Can safety practitioners help combat corporate social responsibility? Should they?

They can and they should through a new “servant leadership” role, according to Karen E. McDonnell, Ph.D., who is with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health IOSH in the UK.

At the American Society of Safety EngineersSafety 2015 Conference in Dallas, McDonnell outlined how safety pros can contribute to a company’s commitment to social responsibility -- which, alongside economic and environmental factors, make up the so called triple bottom line – by promoting a positive safety culture.

Benefits to be gained

McDonnell discussed the Scottish Higher Performers Forum, which believes that that there are massive human social and business benefits to be gained by raising standards of health and safety management throughout Scotland.

From the group’s mission statement:

“We believe that 'higher performers' in the field of health and safety have a duty to motivate and assist other organizations to achieve this fundamentally important objective...

To this end we are fully committed to:

  • providing a positive example to others by continuing to raise and maintain our own standards of health and safety as an integral part of our key business objectives, recognising the key importance of senior management leadership, full and effective workforce involvement and use of competent health and safety advice;
  • seeking recognition of our health and safety performance through means such as certification, entry to awards or use of appropriate auditing services and putting information on our targets and performance achievement in public domain, including via the Internet and Annual Reports;
  • ensuring that all our suppliers and contractors are competent to manage the health and safety of their own employees and those affected by their operations and that they understand other stakeholders' health and safety expectations;
  • encouraging all our contractors, suppliers and other business partners to participate in health and safety training and safety passport schemes, make use of auditing, enter for health and safety awards and become members of their local health and safety groups;
  • acting as 'good neighbours' on health and safety issues, providing access for local small firms to our in-house training schemes and information services wherever appropriate;
  • acting as exemplars and providing direct access for small firms to examples of 'good health and safety practice', for example, through benchmarking and site visits;
  • promoting health and safety on a 24/7 basis;
  • supporting health and safety education in schools, for trainees and for young people, including school students involved in work experience schemes;
  • sponsoring research and pioneering pilot projects, sharing findings and supporting wider community based health and safety initiatives; and
  • providing high-level champions to exploit national, local, specialist media and other communication opportunities to highlight the social and business cases for action on health and safety issues."

Among some examples given by McDonnell of companies embracing the servant leadership role was a construction firm that trained mental health leaders to recognize the well-being of fellow workers, engage and empathize with them and move them forward to treatment, if necessary. The same company implemented a program to conduct full body skin checks, with resulted in four people being diagnoses with melanoma earlier than they would have otherwise.

“Servant leadership definitely encourages employees to create value for others within the organization,” said McDonnell. “It helps practitioners have a good, strong connection with the people they interface with.”