OHS Change Management and Project Management

OHS Change Management and Project Management

Guest post by George Robotham based on some real and successful experiences

Introducing OHS initiatives is essentially about change management. Carrying out effective change is often very difficult, if you do not involve those to be effected by the change process in the change process, you are doomed to failure.

Attempting too big a change and / or changing things too quickly can create an adverse reaction and alienate the very people you want to make allies. Learn the context, culture and past before trying to make changes. Unless a crisis situation is apparent realise effective change requires a lot of effort and time.

John P. Kotter speaks of 8 steps for successful large scale change- Increase urgency, Build the guiding team, Get the vision right, Communicate for buy-in, Empower action, Create short-term wins, Do not let up, Make change stick..These steps provide useful, practical guidance.

I have led a number of highly successful OHS projects driving significant OHS management and OHS learning change. Having a detailed project plan and using project management methodologies have proved important.

The ABC project

The ABC project was a major, multi-million dollar organisational change project designed to revolutionise management of OHS in XYZ. I was one of 12 OHS Managers appointed to run specific elements of the project, I had only little contact with the other OHS Project Managers and have no recollection of what they were working on. The project spent approx. $50milion over 2 years so was a substantial effort. .

My main task was to lead a team of workers and OHS Professionals developing what were referred to as “Control plans” for 21 identified high risk activities. XYZ were pretty good with their core risks but not managing their non-core risks as well.

The identified high risks I can remember were-Electrical work, fatigue, driving, noise, access to premises, use of personal protective equipment, manual handling, office based ergonomics, animal control, power poles, traffic control, access to safety information, use of compressed gas equipment and so on.

Tasks were divided between me and the team according to expertise with the aim of providing written information on how to manage particular risks. The workers required some assistance from me in their tasks as it was different from their normal occupation. It was emphasised that succinct documentation was required.

Some of the things my team did were-

  • Look at what documentation already existed. In one area a wealth of good information that had been developed was discovered and was buried in the system and not routinely used.
  • Examine how the risks were currently managed
  • Liaise with Quality staff in incorporating our work into the Quality system
  • Research reliable sources of information such as standards, legislation, published guidelines
  • Tap into research by universities and other bodies
  • Speak to similar organisations about how they managed all their risks
  • Speak to multi nationals about how they managed their non-core risks
  • Networking with personal contacts
  • Circulated initial drafts widely for comment and input
  • When finalised the control plans were incorporated in the company strategic and operational OHS plans

XYZ management were very pleased with the work of the team and hosted a celebration for us. When the team phase was over I worked with commercial trainers developing training programs to implement the control plans. I had to report on project progress to a senior Change Management Team on a regular basis.

I would have to say this was one of the most successful OHS projects I have been involved in.

The government project

The government project was to develop and implement a safety management system in a new entity and required starting from scratch. Experienced staff were employed in the new entity but very few had experience of a robust safety management system. The project was coordinated through a Project Office and sponsored by a senior executive.

The manager I reported to was very busy, had little understanding of OHS, was not particularly dynamic and was under the threat of losing his job. This caused some difficulties in the project. I ended up bypassing the manager to a certain extent and liaised directly with the senior executive.

Supervisors and managers were focused on getting the entity operational and not really interested in ancillary things such as OHS.

Some of the things done were-

  • A review of legislation and an audit of compliance
  • A team inspection of both premises with a particular focus on slips, trips and falls hazards
  • The formation of a representative safety committee, this proved to be a major task and required considerable input from the senior executive
  • The development of a safety handbook
  • The development of a safety induction program
  • Training of supervisors and managers in statutory obligations and safety leadership
  • Liaison with public relations staff on the development of safety promotional materials

My role on the project finished after 3 months and, given the bureaucratic nature of the organisation, I felt I had achieved a reasonable amount. I left the organisation with a detailed project management plan outlining what they had to do and how to do it for the next 12 months. There were appropriate timelines.

Shortly after I left the organisation the senior executive fell on his political sword, left the organisation and the project died without him to drive it. I am aware the organisation has had a few serious accidents and is still struggling to introduce a robust safety management system.

General safety project issues

Form a project team and develop a Project Management Plan using appropriate software. The plan will include discussion of required activities, resources, deliverables, time frames and financials. The plan should be reviewed regularly.

Some thought needs to go into the makeup of the project team. It helps to have some people with technical knowledge of the area being investigated, people who are influencers, whether that be formal or informal and those receptive to change. Sometimes if you have someone who is not receptive to change it helps to put them on the team to be part of the change process. Having people with a sense of humour is always a good idea. Sometimes it helps to have someone with no knowledge of the area; they will ask dumb questions that do not end up being so dumb.

For the larger project guidance from those specifically trained in Project Management and / or Change Management may be beneficial.

Put a lot of work into defining the scope of the project.

An end of project report with recommendations will be required; the report should be succinct and concisely outline what action is required by whom and in what timelines.

One project I led saw me and most team members doubting the change we were asked to implement was feasible. The first step was to work on convincing the project team the change was wise. This was essential before we could influence others.

When you are driving significant change you have to be prepared for resistance to change and realise you will cop a bit of flak. Senior management support is essential.

George can be contacted on fgrobotham@gmail.com, he welcomes debate on the above (it would be indeed a boring world if everybody agreed with George)

George Robotham, Cert. IV T.A.E.,. Dip. Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University), Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia, fgrobotham@gmail.com, www.ohschange.com.au,07-38021516, 0421860574, My passion is the reduction of permanently life altering (Class 1 ) personal damage

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