The London 2012 Olympic Park was a massive construction project across nine venues. It was finished on time, but more importantly, for the first time in the games' history, no one was killed on the job. The leadership and workforce engagement that led to this achievement began in the boardroom. As New Zealand goes through a major shift in focus on health and safety we look at the guidelines for directors.

While directors in New Zealand have many defined duties and obligations, health and safety is not always one that is addressed or well understood. To encourage directors to lead on health and safety, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and the Institute of Directors have released the Good Governance Practices Guideline for Managing Health & Safety Risks (Guideline).

This is a response to the recommendation from the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety that those in governance roles should assume a due diligence duty and manage health and safety as carefully as any other risk their organisation manages.

The Guideline provides advice to directors on how they can influence health and safety performance and compliance with their organisation's health and safety obligations. To support directors in a world where they are increasingly under scrutiny, the Guideline also sets out manager/operational responsibilities that are aimed at supporting excellent leadership.

While the Guideline is not a statutory document or a policy statement, it aims to work as a practical tool to assist directors by setting out actions (minimum requirements) and recommended practices to reflect best practice. It is intended to also provide a guide to the courts on what best practice health and safety management is.

The Guideline divides the role of directors into four key elements and outlines directors' responsibilities under each element.

Summary: Directors' Responsibilities

Policy and planning

  • Create a charter setting out the board's role in leading health and safety performance in the organisation
  • Publish a safety vision and beliefs statement
  • Establish health and safety targets for the organisation
  • Ensure there is an effective linkage between health and safety goals and the actions and priorities of senior management

Delivery

  • Ensure the effective implementation of a fit-for-purpose health and safety management system
  • Ensure that management have staffed the organisation with sufficient personnel with the right skill mix
  • Provide sufficient funding for effective implementation of systems

Monitor

  • Review serious incidents including serious non-compliance and near misses, and be personally satisfied with the adequacy of management actions in response
  • Specify clear requirements for the regular reporting and review of health and safety performance results

Review

  • Conduct a formal review of the organisation's health and safety performance on a periodic basis
  • Ensure the review includes internal and external audits
  • Ensure that actions identified in the review are communicated and effectively implemented

Diagnostic questions have been placed in the Guideline for use by directors as a tool to determine whether the organisation's practices are consistent with the Board's beliefs, values, goals and approved systems. The questions are also designed for use as a basis for identifying areas to be improved.

From here, directors and management will need to work together to establish how the Guideline should be implemented in their business, and how they can provide leadership for a healthy, safe and productive workplace. We have a wealth of experience in advising directors and managers about their health and safety responsibilities and can provide assistance to Boards to bring them up to speed with the Guideline and its implementation.