• Michelle Dykstra
    In my small town I co-facilitate a local H&S discussion group. Many of its members are HR or accounts administrators who have been asked to 'do' H&S in addition to their core tasks. The discussion group is a way for them to develop better H&S understanding and to go beyond the perception that H&S can be done as compliance admin.
    I'd be keen to hear your views about the differences between HR and H&S as business functions.
    I have a sneaking suspicion that the best H&S outcomes cannot be reached when using an HR approach or when H&S reports to and through HR.
    Taking this discussion a step further...
    The 2018 Safeguard Job Survey reported that only 7.2% of H&S people report to HR within their organisations; the majority 36.1% report to the CEO/GM or Director, with 26% reporting to a more senior H&S person and 16.4% reporting to an operational manager.
    Have any of you experienced being less effective in your H&S roles due to constraints arising from the role you were reporting to?
  • Andrew
    ":I'd be keen to hear your views about the differences between HR and H&S as business functions."

    Essentially none - both are about "risk" (and I dont specifically mean legal risk) and customer service

    Disc - I wear many hats. HR and H&S being 2 of them
  • Michelle Dykstra
    @Andrew I like your comment about risk and customer service.
    My views about HR might be strongly influenced by having worked for corporates and in unionised environments where HR would be perceived to, at times, take in a position purely to protect the business. Now that I work exclusively in H&S, I have a realisation that I am earning a living by working to keep people safe. I could do my job half-arsed but this would be unethical - for more reasons than if an HR person were to do a half-arsed job. This essentially sharpens my focus.
    Do you ever find you need to take off your HR hat and put on your H&S hat to get the best outcome?
  • Andrew
    "Do you ever find you need to take off your HR hat and put on your H&S hat to get the best outcome?"

    Short answer is "NO"

    I think what we all must constantly remember and recognize is - who it is who is writing out our pay cheque. That is the person we are serving.

    I also have an approach which is to "always do the right thing". So if I do the right thing for the person paying my cheque, I will as a consequent be doing the right thing for the "workers" and also abide by whatever law might cover a given situation.

    I don't take off one hat and put on the other. I think it is essentially the same hat - that is: what is the best way to manage this particular risk/issue. Its a philosophical / ethical approach - and discussion on that means entering a rabbit hole!.

    So for example. We know bullying / violence is a risk. I've put in place a number of preventative steps. But when a guy pulled a box cutter knife and threatened a co-worker I fired him. Reflecting, I can see loads of steps in that total situation and each one I can say I 'did the right thing". One hat, two issues.

    (Some people are very mis-guided on what the right thing is. I find a fact based, evidential approach helps)
  • Michelle Dykstra
    @Andrew Thanks for sharing your insights on this. Your fact-based, evidential approach will no-doubt be a safety net to "always do the right thing".
    I guess your being the one person doing two roles might mean you will naturally have an aligned approach. I wonder whether others who work in organisations where these roles are split have different experiences?
  • Matthew Bennett
    Hi Michelle.

    I'm undecided if HR and H+S are natural / comfortable co-functions or need to maintain a collaborative tension. It's a questoin of the philosphy and paradigm that the organisation puts in place when establishing the functions and the expecations and desicion making authoirity that each funciotn holds. Again, this is somehting I'm still mulling over and considering.

    My experience has most certainly been that the two functions are in tension with each other, in part by my philosphy around H+S. The businesses I've been involved with the HR function hs been protectionist: holding infromation close, looking for 'whose at fault', holding the worker accountable for under performance - ignoring the working environment. This runs contrary to my H+S approach of openly sharig experinece and insight, examining the work environment in order to optimise work and understanding the underlying drivers for worker performance, enabling the capacity to 'fail safely'. It has been an uncomfortable tension, however one that consisently produces robustly test positive outcomes. The catch though: if one team / function was subservenant (reports through) to the other, the power imbalance results in poor, even bad outcomes.

