Safety and Health is a new profession emerging in most developing countries including Zimbabwe. Although in other countries like South Africa it is a requirement to have a safety professional at a workplace when the employer has a certain number of employees in defined industries, it is not a requirement in Zimbabwe. This is the reason why other organizations have safety professionals, while others do not have safety professionals.
Safety and health function in most organizations in Zimbabwe is a sub-department under Human Resources department because of other similarities with human resource function. But is it proper to house safety function under the Human Resources? I know circumstances they differ so a yes and no answer may not suffice without stating a reason.
Who should be a safety professional at an organization? What qualification should one hold to be a qualified safety professional? In some organizations, Human Resources select an employee who was injured (usually permanent disability) while at work who was recommended for light duty to be the safety professional. They sent the employee for short courses 5 days’ courses, some two weeks courses and then that individuals become a safety professional in that organization. Is this good? Some may say yes, some no.
The reason why any person from any profession can jump into safety professional is that it is not a guarded professional. Countries like South Africa have legal professional bodies which regulate the profession making it more difficult for any person who is not registered with the body to function as a safety professional. This will go a long way in improving the quality of professionals in the safety and health field.
Top management commitment
Everything rise or falls because of leadership. Without delving much on leadership requirements of top management which is a topic of another day, most organizations want to employ a Rambo of safety. The professional hired must ensure that everything is fixed without us (top management). Top management is not aware that for safety and health to function properly they must be committed in a certain. Yes, the first level of commitment is the willingness to hire a person who will oversee the function of safety and health in an organization however it is just a one step, there are many more issues which should be done.
To illustrate my point, I would like to give an example which l experienced one organization. To continually remind employees of safety rules and information we placed signage in the plant. One of the signs was “no smoking” sign. We identified smoking zones and non-smoking zones on the premises of the organization. However, in almost 4 occasions l saw H.O.Ds (Head of Departments) smoking at that sign where it is written “no smoking”, yet this guy will fume if you bring an employee who is caught smoking in undesignated areas. This is true of mere PPE, the manager does not wear a helmet when entering a hard hat area but expects employees to wear the helmet. Lead by example, lead by your life not only words!
In my interaction with various top management during audits mostly in Africa, top management has a delusion that health and safety function is for employees and not for them. In some occasion, while auditing l realized that employees will be aware of the safety and health policy but top management will not be aware of the policy which was set by them. The managers will look at you and are shocked why as an auditor you have raised it as an issue because they say, at least the employees who are exposed to the hazards and risks are aware of the policy we do not matter. Thus a wrong perceptive, leadership matters. What is your take on the issue?
Although you need to hire a good safety and health professional, you need to have top management commitment for the safety and health function to be successful.
Roles and Responsibilities of a safety professional
Safety professional’s responsibilities if not checked end up acting like police officers in the streets. Other organizations have merely reduced the profession to be distributors of personal protective clothing and policing at the organizations. I was called by another organization for a post of an auditor but the way they described the roles it was of an assistant commissioner (Police) who apprehend employees only who do not follow the rules and top management (who were of different skin colour) were above me, l had no option except to turn down the offer.
In executing your duties as a safety professional, sometimes you represent the employees to protect them from the employer (top management) and sometimes you represent the employer. As a professional, you should know how you function and bring balance for you to be effective. In my experience if you have a meeting with the employer, issues raised are to do with employees are bad, we need to heavy on them, they do not follow instruction and many other complaints and if you listen to the employees they say the employer must do this, do that and do this for us. At the end of the day, you can tell that it is a tug of war between the employer and the employee.
What must you do to balance the issues as a safety professional? More to follow next week.