The importance of authentic consultation in Occupational Health and Safety Systems

One of the key requirements in ISO 45001, perhaps the best known standard for Occupational Health & Safety is to consult with your workforce. It is no accident that employers who engage and consult with their workforce have more engaged staff, which contribute to more resilient systems. The pandemic has made that process even more important. One of the key reasons why consulting is so important is just how many unknowns and things we cannot control that we have been dealing with. And it is when faced with unknowns, that allowing yourself the space to be ‘vulnerable’ can be the most effective way to drive engagement.

The value of honest communication

An OHS system does not need to be perfect, but without the consultation and participation of staff, it will not be a resilient system because the workforce will not be engaging with it. As with so many other areas in life, in work, it begins with communication. It requires us to do what we can and say what we don’t know or cannot do. This approach of allowing vulnerability may be uncomfortable, but it lends a system, and the team that operates the system, the authenticity needed to ensure it is resilient enough to cope with crisis.

It is incredibly powerful to say to someone  ‘I don’t know’. It’s OK to not have all the answers, and if anything, the past year has shown that we have not had all the answers, or if there was an answer, it may not have been the one that we wanted to hear. We did not want to have lockdowns, we did not want people to lose their lives and we did not know when a vaccine would arrive but we had to try to carry on. When dealing with uncertainty, and at times fear, it is crucial to have an organization that keeps communicating, consulting and taking action based on the feedback it receives.

What does this mean in practice?

In practice, this means trusting staff to do their work, supporting them when problems arise and being proactive. Check in with your team and stakeholders and understand what’s working and what is not. Help where you can and be open about when you don’t have all the answers. Whilst this is not anything new, it has never been more important than in the current climate. This culture of authentic consultation is the difference between a system that adds value to your organisation and one that does not.

Cathie UK have an integrated management system certified to meet the requirements of ISO 45001. To see a list of standards we are certified to, click here.