Where Does the Responsibility for Safety and Health Sit in an Organisation?

9 June 2021 - The recent Safety and Health Network meeting was held on the topic of "Energy Isolation", and raised interesting and important questions on the role of responsibility for safety and health within an organisation. This blog outlines the outcomes and recommendations from this Network meeting. 

By Jo Michael and Anil Raman

The recent Safety and Health Network meeting on Energy Isolation asked attendees: Who is responsible to ensure a machine or piece of equipment is isolated before work is carried out? Half of respondents said it was the responsibility of the production or operations team. A third said it was the responsibility of the maintenance supervisor in charge of the job, with the rest saying it was the workers performing the job that had the responsibility to ensure that the equipment was isolated. These results raise some interesting points when discussing how we can improve the safety of our working environments.

The remit of the operations team

For different organisations, the purpose and role of the production/ operations teams vary; for some this includes implementing safety and health procedures and for others it does not. This means that when coming to understand the issues an organisation faces and how we can share best practice to work towards solutions, we have to be mindful of how this would be impacted by differences in internal structure.

The importance of training

A key part of a safe working environment is making a sure the workforce is competent so that they can comply with the regulations in place. It is the responsibility of the organisation to put checks and balances in place and maintenance supervisors to ensure their workers are up to date. Good training on safety procedures is also very important for workers to have the confidence to know how to act when they feel that the task might not be safety compliant.

Implementing changes

One attendee gave the example where an individual went to work on a site that they were not familiar with. They used old information to work on one of the machines. The company decided that they would ensure that there is no old information in the plant, and that the workers should all be trained to be able to use all equipment safely. Furthermore, maintenance staff should follow the standard training and know that if they are not familiar with a certain piece of equipment, they are not to work on it without receiving the proper training. In this example it clearly highlights how the responsibility for safety and health is distributed within an organisation. The senior team have made the decision about equipment, resources on training and it is the responsibility of the supervisors to make sure their team are adequately prepared. The individual is then also responsible for their own safety by adhering to the procedure set and if they are unable to, they need to raise it with their supervisor.

Effective Supervision

Supervisors also have an important part in ensuring a safe working environment. It is their responsibility to enforce the rules and procedures at each plant for example checking tools for any defects before use; ensuring all workers have placed their personal padlocks before working on the equipment; and making sure jobs are done only with valid permits. Supervisors are also responsible for checking that workers do not bypass rules for any reason for example, when they are working under time pressure.

Understanding the different conditions that impact organisations when addressing safety and health concerns is crucial to facilitating collaboration to achieve a Zero Harm in the cement industry.