How to engage boards on health, safety and risk issues

How to engage boards on heath, safety and riskThis article suggests a range of ways to engage boards on health, safety and risk issues. Our suggestions are a combination of ‘nudges’ and ‘shoves’.  They recognise the potential barriers to engagement that we identified in an earlier article, and are aimed at addressing those barriers.

This article was published in the March 2016 edition of the IOSH Magazine.  My co-authors were Jennifer Lunt and Malc Staves.

The online version can be viewed here.

A virtual magazine version can be viewed here.

In the article, we make the following suggestions for engaging the board with health, safety and risk issues:

  • Couch messages in business language and align them with business drivers
  • Use crises to leverage influence (but not too often)
  • Work on those senior executives who are open to driving safety – herd effect may draw in others
  • Appreciate that a board member’s first preoccupation is the success and continuation of the business as seen in the eyes of the stock market, shareholders or funding bodies
  • Appreciate that board members don’t usually have performance objectives for safety and health but they have ones such as market share, sales growth and share performance
  • Executives with industrial operational experience will have a different view of safety from those with a pure finance background, so consider adapting messages to each board member
  • Coach, nudge or shove senior executives subtly as appropriate
  • Manage safety communication with the workforce. Involve the board and make executives into safety heroes
  • Stick to the facts: give them relevant and timely information on which to act
  • Be prepared for setbacks and accept small steps forward
  • Don’t be rigid in insisting that ‘safety starts at the top’ – this is not true in all organisations and the role of the senior safety professional is to adapt to protect the employees and the company

This is Part 2 of the article.  Part 1 discussed potential barriers to board engagement with health and safety risks, and is available here.

If you have any comments, please drop me a line.

About the author:

Dr Mike Webster is a chartered civil and structural engineer (FICE, FIStructE) with over 30 years’ experience.  He specialises in construction and structural safety, CDM and risk, and founded MPW R&R to provide Consulting, Forensic and Expert Witness services in those areas.

He has led safety-related risk and regulatory projects in the UK, Europe, Far East and US in construction and other high risk industries.  He has published a range of papers and articles on health and safety, risk and regulatory issues.  He acted as an expert witness in the UK.

If you would like to discuss this further, drop Mike a line at