Leading and managing for health and safety

Leaders, at all levels, need to understand the range of health and safety risks in their part of the organisation and to give proportionate attention to each of them. This applies to the level of detail and effort put into assessing the risks, implementing controls, supervising and monitoring.

'There is a need for a sensible and proportionate approach to risk management, in short, a balanced approach - this means ensuring that paperwork is proportionate, does not get in the way of doing the job, and it certainly does not mean risk elimination at all costs.'
Judith Hackitt, HSE Chair

What are you doing?

Leading for health and safety

Management tasks

Leading and managing for health and safety - what to look for

Use the following examples of effective and ineffective health and safety management to check if you are doing what you need to do on leadership.

Examples of effective and ineffective health and safety management
What it looks like when done effectively What it looks like when done badly or not at all


  • Maintain attention on the significant risks and implementation of adequate controls.
  • Demonstrate their commitment by their actions; they are aware of the key health and safety issues.
  • Ensure consultation with the workforce on health and safety.
  • Challenge unsafe behaviour in a timely way.




  • Set no health and safety priorities.
  • Don't understand the need to maintain oversight.
  • Don't meet their own organisation's standards/procedures, eg wearing correct PPE on site/shop floor.
  • Lack of engagement with health and safety by workers.
  • Health and safety is seen as an add-on, irrelevance or nuisance.
  • Poor incident history (accidents, near misses, plant damage or other indicators, eg poor maintenance, poor housekeeping).

Management of health and safety

  • A systematic approach is used to manage health and safety.
  • People understand the risks and control measures associated with their work. Contractors adhere to the same standards.
  • Appropriate documentation is available: current, organised, relevant.
  • People understand their roles and those of others.
  • Performance is measured - to check controls are working and standards are being implemented, and to learn from mistakes after things go wrong.

Beyond compliance

  • If a formal system (such as ISO 45001, ISO 9001) is used, has it been externally certified - is the certification accredited?
  • Health and safety is integrated into business processes.
  • Benchmarking is used to compare performance with others.
  • Supply chains are influenced to improve health and safety.
  • A 'wellness' programme is in place.

Management of health and safety

  • Incomplete or missing paperwork. Does not link to actual risks in workplace.
  • Confusion over roles, inaction as no one takes responsibility for health and safety, distrust of management motives.
  • Widespread, routine violations of procedures. No oversight of contractors.
  • Information is not passed on, not understood, or not implemented.
  • Managers are unaware of employee concerns or do not respond appropriately.
  • Lessons are never learned.

Additional factors to consider

Board members or directors

Smaller and medium-sized businesses

Larger organisations

Process industries

Managing occupational health issues

Useful links

Updated: 2023-02-09