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HR and Health & Safety: Essential Partners in the New Normal

Health and safety is one of the oldest engineering functions dating back to ancient times with the construction of aqueducts and sewage systems that vastly improved the hygiene and sanitation for people in growing cities. Now in 2020 if not already a priority, the Head of Health & Safety has been thrust into the spotlight as the key advisor to the business on the COVID-19 crisis.

Many synergies can be achieved if the Human Resources function and the Health & Safety function work closely together.  They are both concerned with:

  • Health and safety strategy, balancing health & safety objectives with business goals
  • Putting in place measures to eliminate or reduce risk of physical injury or harm, or death, to employees, customers and members of the public in contact with the business
  • Programs to look after the mental health and well-being of employees
  • Input into Business Continuity Planning
  • Driving a proactive culture of care and accountability to achieve the above

Happy, Well Cared for Employees are More Productive

A study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity , while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. The research team concluded, “We find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings”.

The Strategic Synergies between HR and Health & Safety

There are many ways HR and health & safety can work collaboratively to shift health and safety, engagement and organisational performance, including:

  • Culture and Leadership Development:  To create a safe work environment and a proactive preventative culture, HR Leaders play a key role in facilitating the cultural and leadership capability that underpins a safety culture.  Linking health and safety performance to reward and recognition ensures that workplace health & safety is taken seriously by all and that safe work practices are not diluted in the pursuit of profit.
  • Business Continuity Planning: with COVID-19 forcing a shift to working from home and posing a real health threat to frontline works in essential and health services, HR and health & safety teams have been working closely together with risk teams to provide employees with direction on safe work.
  • Organisational Design and Job Design: Structure of teams and reporting lines as well as job design can have a critical role in preventing workplace injury. Accidents and injuries can be avoided through consideration of physical and psychological workload, deadlines, repetitiveness, rostering and length of shifts, physical exhaustion, tiredness, stress and resource planning. It is essential that the right profiles are recruited into the company to ensure they demonstrate commitment to safe work practices and possess the necessary qualifications and licenses to perform the job.
  • Engagement and Employer Branding: Companies that demonstrate an authenticity in the way that they care for their employees has been shown to drive employee engagement and productivity upwards. Responding in a compassionate yet practical way to the “moments that matter” in an employee’s lifecycle foster great loyalty and productivity. This in turn impacts positively on the employer brand when the company goes to market.
  • Training and Development: It is vital that an organisation meets or exceeds its work health & safety legal obligations, and this involves HR to deliver on outstanding induction, training and development, management and leadership development and ensuring compliance with specific policies, processes and procedures.
  • Mental Health and Well-being: Increased awareness of physical and mental health can increase commitment to safe work practices, and safety culture generally.  Physical conditioning associated with exercise programs can improve posture, improve work tolerance and strength and assist in relieving workplace stress. Being encouraged to bring our authentic self to work has created transformational opportunity to enable real and timely conversations amongst colleagues that not only improve but change lives for the better.    
  • Unionised Workforces, Working Conditions and Amenities: Employers are required to provide and maintain a minimal level of facilities for the welfare of employees.   The increase in the incidence of working from home arrangements also creates a requirement for employers to ensure that the home workplace is safe in a sustainable way and does not pose an additional risk of injury to the employee.HR and health & safety overlap in policies and procedures such as codes of conduct, managing grievances, bullying, harassment, and discrimination, alcohol and drug use, regardless of whether in person, on video conferencing or social media.

Prevention is Better than the Cure

The cost of an employee having time off work from a physical injury or stress-related issue is ever increasing.  Strategic alignment between HR and health & safety can save millions of dollars in workers compensation, insurance premiums, lost time and reputational damage to an organisation.

While health & safety professionals have always been in the business of saving lives and reducing injuries and harm physically and psychologically, together with HR, these essential partners are great role models, they are beacons of positivity while dealing with the worst case scenarios and putting the programs and measures in place to prevent and eliminate the people and enterprise wide risks we have never before encountered. Kudos!    


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