS is not immediately obvious, many people are nonetheless passionate about wanting to lead by example and teach knowledge, skills and behaviours to others, and that can translate directly into a successful career in WHS.
The effective WHS professional will understand that workplace health and safety does not exist in a vacuum. In fact, WHS is intricately linked to the very fundamentals of a business from top to bottom, including productivity and profits, so a good overall understanding of the big picture is essential.
But the WHS professional will also need to be diligent in keeping up to date with regular and complex changes to legislation, whilst remaining ever mindful that the law is only ever a minimum standard rather than a concrete limit.
WHS professionals must also be reactive to changes and acutely aware of issues in the workplace, and constantly assessing how existing arrangements are working in practice and how they can be continuously improved.
When it comes to a thriving business, most research identifies 'people' as the most valuable resource. So for a career in WHS, it is absolutely crucial that the professional not relates well and easily to people and builds a rapport quickly. This means superb listening skills, being readily able to empathise and take action, and being open to suggestions and willing to see something from another point of view.
A key people skill with regard to WHS is patience, particularly in getting staff to understand its importance and often breaking through in the face of resistance, whilst another is earning trust and respect, as WHS is a truly collaborative effort.
As WHS is primarily about looking after people and ensuring that they are safe, communication in all its forms is vital for an effective WHS professional. While specific and detailed knowledge about legislation, principles and procedures is important, it's also crucial that the WHS professional be able to confidently and actively communicate about health and safety in a variety of situations, using a range of verbal techniques including clarity, having authority and confidence but exercising humility and openness, and knowing when to stop and listen.
Written communication is also important, not only for writing reports and policies but also to effectively inspire other staff to understand the importance of WHS and become actively engaged in it.
Real WHS leadership is not just showing people what to do and how to do it; it's about changing and moulding behaviours by fostering a culture focused on workplace health and safety, and how it must be continuously monitored and improved. This kind of leadership means that rather than people being told or ordered what to do, everyone at every level is united for the common good of creating and maintaining a safe and healthy work environment, and working constructively and collaboratively to make it better.
A 'culture' far exceeds a mere enforcement of policies, and can only be established by those who explain and instil values and lead credibly by example, having gained legitimate respect and being responsive when changes are needed.