Creating a positive narrative for occupational safety and health can turn discussions of OSH to POSH, says Louise Hosking.
07 October 2019 | Louise Hosking
Ask anyone in the street to describe what occupational safety and health practitioners do and you might hear "conditioning", "control", "restraint", "discipline", "rules", "negativity", and "no".
We need a positive spin. I've been in OSH since I was 21, starting as an environmental health officer at Cambridge City Council. Then, I could not command vocal authority in the manner of someone more senior and soon found a collaborative approach was more effective.
Most people and businesses welcome support to work on what they could improve rather than working this out from a list of what was wrong.
I left the local authority because I wanted to find solutions to problems. I worked in a regional OSH role for the Co-Operative and learnt vital useful lessons, such as:
- Break down issues into project-sized pieces;
- Work alongside those affected by changes;
- Actively listen;
- Observe how people work;
- Ask questions - be curious.
This creates collaboration rather than conflict. Here are core considerations for anyone trying to turn OSH into POSH.
1 Encourage a layered approach
Progress is gradual. If a business is in an embryonic stage of its OSH development, it can be tempting to rush towards a more integrated model without considering the multiple steps and time required to reach there. Build from the foundations of where you are now.
2 Avoid picking out faults
It can be easy to keep finding faults and identify imperfect aspects and problem areas. It feels good to raise it - like we've spotted something nobody else could. We must stop doing this and give space for the team to work on the steps needed, which is why I advocate use of coaching techniques.
3 Coaching techniques
Use open questions - What is the potential impact of us working in this manner? What is working well here? What are your obstacles and how might you overcome these so that those affected can access their own solutions?
Don't exert a solution you would like to see. Allow people and teams the space in which to solve problems.
4 Ditch the technical language
Work constantly changes, so adaptation with a purpose-driven focus is vital. Focusing on the real priority reduces the noise and we get more done. But this means everyone needs to feel involved in OSH initiatives - without barriers. I purposely avoid technical language to include everyone.
Remember: Speak in simple terms and build on existing organisational arrangements.
5 Stay positive
This is not about being a pushover. A positive approach doesn't mean that you avoid challenges or wear rose-tinted glasses. Being positive is about using measured language that is:
- Achievable; and
Positivity is about disagreeing in a respectful manner, starting from a position of 'yes' and equally considering all voices. It is also about accepting that there is no right or wrong and that an alternative argument might be more appropriate. It is not about the loudest or most senior voice 'winning'.
Why take this approach?
Inclusive leadership is good for the bottom line. Research by accountancy group Deloitte has shown that organisations with proven inclusive leaders are 45 per cent more likely to increase their market share and 85 per cent of CEOs say inclusion strategies have improved profitability.
Modern leadership skills will change the perception of what we do and how we do it. This is why non-technical skills are important - it is time to shine a greater spotlight on mood indicators and care about how people feel. This is when we become enablers welcomed by businesses. This is when we welcome a new breed of OSH professional searching for a way to make a personal and collective difference at work.
Louise Hosking is director at Hosking Associates