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What is management leadership in safety and health?

Management demonstrates leadership by providing the resources, motivation, priorities, and accountability for ensuring the safety and health of its workforce. This leadership involves setting up systems to ensure continuous improvement and maintaining a health and safety focus while attending to production concerns. Enlightened managers understand the value in creating and fostering a strong safety culture within their organization. Safety should become elevated so that it is a value of the organization as opposed to something that must be done or accomplished. Integrating safety and health concerns into the everyday management of the organization, just like production, quality control, and marketing allows for a proactive approach to accident prevention and demonstrates the importance of working safety into the entire organization.

Why is management leadership in safety and health a good idea for business?

You can increase worker protection, cut business costs, enhance productivity, and improve employee morale. Worksites participating in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) have reported OSHA-verified lost workday cases at rates 60-80% lower than their industry averages. For every $1 saved on medical or insurance compensation costs (direct costs), an additional $5-$50 more are saved on indirect costs, such as repair to equipment or materials, retraining new workers, or production delays. During three years in the VPP, a Ford plant noted a 13% increase in productivity, and a 16% decrease in scrapped product that had to be reworked. Bottom line, safety does pay off! Losses prevented go straight to the bottom line profit of an organization. With today's competitive markets and narrow profit margins, loss control should be every manager's concern.

Management actions include:

  • Establishing a safety and health policy.
  • Establishing goals & objectives.
  • Providing visible top management leadership & involvement.
  • Ensuring employee involvement.
  • Ensuring assignment of responsibility.
  • Providing adequate authority and responsibility.
  • Ensuring accountability for management, supervisors, and rank & file employees.
  • Providing a program evaluation.

Safety and health policy

By developing a clear statement of management policy, you help everyone involved with the worksite understand the importance of safety and health protection in relation to other organizational values (e.g., production vs. safety and health). A safety and health policy provides an overall direction or vision while setting a frame-work from which specific goals and objectives can be developed.

Goals and objectives

You should make your general safety and health policy specific by establishing clear goals and objectives. Make objectives realistic and attainable, aiming at specific areas of performance that can be measured or verified. Some examples are: "Have weekly inspections and correct hazards found within 24 hours", or "Train all employees about hazards of their jobs, and specific safe behaviors (use of Job Safety Analysis sheets) before beginning work."

Visible top management leadership Values, goals, etc., of top management in an organization tend to get emulated and accomplished. If employees see the emphasis that top management puts on safety and health, they are more likely to emphasize it in their own activities. Besides following set safety rules themselves, managers can also become visible by participating in plant-wide safety and health inspections, personally stopping activities or conditions that are hazardous until the hazards can be corrected, assigning specific responsibilities, participating in or helping to provide training, and tracking safety and health performance.

Assignment of responsibility

Everyone in the workplace should have some responsibility for safety and health. Clear assignment helps avoid overlaps or gaps in accomplishing activities. Safety and health is not the sole responsibility of the safety and health professional. Rather, it is everyone's responsibility, while the safety and health professional is a resource.

Provision of authority

Any realistic assignment of responsibility must be accompanied by the needed authority and by having adequate resources. This includes appropriately trained and equipped personnel as well as sufficient operational and capitol funding.


Accountability is crucial to helping managers, supervisors, and employees understand that they are responsible for their own performance. Reward progress and enforce negative consequences when appropriate. Supervisors are motivated to do their best when management measures their performance - "what gets measured is what gets done." Take care to ensure that measures accurately depict accomplishments and do not encourage negative behaviors such as not reporting accidents or near misses. Accountability can be established in safety through a variety of methods:

  • Charge backs - Charge accident costs back to the department or job, or prorate insurance premiums.
  • Safety goals - Set safety goals for management and supervision (e.g., accident rates, accident costs, and loss ratios).
  • Safety activities - Conduct safety activities to achieve goals (e.g., hazard hunts, training sessions, safety fairs, etc., activities that are typically developed from needs identified based on accident history and safety program deficiencies).

Program evaluation

Once your safety and health program is up and running, you will want to assure its quality, just like any other aspect of your company's operation. Each program goal and objective should be evaluated in addition to each of the program elements, e.g., management leadership, employee involvement, worksite analysis (accident reporting, investigations, surveys, pre-use analysis, hazard analysis, etc.), hazard prevention and control, and training. The evaluation should not only identify accomplishments and the strong points of the safety and health program but also identify weaknesses and areas where improvements can be made. Be honest and identify the true weaknesses. The audit can then become a blueprint for improvements and a starting point for the next year's goals and objectives.