Updated December 2022
Occupational health and safety is top of mind for many people these days. In the wake of a global pandemic, keeping people safe and healthy on the job has a whole new importance.
But workplace health and safety goes far beyond protecting people from disease. It encompasses total wellness, from physical safety to mental health, emergency procedures, risk prevention, and safety training for staff.
Each year brings new regulations, new best practices, and new research on how to improve health and safety at work.
If you're looking to advance your OHS career, which areas should you focus on? Which health and safety manager skills are most important right now and over the long term?
We asked our own OHS instructor and industry expert Kylie Boyd to weigh in. She teaches a Health and Safety Management course specifically designed to enhance leadership skills.
Find out which areas you should focus on to create a stronger safety culture and take your career to the next level.
1. RISK MANAGEMENT
This is one of the most important health and safety manager skills. There is always room for improvement in risk management.
As an H&S manager, you must understand how to manage risks to avoid workplace accidents and injuries. And you must use that knowledge to help decision-makers make informed policy choices.
Every organization must consider competing goals of productivity, cost, and safety. The key is to find a balance that supports the company's economic growth while protecting the mental and physical well-being of workers.
Most safety initiatives cost both time and money, but if done right, they can boost productivity and profits over the long term. You need to help higher-ups understand how effective risk management can actually help the bottom line.
"Strong health and safety leaders recognize that solid health and safety performance drives business results. They promote a culture of safety in their organizations, and integrate prevention measures into business strategies, processes and performance measures."
2. ACCIDENT PREVENTION
Keeping people from getting hurt at work is obviously an essential skill for every OHS manager. And yet we often fall short in this area.
A report found that in 2020, more than 253,000 Canadians filed claims for lost work due to injuries. And over 600 people died as a result of work-related injuries or illnesses.
Your goal should be to help bring those numbers down in your own organization.
That starts with identifying hazards, developing sound emergency protocols, providing training, and implementing measures to prevent accidents.
Aspiring health and safety leaders should always be looking to improve their skills in this area. You need a robust portfolio of proven, systematic approaches to preventing accidents and controlling losses.
3. COMMUNICATION AND ENGAGEMENT
Developing safety initiatives is only the beginning. To implement them successfully, you have to get both executives and employees to buy in.
You need to be able to positively influence the people around you. That requires building credibility and establishing good relationships at every level of your organization. If you come across as demanding, dictatorial, or "out of touch" you probably won't get the results you want.
But if your colleagues perceive you as knowledgeable, respectful, and fair, they will be far more likely to accept your suggestions—and make lasting changes.
Health and safety leaders know how to get a consensus, engage all stakeholders, and communicate strategies clearly and persuasively.
Kylie calls it bridging the "disconnect" between ground workers and upper management.
"Some of the biggest skills gaps in the industry are leadership in modelling health and safety from the top down, as well as a disconnect between what employees on the ground need (i.e. wellness) versus the needs of upper management, owners or boards (i.e. profits and efficiency)."
4. ETHICAL DECISION-MAKING
As a health and safety manager, you must be totally committed to worker safety. You are accountable for the well-being of everyone in your organization.
That means you must be dedicated to doing the right thing, not necessarily the easy or expedient thing.
In some cases, the right choice is obvious. But it's easy to get into grey areas.
Suppose a worker wants to use a tool or machine in a way it was not designed to be used. If it will get the job done more quickly, should you let it slide?
Kylie explains that ethical decision-making can be quite challenging for health and safety managers.
If you want to advance to leadership roles, you'll need to take a long hard look at your own values and biases.
"Organizational culture consists of values, beliefs and attitudes, which are demonstrated in the workplace on a daily basis and affect the mental and physical well-being of employees.
Health and safety leadership begins with identifying ethical blind spots and biases to strengthen your decision-making skills. That's why students in my course do a series of challenging self-reflection exercises, including writing a personal code of ethics."
5. CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
Every health and safety program should evolve over time. There are always new tools, technologies, and ways to get better.
You must regularly review your organization's health and safety program to see what's working and what needs to be improved.
Even if your group hasn't had any workplace incidents in the past year, don't assume your program is perfect.
Health and safety leadership is about constantly raising the bar, looking ahead, and staying curious about new approaches.
Health and safety management training will equip you with specific strategies and resources to continually re-evaluate and improve your safety and wellness plan.
Want to EXPAND YOUR HEALTH AND SAFETY MANAGER SKILLS?
Explore the Health and Safety Management Certificate from Kompass Professional Development.
The program is delivered entirely online and can be spread over 10 to 20 weeks.
Learn with Kylie Boyd, a health and safety leader with more than 18 years of experience in the field.
Tailor assignments to fit the needs and goals of your organization, or your career objectives as an H&S professional.
Click below to get further information and connect live with an admissions advisor. Classes start weekly.