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Safety professionals traditionally focus on systems, behaviour, and corporate maturity. But leadership, HR, and safety integration could be more effective.

Dr Charlotte Sieberhagen and Gerrit Viljoen researched and applied HR and safety integration in the Petrochemical Industry. They noted that research indicates that in order to improve safety performance, organisations need to influence engineering, systems, as well as behaviour that may impact on causes and incidents.

An example fromthe aviation industry isfrequently used to demonstrate the importance of behaviour. Worldwide airlines often use standardised engineering and systems in their aircraft; however, some airlines are significantly less pronetoincidents than others.

This is attributed to the behaviour of leaders and employees, in how they “live out” safety.

In order to address the behavioural issue in safety, many organisations implement behaviour based safety (BBS) initiatives involving peer observations.

Although BBS systems have been proven very effective in achieving safety results, it is our opinion that improved collaboration between the HR function as the centre of knowledge for human behaviour,the safety function as the owner of safety systems, and the operational leadership of the organisation, would accelerate safety performance improvement in organisations.

Who manages behaviour?

Human behaviour is traditionally part of the human resources (HR) department’ssphere of influence. Typically, dealing with behavioural and organisational factors in incident investigations, remains a challenge to many safety professionals.

It is therefore important to integrate the fields of safety and human resources (HR) in order to address behavioural and organisational factors(Rothmann & Rothmann; van Vuuren 2000; GoncalvesFilho et al, 2012) that influence safety performance.

Currently,in most organisations,very little interaction existsbetween the HR and safety fraternities regarding safety performance improvement. In our view, this is a result of HR professionals seldom being well versed in safety systems, and safety professional seldom being well equipped to understand the HR enablers for optimising safety performance.

Collaboration between the HR and safety fraternities will enable a significant acceleration in the gearing-up effect in safety improvement.

Thus it is proposed that the safetyfunctionshould work in close collaboration with the human resources function, in any organisation,to rapidly improve safety performance, by marrying those initiatives that enable and drive positive safety behaviour.

Operations, as the customerof both functions, thereby obtains new ways of performing established business processes, with the benefit of improvedsafety results.

Many examples are available of HR management models usedby organisations to manage their HR processes and services.

Whatever the established model in an organisation, it can be used tointegrate theinitiatives of the safety and HR functions in order to do comprehensive organisational safety behaviour risk management.

Management must enable HR and safety integration

It requires that the leadership of an organisation recognises the importance of an integrated approach by both functions, and supports this through collaborative structures.

In the end, HR strategy, policies and services need to be amended and expanded to also include detail on how positive safety results are to be supported.

Thus, the HR management model should address behavioural and organisational factors that influence safety in order to ensure effective organisational safety behaviour risk management.

The HR system standards model is applied to HR-safety integration in the text below.
The HR system standards model is applied to HR-safety integration in the text below.

HR management model

Such an integrated system can be approached through a typical and very recognisable HR management model.

In 2013 the South African Board for People Practice (SABPP) presented the first version of the SABPP HR Management System Standards (HRMSS) Model.It is instrumental in describing structures and activities of the function to both the HR function in an organisation and its key stakeholders.

Using this structure, collaboration between the safety function and the HR function can enhance this delivery model for improved safety results.

The organisational safety behaviour risk management process, including safety behaviour transformation elements, could be grouped by strategies, against behavioural transformation elements.


1 Strategic HRM
Organisational climate /culture assessments should be expanded to include an assessment of the organisation’s safety maturity level. This enables specific targeted interventions relevant to the organisation.

Interpretation of surveys should include very specific involvement of the safety function in order to develop an understanding of the levelat which specific parts of the organisation are functioning in terms of maturity, and how improvement can be supported.

Using interventions intended for low maturity environments in units that are alreadyfunctioning at a high maturity level, can be counterproductive.

Structural and communication flow analyses should be performed by safety professionals, in order to verify that the flow of information supports competence and risk understanding.

This is relevant at various organisational levels from a business development point of view, to ensure sufficient supervision and management capacity, through to the front end man-machine interface, where the ability of personnel to receive and process information must be taken into account.

2 Talent management
A competency profile to manage SHE for MD, operations manager and functional manager (knowledge, skills, attributes) should be developed and kept up to date.

Work profiling system (WPS)/career ladders/ asset management models must be used to determine the roles, responsibilities and expectations at every level in the organisation.

Gap analyses, based on required profile must be conducted.

