Managing occupational health
The framework for managing occupational health risks is based on the same principles used to manage safety for any other business area. The key elements of successful occupational health management is based on five steps:
Step 1: Setting your policy
Your company should have a clear policy for health and safety. Every level of management should be committed to achieving the policy - top management commitment is essential.
It is also important to integrate health and safety functions with other management functions. The health and safety policy should therefore influence all your activities including selecting people, equipment and materials, the way work is done and how you design and provide goods and services.
Although the same principles apply to health as safety, it is important to recognise that health risks are often not as obvious as safety issues. Case of ill health arising from exposure to hazardous substances may take years or even decades to show up. So it is even more important to adopt a proactive approach to managing health issues.
Step 2: Organising your staff
To make your health and safety policy effective you need to get your staff involved and committed. This is often called 'creating a positive health and safety culture' and is essential as offshore workers are closest to the hazards and it is their health which will benefit. The four Cs of positive health and safety culture are:
- Competence: recruitment, training and advisory support
- Control: allocating responsibilities, securing commitment, instruction and supervision
- Co-operation: between individuals and groups
- Communication: spoken, written and visible
Workers can play a part in protecting their health by:
- helping to identify health risks and jobs/task with potential for exposure
- suggesting improvements to the way jobs are done
- reporting problems or symptoms
- providing feedback on the effectiveness of controls.
Find out more about worker involvement
Step 3: Planning and setting standards
Planning is the key to ensuring successful implementation of your health and safety policy. This involves setting objectives, identifying hazards, assessing risks and implementing standards of performance. It is important to record your plans in writing. Your planning should provide for:
- identifying health hazards and assessing risks, and deciding how they can be eliminated or controlled
- complying with relevant health legislation
- agreeing health targets with managers and supervisor
- a purchasing and supply policy that takes health into account
- design of tasks, processes, equipment, products and services, safe systems of work
- arrangements to mitigate the effects if the control measures fail or if problems arise which could not have been foreseen
- co-operation with contractors and suppliers.
Standards help to build a positive culture and control risks. It is therefore important to set standards against which performance can be measured. These should set out what people in your organisation will do to deliver your policy and control risk. They should identify who does what, when and with what result.
Step 4: Measuring your performance
You need to measure your health performance to find out if you are being successful. Active monitoring involves regular inspection/checking to ensure that your standards are being implemented and management controls are working. Reactive monitoring involves learning from incidents. You will need to ensure that information from active and reactive monitoring is used to identify situations that create risks - and do something about them. Give priority to where the risks are greatest, and refer information to the people with the authority to take remedial action, including organisational and policy changes.
Step 5: Learning from experience - audit and review
Audits complement monitoring activities by looking to see if your policy, organisation and standards are achieving the right results. They tell you about the reliability and effectiveness of your management system. The results from measuring performance and audits should be used to improve your approach to occupational health management by reviewing the effectiveness of the policy, with particular attention to:
- the degree of compliance with health performance standards (including legislation)
- areas where standards are absent or inadequate
- achievement of stated objectives within given timescales
- illness, injury and incident data - analyses of immediate and underlying causes, trends and common features.
These indicators will show you where you need to improve.
This approach to managing health and safety is tried and tested. It has strong similarities to quality management systems used by many successful companies. It can help you protect people and control loss. All five steps are fundamental.