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Does the moral imperative for WHS have a place in business decision making?

The moral imperative for WHS. This has always been a subject area that both fascinates and frustrates me. What is it ? Broadly speaking, it is the moral and ethical duty that organisations have to protect their staff while engaged in work for the organisation and can even extend to the duty of care we all owe one another as human beings. Sounds like a reasonable expectation doesn’t it ?

While it is a reasonable expectation, it is used all too frequently by WHS professionals to justify a change or improvement to WHS in the absence of any commercially astute reasoning. While I am not suggesting that it is not a factor to consider in business decision making, it shouldn’t be the only basis for argument. I have seen it preached with quasi-religious fervour by WHS professionals far and wide and have witnessed it being verbally hurled at boards and executives like some sort of cotton wool wrapped grenade. I have certainly even been guilty of it myself early in my career and now know there is a smarter way to play in the board room.

As a WHS professional who has more recently expanded into Enterprise Risk Management, I offer the following advice to the WHS function:

Show Respect: If you are trying to justify a change or improvement to WHS in front of the key decision makers in your organisation, don’t lecture them about the “WHS moral imperative”. Make the assumption that they are human and they do ultimately care about their people, yet understand that their decisions need to make bottom line sense to stakeholders and shareholders. Many people in the business community (myself included) feel increasingly harassed by self righteous left leaning media outlets preaching to them about what they should be doing. Don’t destroy your own credibility by getting yourself tarred with the same brush !

Researched and Relevant: Frame and research your argument so that it carries quantifiable business benefits. The WHS function doesn’t generate revenue but it certainly can protect and add value. This means you should ensure that your argument around a proposed change or improvement to WHS in your organisation quantifies the tangible business benefits, even if it is as simple as calculating the potential cost savings a WHS improvement could yield in reduced absenteeism.

Stay Positive: Enterprise Risk Management teaches the value of upside and downside risk; focus your WHS arguments around the positive benefits to the organisation. The “grim reaper” style arguments for WHS do have their place but only serve to reinforce the fear around non-compliance with WHS legislation, rather than the positive business benefits that can be achieved through contemporary WHS solutions.

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