The role of the HS Manager in the corporate organization of a modern industry

The key word in the title is: Manager. Yes, because it’s easy to speak of Supervisor, of Manager, but sometimes the consequences are not very clear. Of course, because the managerial skills we are speaking about here are seen (in their negative aspects) only when they are lacking, in moments of crisis, after the mistakes.

Alessandro Mazzeranghi, MECQ S.r.l.

Truth is, if there are no crises - that actually represent rare events - the rest of the Management is not very concerned with considering the performance of that particular individual who caters to workplace health and safety.

From here stem all sorts of discussions and laws on paygrade and level of responsibility most appropriate for individuals performing this function. Recently, a multinational internally communicated that the role concerning HS themes must no longer be considered a managerial position. It used to be, it had been for fifteen years at least. What can we deduce from this choice? A consideration that transpires is: “several years ago there were many things to improve and a Manager was required to handle the situation. But today it is a maintenance activity which (by definition) does not require a manager.” An understandable reflection and a greatly diffused one in every field that has attained excellent results in health and safety; but perhaps it is a rather naive consideration!

Managing workplace health and safety in a company involved in tissue. Of course all companies are different: small and large, better organized, less organized, based in areas having strong and thorough legislation or in areas with weaker legislation.

But in every company, however structured, if it is focused on maintaining business and development, workers’ health and safety represents an important value. Beyond ethical aspects, an injury represents a disturbance in activities, a possible loss of competence, a general malaise for the organization, even in the absence of legal consequences. So this reasoning has a transversal valence.

Here is the question we want to answer: is a managerial approach needed to keep the level of occupational health and safety under control and improve it?

The answer requires a broader consideration: is there a moment where we can say that, in terms of workplace health and safety, a company can limit itself to maintenance without making efforts for improvement?

In our opinion, the answer is resoundingly negative. Such attitude would inevitably lead (and has concretely led, in those cases where it happened) to a generalized decrease in tension that, in turn, leads to more numerous accidents that can have varying degrees of gravity.

The founding factor in this reasoning is that in the tissue field - just like in many others - risks cannot be completely eliminated. The best-case scenario is that these be greatly reduced, but the chances for accidents and occupational diseases remain, and hence a mistake, a distraction is enough for a worker to be exposed to an objectively hazardous situation.

So the idea that from a given moment on only passive maintenance can suffice loses concrete effectiveness. Also because if risks partially remain, then general organization and individual behaviors must work to their best in order to avoid that residual risks turn into accidents or occupational diseases. And we know well how preventing human error can be a complex activity and how moments of excess confidence have been disastrous in industrial history.

Hence, even if we suppose that the company is in a completely static situation - which is absolutely not true - there is in any case a strong need for management connected to the human factor. But indeed the company is not static; it is object of continuous changes in the systems, the organization, the product. And so additional factors make a policy of pure maintenance based on strong and stable assumptions impossible.

Themes of workplace health and safety must be managed using a wide breadth approach, with a strong ability to respond to or even prevent variations. The concept of HS Manager, then, intended in the literal sense of the term, cannot be re-dimensioned.

Managing safety or managing a company? The second aspect that we want to highlight is: to what degree is managing health and safety separate from managing the company in the broadest sense of the term? Are safety and health really an autonomous and independent niche?

That’s how they have been treated for many years, as if it could suffice to name a supervisor, assign a budget, and the company could go on without having to consider certain topics any longer.

In reality, there are very strong inter-connections between choices regarding safety and those aimed at improving other aspects of corporate operation. Just consider the technical choices regarding systems. Often safety and usability of a system are connected in a negative sense: more safety (at least if we interpret the topic in formal terms) entails difficulty of use (lesser usability). It may not always be this way: if we work keeping into account both factors simultaneously, we can avoid this, but it is an example to illustrate that the different factors (safety, production, maintenance, etc.) are strongly inter-related.

We were speaking about the technical aspect, but it is not the only one. For example, under the operational profile, it does not make sense to separate things: one example could be scheduled maintenance aimed at guaranteeing the efficiency of a product in time and of the periodic controls aimed at ensuring safety. It is clear that any distinction between the activities is only formal and not operational.

Last but not least, the inter-relations between organizational activities. Just one example is sufficient to start; the more complex ones each person can develop on his or her own. I work in a company so I have to respect its rules. Rules that concern production, invoicing, working hours, safety, protection of corporate property, relations with public offices, the environment, health, behavior... We can say that a given company has its own system that is rather similar - to a smaller degree - to the legislative system of a nation. There can be no overlaps, contradictions or ambiguities otherwise we end up like in Italy where often a new law is in contrast with higher-ranking laws or even with the constitution itself. So the person who gives me the rules, i.e., who organizes my work and the work of others, must be a coordinated source that covers every topic, otherwise we really make the most ridiculous mistakes.

Conclusions. Workplace health and safety are not themes that have been superseded and consolidated. On the contrary, there is still lots to be done for organizations to function as they should. And hence the role of manager (in its proper sense) in those figures called HS Manager still remains extremely important. What’s more, the managerial aspect has . *

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  • Illustration by Guido Scarabottolo
  • Illustration by Guido Scarabottolo
  • Illustration by Guido Scarabottolo
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