How to take a leading approach to occupational health and safety

Safety Helmets
We investigated companies' approach to occupational health and safety, where a group of only 8 % were defined as leaders. What can other companies learn from them?
  • Published:
  • Keywords: Health and Safety, Other sectors

Occupational health and safety (OH&S) should be on top of the agenda in every company. Every year, 2.74 million persons die due to work related injuries and accidents worldwide. Additionally, hundreds of millions suffer from work related injuries or illness every year. The potential for improvement is significant. 

Why companies implement OH&S safety

The 2018 Viewpoint survey “Does occupational health and safety matter?” asked 1729 professionals worldwide regarding several aspects of occupational health and safety and found that the top driver to apply occupational health and safety management is the well-being of workers (81%). Laws and regulations is the 2nd most prominent driver (79%). The main risks derive from machines and equipment (66%) and the working environment. 

What defines the leaders?

The survey indicates that many companies have OH&S on the agenda, but the level of maturity varies. Businesses with less than 50 employees are lagging behind, seeing fewer results and low return on investment in their OH&S efforts. That is worrying, as small and medium sized companies (SMEs) account for 99% of all enterprises worldwide. 

The leaders on OH&S, on the other hand, score higher than average on all aspects. 

DNV GL defines the leader-group as companies that: 

  • Say OH&S issues are very relevant for their overall business strategy
  • Rate themselves as leading in OH&S management
  • Have taken at least one action to evaluate or mitigate risk
  • Are able to rate the overall cost/benefit ratio of the actions taken

The leaders have some attributes that other companies can look to when planning their OH&S management.

How to take a leading approach to occupational health and safety management:


Take a structured and multi-dimensional approach to OH&S management. 

The leaders within OH&S management are not driven by 1-2 factors, they are motivated to ensure sustainable OH&S management on a wide range of parameters. While the top motivators for OH&S management are the same as for the overall group, they score significantly higher on factors such as brand reputation, economic factors and relations with contractors.  Analyse and assess your OH&S risks Leaders seem to have a clearer picture of the OH&S risks in their organizations. They are more aware of risks from difficult working conditions, such as ergonomic factors and handling of hazardous materials, and know which risks they should prioritize to mitigate. 

Take a broader set of actions to mitigate risk

Leaders actively mitigate risks through a broader set of actions than the average. They score more than 30 percentage points higher than the rest on the top two-actions (maintenance of premises, equipment and facilities  and emergency measures), and focus more on information and training for different levels of the organization. They are also more inclined to assess all risks.  

Harvest from a high ROI on OH&S activity

While 55% of the overall group say that benefits are greater than costs, 75% of the leaders say the same. They consistently perceive a higher effectiveness from their mitigating actions. Over 90% have improved ability to comply with legal and other requirements, almost 88% see decrease of incidents and injuries and close to 83% report improved relations with employees. All numbers are significantly above the average.  Consider OH&S as part of your business strategy All companies, 100%, in the leaders group say that OH&S issues are relevant to the company’s overall business strategy to a great extent, compared to an average of 49.8%. Small companies are lagging further behind. Fortunately, companies seem to plan to include OH&S in the business strategy over the next 3 years.

Invest in OH&S

Leaders in OH&S have most likely already invested a lot in OH&S management. Most indicate that they will invest the same in the next three years (63%), while the rest of the group will increase (36%), following already high investment rates. If a company intends to follow the example of the leaders, some increased investments in OH&S management must be planned for – however, done the right way, our survey indicates that they will see higher benefits than costs.

Certify your OH&S management system

Close to 90% of the leaders agree that it adds value to the organization and stakeholders to certify the OH&S management system through an independent 3rd party, and rate the relevance and benefits from certification higher than the average. Having a certified management system entails a promise to continually improve, which sets clear demands to vision, strategy and planning systems. With a mature and certified management system, you will have a greater ability to plan, execute, monitor and measure your efforts, reaching OH&S objectives and legal and standard compliance.

You can see the complete Viewpoint report here.