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Sheq evolution needs good old-fashioned management

Bill Coetzee charts the course of the Sheq evolution, including some radical changes, and some constantly needed resources.
Bill Coetzee charts the course of the Sheq evolution, including some radical changes, and some constantly needed resources.

Bill Coetzee recalls the Sheq evolution, from the bad old days of risk tolerance, to culture change. Good management is more valuable than ever before.

When I started working as an apprentice fitter and turner in 1979, safety in South African industry meant wearing a boiler suit, eye protection when you felt like it, safety shoes, and a hard hat when you step outside the training centre.

Quality was not a priority. Management’s focus was on production and quantities. There were some serious injuries. Amputations, fatalities and process waste were common.

The attitude back than was, what the heck, factories are dangerous places and these things are bound to happen if you are not careful. That attitude is now extinct.

With the introduction of the former Machinery and Occupational Safety Act (6 of 1983), the focus was on injuries caused by moving machinery; erecting engineering barriers; and buttons to enforce procedural behaviour.

This had a positive impact, and machinery-related incidents were reduced. However some buttons were subverted by shortcuts.

When the OHS Act replaced the MOS Act in 1993, everything changed. Occupational health and environmental impact now had the same attention as safety; employers have to make their own rules; and manage outcomes, not tickboxes.

We were in a new era where management had to include health, safety, and the environment. Meanwhile business had embraced quality management, and ISO 9001 became a global buzzword.

OHS management had evolved into a pseudo-science, combining barriers, statistics, investigations, trends, and eventually assessments.

We started measuring safety, health, environment and quality effects, soon measuring the effects of our own interventions by capturing data, analysis, and comparison to general process standards.

Inevitably we anticipated causes and effects, and thus became more proactive than the old reactive approach to incidents.

In one phase of the Sheq evolution, everything revolved around rules. Then came a focus on barriers, then PPE, then behaviour. None of these in isolation could manage operational risk. Management is an integrative skill
In one phase of the Sheq evolution, everything revolved around rules. Then came a focus on barriers, then PPE, then behaviour. None of these in isolation could manage operational risk. Management is an integrative skill

Some employers remain reactive

Even now in our more enlightened era, some employers still do not use the many tools and systemic elements available to raise awareness, job risk assessment skills, and workplace culture.

The chase to maintain product and service output, still takes some toll in blood.

In our current global economic downturn, employers are under pressure to compete by showing profit. They are also under immense legal, moral, political, and public pressure to comply to OHS and environmental laws, but that pressure is reactive, or old school.

There is little inspection, and selective enforcement, as long as nothing goes wrong.

Selective enforcement prompts many employers to comply selectively. They are caught in tickbox exercises, often out of touch with global Sheq management trends.

Tickboxes look simple, but they complicate management systems, and often lead to ‘manufactured’ data, and compromises.

My Sheq management advice

You don’t have to memorise the OHS Act, or repeat slogans, to achieve the supposedly blessed state of compliance. Compliance is a poor and often misleading management tool.

Citing legal sections sounds knowledgeable, but does not translate into safe behaviour, nor into a self-sustaining Sheq culture, which is the aim of Sheq evolution.

Seven pillars of Sheq implementation

These seven guidelines could lay a foundation for your Sheq system, and your workplace culture:

  • Make the management system methodical, systematic, and understood.
  • Plan interventions that relate to known risks.
  • Co-operative. One manager or department could never manage Sheq alone.
  • Teach the correct procedure until it is second nature. Disable shortcuts.
  • Every job has one procedure. Every site has one management system.
  • Use signage, manuals, training, observation, and data, to translate your vision, mission and directives into practical steps.
  • Learn from minor incidents, suppliers, consultants, auditors, and from competitors.

Sheq management today is more complicated than in the old days, and with good reason. However Sheq behaviour is still as simple as back then.

Good systems and good examples enable people to adopt Sheq values, and to work safely.

Sheq is no longer a Cinderella with a ruler in a back room. She has stepped out as one of the main elements in the profitability, sustainability and reputation of any organisation.

Olifantsfontein Trade Test Centre.
Olifantsfontein Trade Test Centre.

My personal Sheq journey

I completed the Olifantsfontein Trade Test in 1983. From 1988 I held various supervisory and management positions, for 20 years.

I moved to safety and quality management in 2008. My interest in quality systems started in 1995, when I was part of a CSIR Productivity Improvement and Change Management team at the company I worked for.

That team experience was my eye-opener to a new mindset. I could think and see outside the box of the visible elements of production and hazards, into the causes and effects of risk.

I have seen many examples of change, but only those built on strong, consistent management have sustained themselves.

Management requires skills in leadership, planning, communication, buy-in, training, and continuous improvement. Like any skills, these could be learned, and practiced.

I eventually developed and implemented Sheq management systems, integrated management systems, and trained people in risk assessment, incident investigation, and supplier audits.

In my first career of 37 years in manufacturing, I have seen the Sheq evolution. My second career is aimed at demonstrating the benefits of Sheq culture to employers who may not have all the relevant experience in their current management team to join the Sheq evolution.

  • Bill Coetzee is the Principal Consultant at Cygma Sheq Gauteng. He is happily married, has three daughters and two granddaughters. Contact Bill on 073 475 4763 or b.coetzee[at]cygmasheq[dot]co[dot]za
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