As described above, better safety performance doesn’t happen unless both employers operate from the same definitions and strategies to achieve safety. Prevention of serious illness like COVID-19 is much more effective when people work as teams, solve problems together and create learning environments for continual improvement. When it comes to management systems, noted engineer and management consultant W. Edwards Deming suggested that workers can perform no better than is possible under the management processes given to them. Anticipating error, teams solving problems, systems driving reliable and safe behavior are all benefits of an effective safety management system, as well as the basis for human/organizational performance. Add to that a leveraged learning environment for continual improvement. In addition, any performance improvements require planning, partnership, teamwork, communications, adequate resources and an effective system to allow for feedback, adjustments and resources. In other words, the things we need for great business to occur are required for safe work to happen.
According to the ISO 45001 Occupational Health/Safety Management System, it’s helpful to define management systems in the context of safety performance:
A set of interrelated or interacting elements of an organization to establish policies, objectives and the processes needed to achieve those objectives. These include an organization’s structure, roles/responsibilities, planning and performance evaluation. (Pay attention to the word “planning” — it will come up again soon!)
Part of a management system used to achieve the occupational health and safety (OH&S) policy of the organization, its intended outcomes are to prevent injury and illness to workers and to provide safe and healthy workplaces.
Think about these definitions above regarding the relationship between the staffing agency and client. A few key words really begin to stand out:
How are the two employers who make up this joint-employer environment working together toward the illness and injury prevention outcomes they want? And could there be a better framework to better understand risk and communicate expectations and activities for a safer work environment?
Two very important things to consider as we learn about how safety management systems apply to joint employers:
At the center of safety management systems, like the ISO 45001 or recently updated ANSI Z-10 standard is the process known as: Plan - Do - Check - Act (PDCA). The PDCA process is strongly connected to the continual improvement process, and while it has traditionally been thought of from the standpoint of only one employer, best practices and industry-leading methodologies have advanced to integrate employers in a joint-employer setting for the advancement of better safety. A critical component to this process is leader/worker participation, strongly leveraging the concepts of team and communication across organizational lines and inclusive for each employer.
Let’s take a closer look at the center of this safety management system from the context of joint-employers who are both focusing on illness/injury prevention.
By taking this structured approach, each employer contributes to safety in a joint-employer work environment. Alignment with short-term and long-term goals is critical to reset and define expectations, as well as support an established cadence around the PDCA process for the joint-employer team.
While the components of a safety management system (SMS) may be more broad, the PDCA process embedded within a SMS should serve as a simple yet powerful tool to keep both employers aligned on managing — and maintaining — acceptable levels of risk.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a fresh assessment of the risks affecting your organization, together with a commitment to building and implementing a strong framework (like the ISO 45001 standard), should place you on the same path as many best-in-class organizations.