Leadership and safety specialist assessment centres must be designed and developed for use during selection.

Safety risk screening tools, includingjob-specific psychometric evaluation (e.g. psychomotor test) and physical ability test, should form part of selection practices.

3 HR risk management
Annual SHE improvement plan and results: The SHE improvement plan must include leadership and behavioural elements that would improve the organisational climate/culture, leading to improved SHE results. Reporting on the improvement plan should include an assessment of incident trends to indicate whether or not these interventions are successful.

Organisational climate/culture assessment and initiative/intervention implementation: Focused interventions should be implemented following each assessment. The influence that climate/culture improvement has on the behaviour of leaders and employeesmakes this a pivotal part to advance SHE improvement.

4 Workforce planning
Recruitment and selection of leaders according to HOLISTIC competency profile,including technical and behavioural/leadership competencies: HR professionals should ensure that both competencies are assessed and applied equally in the selection of candidates.

Execution of assessment centres: Assessment centres must be used as part of the selection of leaders. This is to ensure that practical application of competencies is evaluated to identify gaps and improvement opportunities of candidates.

Following recruitment, an initial personal development plan (PDP) must be signed off by a behavioural specialist to ensure focused competency improvement is linked to gaps identified as part of the selection procedure. Both the individual and the recruiting manager must be held accountable and report on progress.

Interventions needed at changes in leadership role (e.g. individual, team leaderand function head). Focused interventions should be developed to ensure targeted leaders acquire skills needed for leadership roles when positions become available.

Developmental plans for attributes and competencies of current managers: Current managers should be assessed against the required profiles and development plans implemented to ensure that competency gaps are closed.

Discussion at talent review days – developmental and gap closing plans should be discussed and progress tracked in order to ensure that managers are better enabled to fulfil their roles productively and effectively.

Guidance at executive level (MD / HR manager / SHE manager): Senior management should be advised regarding “clustering” of competence gaps, e.g. where two levels of management are inclined to lack attention to detail. Such “hot spots” should be identified and communicated as an organisational risk. Also, experience levels of managers and subordinates should be considered during selection of candidates.

5 Learning
SHE leadership coaching – Behaviour transformation modules etc.: Typically, “from – to” behavioural development plans need to indicate how managers can improve the safety maturity of an operational unit.

MD heat map:Specifically link analysis to personal development plan execution,( e.g. the progress report must indicate how each responsibility area is progressing on their specific part of the journey (e.g. from ‘legal requirements’ to ‘understanding human error’).

Expand self-development capacity – people don’t get around to classrooms any more. Basic leadership training regarding behaviour transformation elements should be developed and be available to be done online.

Status and progress reporting to executive level regarding safety leadership behaviour improvements should be done to ensure that improvements are enabled.

Annual performance reviews and development plans (re-assessment by psychometric department 3 yearly).

6 Performance
Performance contract assessment should include safety targets that predominantly focus on leading indicators that employees and leaders can influence and control e.g. housekeeping, BBS observations, implementation of corrective actions.

Incident/injury Investigations should include the identification of behavioural and organisational root causes. The preventative actions should always follow the engineering, system and behaviour methodology.

Safety focus groups can be used to identify culture/climate issues in targeted areas.

Preventative safety interviews can be used to proactively identify culture/climate issues that can improve SHE performance.

BBS follow-up interviews – Most high risk behaviours must be identified, followed up and focused coaching sessions facilitated.

Effective SHE communication and activators: Nudge and “Information is beautiful” principles can be used to ensure improved SHE communication. Also, a system to ensure feedback from frontline team members must be managed.

7 Rewards
Safety incentive schemes should focus on rewarding leading and lagging indicators.

8 Wellness
Conduct interviews with injured/responsible employees to ensure culture/climate failures are identified as part of injury prevention. Injured personnel can also be referred for counselling where necessary.

Psychological fitness assessment can be conducted to ensure that especially employees required to work at heights are psychologically fit to execute the work. This can significantly reduce the risk of working at heights.

9 Employment relations management
Assured sharing of lessons learnt following incidents is pivotal as part of prevention of incidents recurring in other areas.

10 Organisational development
Functions (such as OD, supply chain, procurement, finance, technical & engineering) must understand their role in ‘operational safety’. Decisions and changes made by functions can enable or disable SHE performance. Thus, impact on SHE performance should be considered before changes or decisions are made.

Supervisory ratios/manning ratios must ensure that adequate management of team members is possible. This will enable supervisors to do required training, coaching and management of team members.

