HR department must do everything possible to provide a safe and healthy ‘working environment,’ in which employees do not fear that their health will suffer as the result of work they perform, or that they will be exposed to unnecessary risks of injury during their time of work.
Although line managers are primarily responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy working environment, HR department staff provides expertise to assist them to deal adequately with these important matters. In addition, HR manager is usually responsible for coordinating and monitoring specific health and safety programmes.
Most countries enact laws governing health, safety and basic welfare of employees in the workplace, and it is essential for the HR manager to ensure that management and employees – as well as HR department staff – are fully aware of their moral and legal obligations and responsibilities. These responsibilities include a number of preventive measures which can be taken under the coordination of HR department.
Employees at all levels need to be made to understand that the real key to accident prevention lies in creating an acceptance throughout the organization, from top to bottom, that the ‘safe’ way of doing things is the ‘right’ – indeed, the ‘only’ – way to do them. The first task of the HR manager is to change those attitudes which act against the taking of accident prevention measures. For example, in some factories there are workers who make derogatory remarks towards other colleagues who (in compliance with laid down safety regulations) wear protective clothing, such as ‘hard hats’ or gloves. In order not to face such insulting remarks, some of the younger workers may decide not to wear such protective clothing, thus endangering themselves.
There are a number of techniques which can be used by the HR manager to try to persuade all levels of employees – including management – that concern for safety makes sense. Some of these techniques could be the following:
The aim of the HR department must be to create a “will” to be safe. Only when this “will” to make safety a way of life is present among all employees, can attacks on specific causation factors really succeed. It is necessary for HR manager and the staff of the department to analyze closely the causes of the accidents which have happened in the specific workplace, through a study of accident records and discussions with those persons directly or indirectly involved. Appropriate corrective action can then be considered and implemented.
Individual workers must know how to act and operate safely.
When examining the layout of an office, showroom or factory or other premises, there is a need to look out for the “danger points.” Examples include: areas of congestion, crossover points from one assembly line to another, the junction of a side aisle within the main aisle, the position of waste disposal points, etc.
Regular maintenance checks should be done to ensure that the buildings, fixtures and equipment have not developed faults which might render them dangerous.
Adequate training in the correct use of machinery and equipment is essential. It is not sufficient to teach a person how to operate a particular piece of equipment. He/she must be taught to do so in the most efficient and careful manner and the need to take safety precautions at all times must be clearly understood.
In some organizations, HR managers form safety committees composed of employees who volunteer for such work. They meet periodically to discuss the success of safety measures taken, or to suggest other measures which could be more effective. The involvement of employees can lead to discussions of great value.
Employees should be taught how to operate the organization’s own firefighting appliances i.e. fire extinguishers. Outbreaks of fire which are dealt with swiftly can prevent major disasters which might occur if it became necessary to wait for the civic fire brigade to arrive. In addition, the following precautions can also be taken:
The HR department’s responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the workforce is all-embracing.
Before employees are engaged, a ‘medical examination’ might be carried out by a doctor at the organization’s expense, to ensure that each person is in good health.
In order to ensure that employees are having good health, regular medical check-ups – preferably on an annual basis – should be done. These can be carried out at an outside clinic at the organization’s expense, or at the in-house medical centre.
A medical centre is a feature of most large organizations – particularly in the factories – and under the control of an experienced nurse all minor injuries will be efficiently cleaned and bandaged. The nursing staff will also provide medicines for minor ailments such as headache, stomachache, or might advise “patients” who have more serious symptoms to visit their own or organization’s doctors. All such visits to the medical centre should be recorded. Usually these records are of valuable assistance to the HR department in assessing an employee’s application for promotion or a request for a change to a lighter job.
One of the main causes of ‘lost man-hours’ involves accidents and injuries sustained in the workplace. A good medical scheme, which includes the availability of first aid facilities, ensures that in the event of accident or the onset of illness while at work, employees can receive treatment, and if necessary, can be transferred to a hospital quickly. This greatly reduces the chance of minor injuries becoming more serious due to lack of attention or infection, and thus requiring treatment over a long period, which would result in lost production from that employee. Moreover, employees and their dependents will be more content and will feel more secure if they know that their health is being protected, and that any injury sustained as a result of their work will be speedily treated.
The HR manager of a large organization is usually the head of the safety and security department. A chief security officer and his assistant are appointed, and they have a lot of authority about all matters related to safety and security. The safety officer has full authority to go anywhere on the premises of the organization. If a machine is spotted operating without an appropriate guard, or if an employee is seen working without the prescribed protective clothing for the process being carried out, the chief security officer is empowered to stop production immediately, complain to the departmental manager or supervisor, and make out a report which will go to the HR manager.
The security officer will have his staff in uniform. Their duties include manning the main gate and ensuring that only persons with legitimate business are admitted to the complex. They might also check the occupants of motor vehicles for “strangers” trying to drive inside the grounds for unlawful purposes. Another of their tasks is a routine check of every department. A security guard might be required to walk through every department at frequent intervals. He might spot some hazard in an unlit passage and move it if possible, or he might see a potential fire risk. In such cases he would be required to report the matter to the safety officer so that urgent action can be taken to avoid accidents.
Another serious type of duty performed by security guards is the prevention of loss by theft and pilfering of the products or materials made or used or sold by the organization. The chief security officer, in consultation with managers of departments which most attract pilferers e.g. stores and factory, should take action to reduce pilfering. One obvious step which can be taken to reduce the chances of pilfering is to limit as far as possible the number of people allowed into departments in which are found items which are “targets” for pilferers.
In modern HR management, there should be a genuine desire to make reasonable facilities available to employees with their interests firmly in mind. Employee benefits are closely related to welfare, and might include subsidized group life assurance, help with house purchase, payment during sickness, lunch vouchers etc. Such advantages are often generous in respect of managerial levels for which life assurance schemes, company vehicles, overseas visits, conferences, expense accounts and other status symbols form part of the higher executive “package.”
The HR manager should try to ensure that all welfare facilities for the employees of the organization are up to a certain standard. For example, if an organization provides a workers’ canteen, it should be clean with ample seating accommodation. Meals can be subsidized. The cost of subsidizing meals is insignificant compared to the benefits obtained.
The provision of ample private motor vehicle or cycle parking space is also a great asset. The HR manager of a large organization should, where space permits, organize vehicle parking facilities in such a manner that workers and office staff can leave their vehicles as near to their sections as is practicable.
Sometimes an organization may have its own sports ground or clubhouse for the employees to use. These may also be run by employees’ sports committees, with facilities and financial assistance by the organization under the control of the HR department.
Workers’ committees may be set up to air grievances or to make suggestions that might lead to improvements in one way or another. These might be ‘chaired’ by the HR manager and be composed of nominees put forward by employees. Quite often these meetings are of great value to the HR manager. They can act as “safety valve” which enables employees to “let off steam” and to make complaints about different matters. If a clubhouse has been set up, it might also be used for other functions. On occasion such gatherings could include management and staff honouring a retiring worker, or even introducing a new department head. Such get-togethers give the HR manager and his departmental staff the opportunity to meet many employees.