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Human factors: Organisational change

Why is organisational change an issue?
Many organisations face continuous pressure to change in order to meet their business objectives in a competitive market place.  Industry is undergoing increasing change and there has been, and continues to be, pressure for organisational change and staff reductions.

Organisational changes such as reducing staffing levels, using contractors or outsourcing, combining departments, or changes to roles & responsibilities are usually not analysed and controlled as thoroughly as plant or process changes. Such changes can, if inadequately conceived or implemented, have a detrimental effect on safety.  Even subtle changes to organisations can have significant impacts on the management of hazards.

Rapid or continuous change can also have a detrimental effect on health and poorly managed organisational change can increase the workforce’s experience of stress.

Key principles of managing organisational change

  1. The key issue is that the direct and indirect effects of a proposed change on the control of hazards should be identified and assessed.
  2. Due to the greater potential consequences of an accident, major accident hazard sites should aim for higher reliability in their planning and decision making.
  3. Avoid too many simultaneous changes which may result in inadequate attention to some or all.  Phase changes whenever possible.
  4. Organisational change should be planned in a thorough, systematic, and realistic way; similar to the processes for managing plant change.
  5. Two aspects of the change need risk assessment: risks and opportunities resulting from the change (where you want to get to) and risks arising from the process of change (how you get there).
  6. Consult with staff (including contractors) before, during and after the change - don’t miss serious issues hidden among all the natural concerns.
  7. Ensure that all key tasks and responsibilities are identified and successfully transferred to the new organisation.
  8. Provide training and experienced support/supervision for staff with new or changed roles.
  9. Consider reviews of plans and assessments by independent internal or external experts - be prepared to challenge. 
  10. Remember that change can happen even to apparently static organisations e.g. the effects of an ageing workforce.

More information on organisational change

2014-07-02