Top 3 Issues that impact risk controls in organisations.

When we see a ‘top 3’ written in the health and safety industry, the focus is generally on hazards.

Whilst it’s important to identify hazards in the workplace,  it is how risk around these hazards is controlled that impacts upon incident of injury. Our ‘top 3’ focuses on the key issues that prevent great safety cultures to thrive amongst team members.

At WCG, we see many organisations that have identified their hazards and put controls in place to manage them, but still don’t see the changes in behaviour that they are hoping for.

Why? Often, there are cultural issues that put a stop to these risk controls working on the field.

At our workshops and forums during the conversations we have undertaking our ethnographic research and through the observations we make while undertaking health and safety audits three issues are consistently raised,

Issue 1 An unresolved conflict between safety and production
A strong health and safety record is an indicator of good business health. The evidence is clear, however, that in the majority of organisations there are still pockets of people that believe that “doing things safely can slow us down”.

Safety does not exist for safety’s sake. In  2012–13, work-related injury and disease cost the Australian economy $61.8 billion, representing 4.1% of GDP.¹

  • The majority of the cost (95%) was borne by individuals and society.
  • Workers bore 77%, the community 18% and employers 5%.
  • Injuries accounted for $28 billion (45%) of the cost.

Despite some people’s beliefs, doing safety well actually improves production outcomes. Developing a high performing safety culture encourages your team to work within defined parameters which fosters quality outcomes in all aspects of the business. Instil a safety culture and it will rub off and enhance your operations.

While there should be no conflict between safety and production, it is an ongoing issue for many organisations. There is also no silver bullet. It requires an holistic approach from leadership over a sustained period to normalise the behaviours required to ensure this happens for the long term.

Supporting managers to put more emphasis on safety practices rather than focusing on production levels is one way to begin this shift.

Issue 2 The Leadership Chasm  -“ Intent vs Commitment”
Leaders may say they care about safety, and genuinely think they care, but often lack commitment in demonstrating this on a practical level.

Talking about safety in every meeting and then offering great care after an incident is simply not enough. You may be talking a good game, but you are not actively integrating safety into your team’s DNA.

Visibility amongst the workforce and proactive conversations with your team are critical in demonstrating that you follow through with your verbal commitments, for example:

Get out on the field

  • Check that safety controls are in place and effective.
  • Ask your team how they are going and if anything is worrying them.
  • Test their training – are they doing what they should be in order to be safe?

Two-way communication

  • Encourage employees to tell you what is worrying them rather than advising them about what is going to hurt them.
  • Foster a culture of speaking up when there is a concern
  • Advocate the sharing of bad news

And make sure to

  • Set clear expectations about how they should be keeping themselves safe.
  • Provide freedom within a framework – a team or personal action plan allows people to take ownership and self discover what they need.
  • Don’t approach safety interactions as a task, integrate the discussion into everyday conversations

Issue 3 Unidentified Mental Illness
Over the last 10 years, workforces across all industries have been asked to do increasingly more with less resources.  The long term outcomes of restructuring, downsizing and cyclical change management programs have impacted the mental health of many employees.

The ‘psychological safety’ of employees is an important part of our safety strategy. The top most likely states of mind at the root cause of an incident include:

  • Frustration
  • Fatigue
  • Complacency
  • Distraction

These can all be linked to a level of mental health that is compromised. In Australia 14.4% of the adult population will meet diagnostic criteria for anxiety and 6.2 % will meet diagnostic criteria for depression. However, only 35% of those who meet the diagnostic criteria for mental illness actively go and seek help.

While the stigma around mental health challenges has been somewhat alleviated in the last decade, people still struggle to know where to get help, especially those suffering from anxiety.  Unidentified mental illness is a silent struggle amongst organisations, and people are often reluctant to approach a colleague who may be displaying symptoms of mental illness.

Since 2000, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Courses have been a powerful way for organisations to start their education around mental health.  Just like a traditional first aid program, course participants learn about the signs and symptoms of the common and disabling mental health problems including depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance abuse issues, how to provide initial help, where and how to get professional help, what sort of help has been shown by research to be effective, and how to provide first aid in a crisis situation.  Course graduates then act as a liaison for employees to seek help.

If you have identified the ‘hazards’ but find that your risk controls have no impact, it may be worth checking in and seeing if any of the issues we have identified resonate in your organisation.


The Cost of Work-related Injury and Illness for Australian Employers, Workers and the Community: 2012–13 Safework Australia