11 HR service delivery
HR and safety integration and partnership:BT elements should form part of the HR servicedelivery model of the organisation to enable improved SHE performance.

HR skills that will enable good SHE results, e.g. an understanding of how a specific profile can be enabling or disabling in the organisation.

HR enabling other functions (e.g. finance, supply chain) to enable good SHE results: HR should apply proven practices (e.g. selection and performance management) in other functions to enable improved results.

External Interfaces – Service providers/hired labour – The manner in which service providers are screened must include an assessment of how their internal safety culture and maturity are managed.Competencies must be verified and physical ability checks done.

12 HR technology
Safety related disciplinary hearings must be tracked in order to ensure consistent application of sanctions after safety rules were violated. Sanctions for violating behaviours should consistently be applied. Management action must be focused on rule violations and not only after an incident has occurred. Human failure methodology should be considered.

13 Measuring HR success
Organisational culture/climate assessment: Follow up measurement to verify improvements are made and interventions are successful.

Engagement/burnout scale measurement can be used as a dipstick to monitor improvements.

Safety exit interview and follow up to ensure vital information is obtained to improve culture/climate issues. Employees leaving the organisation might be more inclined to raise concerns because there would be no fear of consequences for mentioning concerns.


By implementation of safety behaviour transformation elements, organisations will be able to proactivelypromote the behavioural and organisational factors that will enable and accelerate improved safety results, rather than reactingto behavioural and organisational concerns following incidents.

For a holistic approach to safety improvement in all aspects of an organisation’s activities, similar strategies should be implemented in other functions, most notably the supply chain.

• Dr Charlotte Sieberhagen is an Industrial Psychologist specialising in SHE Organisational Behaviour improvement in the Petrochemical Industry. She works as a Senior Behavioural Specialist.
• Gerrit Viljoen is a qualified Electrical en Electronics Engineer. He is former SHE manager and currently works as Vice President in the Petrochemical Industry.

Graphics sources

Intervention maturity graph; Changing Minds Guide:A practical guide for behavioural change in the UK oil and gas industry

Changing Minds Guide: “A practical guide for behavioural change in the oil and gas industry.
GoncalvesFilho, A.P., São Mateus, C.C., Oliveira, D.S.V., Andrade, E.G. & Muniz, M.P. (2012,July 9-11). The Impacts of Human Factors in Fatal Workplace Accidents. Paper presented at the International conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations Management.
Rothmann, S. & Rothmann J. C. (2006, January). The South African Employee Health and Wellness Survey: User manual. Potchefstroom: Afriforte (Pty) Ltd.
SABPP.(2013). Draft national HRM system standard 2013. HR Future.
van Vuuren, W. (2000). Cultural influences on risks and risk management: six case studies. Safety Science, 34, 31-45.

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  • Thank you for all this valuable and informative information.

  • A year ago, this article was posted on this site
    It came among criticism from some H&S people. H&S is not the be-all end-all of business management and the sooner we accept it, the sooner we will succeed in our objectives. H&S is not independent, but interdependent on all departments in a business. Just like the human body comes to a stop when the stomach starts cramping and the… well you can draw your own pictures, so is a business’ success interdependent on all its “organs”. Sadly though, in the human body it’s is the anus that stops and drops everything and the whole body responds accordingly. So which part of the body are you?

  • Sydwell Morokane

    9 October 2015 at 18:00

    HR department can indeed help to improve SHE performance especially when it comes to the Behaviours.

  • Hi

    I am one of those who believe that SHE should not report to HR. Having said that, HR can definitely have a positive effect. Especially in the engineering profession and with project managers/construction managers etc. Working in oil and gas / construction industry , schedule is still put before SHE, especially if customers are waiting at the end of it. The changes to legislation, such as the Construction Regulations, is also sometimes ignored, or interpretations bent in order to justify schedule. Can HR here help to change attitudes, of course, but time is money, production and schedule risks to many engineers is the KPI, not getting it done safely, so yes, HR please start with all the lip-service first, and help the areas where HSE really matters, with engineering.

  • I am in agreement with this submission.Please expand more on how to exploite this strategy in making this to SHE benefit

    • Hi Sydwell
      Afriforte is the commercial arm of the workwell research unit at North-West University Potchefstroom SA. We conducted research in this regard since 2003. Charlotte completed her PhD with us as well. It is so important to include HR and specifically OD in SHE activities in order create a safety conducive and supportive environment.
      warm regards Ina Rothmann

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