Towards Best Practice Leadership – Legal Compliance, Influence & Behaviour

A sparkling and poignant IFAP Breakfast Presentation by Greg Smith, Freehills Consultant. Employee Relations, stimulated those attending to nurture the four management obligations of legal compliance and to continually align aspirational ventures of safety documentation with the foreseeable realities for where they’re to be applied, converting paper to practice.

Mr. Smith, a lawyer, ex-army officer, and former Principal Advisor, Safety, for Woodside, has been party to various safety boards of enquiry, and spoke from the viewpoint of the prosecution cross-examining managers and executives under trial at inquest or inquiry.

These are my learnings:

  • A “premise that workers will do the right thing is doomedd to failure from a legal compliance viewpoint.” The legal compliance (safety) program’s key premise must be that systems are inherently flawed and an expectation of pockets of non-compliance (for a range of reasons) is a healthy assumption.
  • Blockers to initiatives, policies and procedures always sit around behaviour, be that direct employee behaviour or the behaviour of the manager/management system interface to ineffectively design or implement systems.
  • The Four Management Obligations at Law for organisations are:
  1. Know its obligations and risks.
  2. Have processes that bring its system failures to its attention
  3. Respond personally in a timely manner. At law, it is okay for a manager/executive to go a different way to that advised provided they can justify the decision. In this they demonstrate they both knew of and considered carefully the issue(s) before them.
  4. Independently verify from time to time. The higher the risk in process, the more external verification is needeed. There is often a noticeable disconnect between the aspirations and the follow-up relating to the OS&H obligations of organisations.

The temptation for many a safety practitioner is to ‘adopt’ other companies’ policies without factoring in the obligations they’re implicitly placing upon their directing managers.

The worst thing a safety manager/professional can do is develop safety documentation and policy that the organisation can’t possibly implement. Given that people implement safety, and they do so within a whole realm of competing priorities. And other equally important systems. Organisations must be careful not to engage in ‘initiative overload.’

For programs to be successful they must be simple. And focus needs to be with the people who’re chargedd with implementing them. This is what the process at law focuses upon, in terms of an OS&H case:

1. What is it the organisation says it does/has done?

2. Show it: how can what the organisation says it does/has done be shown?

3. What do others say about it?

4. Comparing what the organisation does in managing and meeting its safety obligations with what it does in other areas e.g. the environment.