    My opinion, based on a large pool of data, is the NZ workpalces absolutley have to improve their H+S performance. They must change. And you don't generate chage by placing your change agents (H+S Practicioners) inside a well established business unit that has no driver for change.
  • Glenn Taylor
    My experiences thus far it seems that smaller companies find benefits in the merged roles to keep things efficient and real but in larger organisations I would suggest it should be a separate role as there can be conflicts of interest. Yes parts do overlap like ACC claims but in other instances things might pay to be kept separate. Reporting through to an HR manager can often dilute the message as well whereas a direct or dotted line to the most senior person in the organisation may yield a quicker more efficient response and not involve any potential for dilution from opinions. I have experienced conflicts in my past where the merged roles existed overseas and it was not productive. H & S is not HR and HR is not H & S....collaborate yes but keep it separate. My two penneth..
  • Derek
    I think that HR and H&S are different disciplines, but there are some overlaps, e.g. bullying. From my experience, H&S reporting to HR does not work very well. H&S is a better fit in Operations, especially if you want to embed H&S into the business, as the normal way of doing things and develop the safety culture/ climate. HR is seen by the business as more of a support function. On a practical level, I find that I get much better buyin when investigating incidents if staff recognise that I am trying to find out what went wrong, so that it can be prevented from happening in the future. I leave HR to do the Just Culture thing and disciplining. Dekker's work is good on this.
  • Glen Johnson
    Hi Michelle,

    I think HR and H&S as functions have a commonality and this means they should be working closely together, however, my experience of H&S reporting through HR has been very negative in the past.
    What I have experienced has been a tendency towards dampening/distorting the message of the H&S stream when it is reported to the Board or CE through an HR filter. I think this is largely due to HR professionals tendency to closely manage/control information within most large organisations (I have only really worked at high levels in larger businesses). As an H&S professional, I often need to get an unfiltered message to the ears that can influence the change required, I have had much more success doing this myself or through a more senior H&S professional than through HR.
    That being said I have also worked in a structure where both HR and H&S reported through a Chief Services Officer role to the CEO, as this role had responsibility for both streams it worked well although the CSO did have an H&S professional background.

    Just my thoughts
  • Mel Brown
    Awesome topic, & Interesting discussion Michelle. It begs the question whether the two roles conflict at points of tension?

    I like how you have discussions with your group to fish out there depth of understanding. They would only know what impacts they make if they understand the PD they've been given, and how that transitions over into multiple roles.

    I suppose another question would be the how would frontline staff answer your initial question :-) re: HR vs H&S
  • Sheri Greenwell
    Why do organisations only think in binary ways about providing resources for H&S and HR? Both are specialist fields in their own right and both carry important moral and legal obligations. As soon as an organisation throws H&S and HR together in order to justify an FTE, the person in the role will always be forced to juggle priorities, and may at times do neither justice.

    Having previously held roles that stretched across a wide range of compliance disciplines as well as HR (I used to tell people my job title was actually "Selly's No More Gaps!"), the reality is that a person can only attend to one issue or task at a time, so it follows logically that other things will be taking a back seat at that time.

    While I would love to see NZ organisations mature sufficiently to not 'need' a dedicated safety function, at the moment, if an organisation doesn't have one, those things don't tend to get done, and that can be a big risk for H&S.

    I wonder what might be possible if organisations could step back and adopt a different approach to both functions and consider working with experts who focus only on one function and make sure what needs to be done gets done, done well and is appropriately monitored, reviewed and developed*.

    The future of work indicates that the rigid 9-5 full-time permanent job as we once knew it is on the way out. Just as fields such as IT are already starting to do, imagine that dedicated resources can be brought in as and when needed so managers don't feel tempted to load up a single person with a variety of tasks for which they may have variable knowledge, skills and experience, and businesses pay for work done (and done excellently) rather than just for time spent sitting in an office thinking about where you might rather be at that time?!?

    For workers such as safety practitioners and HR advisors, this could bring opportunities to develop a 'portfolio' career, possibly even something approaching a subscription service, to provide safety advice and guidance when it is needed. This might also support organisations to get their managers and workers to take a more active role in H&S and other compliance disciplines.

    *As a footnote to this, the same should also apply to people trying to deliver safety training who have little or no knowledge of sound learning and development methodologies, who simply assemble and relay information without understanding key elements of instructional design, designing relevant and meaningful competency criteria, meaningful assessments that relate to workplace requirements, educational psychology and neuroscience.
  • Michelle Dykstra
    Thank you all so much for your contributions to this discussion. I'm blown away by your insights and shared experiences.
    I am currently studying towards the NEBOSH IGC and I find that the content is lifting me up and helping me see more than before. I'm starting to question organisational structure and resourcing and see the interconnection between this and H&S outcomes.
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