Club Zero: a New Approach to Improving OHS Management
Warwick Pearse, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Health, University of Western Sydney
An Australian project, supported by the NSW WorkCover, Injury Prevention, Education and Research Fund, is developing ways of improving occupational health and safety management. Club Zero: a new approach to improving occupational health and safety management, is an action research project designed to assist small to medium enterprises implement occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS). The project is testing an innovative model in which a network of 18 companies, located in South West Sydney, Australia, which produce various types of fabricated metal products. The companies are currently implementing new OHSMS or improving their existing OHSMS.
Warwick Pearse, a Senior Research Fellow, in the Faculty of Health, coordinates the project at the University of Western Sydney. The role of the researcher includes facilitation of Club Zero meetings with representatives from the companies, arranging site visits, developing guidelines for OHSMS and conducting OHSMS audits. At the Club Zero meetings representatives from companies discuss common issues and solutions to problems. Members from participating companies also visit each other's companies.
The experience of some of the world's biggest companies has shown that a goal of zero injuries and diseases is a feasible goal. However this goal has not been widely adopted by firms around the world. Unfortunately many employers still see occupational injuries and accidents as inevitable. What is remarkable about this project is that the participating companies have all made a commitment to seek zero injuries and diseases. Hence the name Club Zero. The Club Zero have adopted policies which have the objective of creating safe and healthy workplaces.
Larger companies often have the expertise and resources to implement and maintain OHSMS. For example larger companies will often have a full time OHS Officer or Human Resource Manager with OHS responsibilities. In contrast small to medium companies seldom have the resources to dedicate a person full time to occupational health and safety. One of the objectives of the Club Zero project is to see if small and medium sized companies can develop an OHSMS which can be run as part of everyday business and does not require specialised staff. During the course of the project companies will be developing OHSMS which are tailored to their technical and financial capacity.
Aims of OHSMS
Occupational health and safety management systems aim to help companies achieve the following objectives in planned and systematic way.
- Identify, assess and manage risks to people, processes, equipment and the environment.
- Define responsibilities and accountabilities for all personnel in the workplace.
- Establish controls and set standards.
- Measure and evaluate results for continuous improvement.
The companies are developing OHSMS based on the Guideline Standard, AS/NZS 4804, produced jointly by the Australian and New Zealand Standards Associations. This Guideline Standard is in turn based on the approaches and standards developed for quality and environmental management. These Australian and New Zealand standards are similar to other national and international standards dealing with the management of OHS, environment and quality.
One underlying premise of the project is that the management of occupational health and safety is similar to the management of quality. In both cases there must be a high level of management commitment and in both cases a systematic approach is needed to achieve the goals of best practice and continuous improvement. Developing an OHSMS, which is part of the overall management system, can provide the systematic approach. The OHSMS includes organisational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures and resources necessary for implementing and developing best practice. The main elements of the occupational health and safety management system developed for the Club Zero project are outlined in Table 1 below.
Table 1. Elements of the Occupational Health and Safety Management System
- Management commitment and policy
- Accountability and responsibility
- OHS risk management
- Purchasing and contractors
- OHS training and education
- Emergency planning
- Performance indicators and records
- Workplace injury management, first aid, rehabilitation
- Audit and review
Not a "cure-all"
It is important to emphasise that an OHSMS is not a "cure all". An OHSMS will only help improve health and safety if it is actively used and there is a will to improve. To date the Club Zero project has found that unless the system is introduced with the full support of management and employees it is more than likely to end up as an ineffective tool. Any system has to be constantly maintained and improved to reach its objectives. OHSMS have to be viewed in the wider workplace culture. If the wider culture is positive and supportive of employees then the OHSMS will work. An OHSMS is dependent upon consultation and communication taking place at all levels of the organisation.
In fact for the system being developed by Club Zero members, consultation, communication and participation are the drivers of the system. This means that any existing consultation and participation arrangements, such as workplace committees or trade union representatives, need to be involved in the development of the system.
In addition to developing OHSMS the Club Zero project is also developing a tool to audit the effectiveness of the OHSMS. This audit aims to find out how well the OHSMS has been implemented. The audit tool is based on the Guidelines for an Occupational Health and Safety Management System developed for the project. The audit tool has been developed to assess the performance of company OHSMS and to facilitate the continuous improvement of that system. Audits also provide a way of measuring health and safety performance without relying measures such as lost time injuries. These traditional measures of injuries can be seen as indicators of system failures. Audits of OHSMS provide a way of measuring health and safety which then encourages actions to be taken to prevent injuries.
Networking between companies is another innovative feature of the Club Zero project. Representatives from companies, including shop floor workers, participate in visits to each factory in the network. During these visits the company approach to health and safety is discussed. Walking around factories on safety tours has proven to be particularly valuable because people can see different solutions to practical problems, as well as discuss how to approach particular problems in a systematic way. The participants in the project have also used the contacts gained in this way to follow up issues and exchange information outside the meetings. Networking has proved to be a good way of sharing scarce resources.
The companies range from relatively small to medium size, as measured by the number of employees. Some of the larger companies are branches or subsidiaries of much larger national or multinational companies. The involvement of larger companies has provided access for smaller companies to some of the culture and procedures of companies, which are regarded as world leaders in a number of areas including industrial relations, quality, occupational health and safety and environmental management.
A National Conference will be held in Australia on 6 and 7 July 2000 to discuss the aspects of OHSMS. This Conference will be a forum for exploring issues associated with the implementation and development of OHSMS. Participants will contribute to debates about the effectiveness of OHSMS, suitability of OHSMS for small business, role of governments in facilitating networking between companies on health and safety.
In conclusion, the Club Zero project offers a model for improving occupational health and safety which has a number of important and innovative features. The model utilises existing knowledge about OHSMS and enables this knowledge to be tailored and made available to smaller companies. External audits allow companies to measure their health and safety performance. Networking between companies generates positive attitudes to managing occupational health and safety and makes good use of shared resources.
Acknowledgments: Club Zero is funded by a grant from the NSW Workcover Authority Injury Prevention, Education and Research Fund. Financial support has also been provided by HIH Workers Compensation NSW. Additional support has been provided by the Australian Industry Group, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and GROW Macarthur.
Warwick Pearse, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Health, University of Western Sydney, PO Box 555 Campbelltown 2560, Australia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org