The Role of HR in Health & Safety


Traditionally, the makeup of organizations have included departments like Accounting & Finance, Human Resources, Sales & Marketing, Operations, etc. This old-style model was quite rigid and didn’t allow for much fluidity in the structure, even when there was crossover between business units. Nowadays, although organizations may physically map out their structure, the lines between departments are quite often somewhat blurred. There is usually quite a bit of overlap and even dotted line reporting relationships and responsibility between various departments. However, in order to adjust to the pace of business in today’s world and operate at top efficiency levels, departmental structure varies greatly from company to company depending on the industry/market they are operating in.

Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) is a new and emerging facet of business that has seen significant growth and evolution in its relatively short lifespan in organizational structure. 30 years ago, it was very rare to see an organization with a safety presence or any dedicated staff. Today you would be hard pressed to find an organization without at least one OH&S employee that is fully committed to the business unit and is responsible for overseeing and updating the safety practices of the organization. You might ask yourself “all of my employees are office employees who work at desks all day. Why do I need to pay any attention to OH&S?” Safety today is not just for organizations with employees working in physically demanding roles or using heavy duty machinery and equipment. There is risk for injury in offices too, from fall hazards, bad ergonomic practices and fire hazards. Organizations are legally obligated to ensure that their employees are operating safely and return home to their families at the end of every shift. All workers need to be properly educated, trained and be provided safe equipment in order to perform their job safely, without injury or potential harm.

There is much debate as to exactly where OH&S belongs in the traditional organizational structure, however it is very often housed within the Human Resources silo. As a Human Resources Professional, what is your role in OH&S?

  1. Foster a workplace culture that is cognizant to Health and Safety culture. Although the maintenance of corporate culture is a part of every employee’s role and does not fall solely to the HR department, HR does have a very important role to play in perpetuating safety values, priorities and the overall health of the organization.
  2. Make sure that the right employees are in the right roles. HR departments manage all employees as well as the demands of every role through job design, so it is up to HR to ensure that every position is filled with an employee who is able to perform all of the required job duties properly in a safe manner. If there is a deficiency in ability or knowledge, provide training so that the employees can bridge the gap and be able to execute their job without unnecessary risk.
  3. Ensure proper OH&S policies and procedures are in place and in line with existing HR policies. These policies should allow employees to candidly report unsafe work practices to their supervisors and also to decline work that they feel is unsafe without punishment or repercussions. It is HR’s role to administer these policies, ensure that employees feel safe on a daily basis and to offer a forum to speak up if they do not feel comfortable executing their expected job functions due to safety concerns.
  4. Work together to manage crossover areas like absenteeism, disability management, job design, return to work programs and sick time. OH&S is best administered when paired closely with HR. Incidents at the workplace resulting in a Worker’s Compensation claim or anything related to lost time require involvement from both OH&S and HR. Often these matters can be very technical and complex and will fall to the OH&S team to handle, however it is up to HR to help them enforce policies, develop proper training and assist with regulatory reporting.
  5. Ensure that employees work together to ensure each other’s safety. When safety is a top priority of your organization, it should be obvious to all employees and all potential employees beginning in the recruitment process. In interviews, make it standard practice to ask the candidates their viewpoints on safety or how they might react in a hypothetical unsafe situation to know that you are bringing on employees who share the same safety values as your organization.

Whether OH&S is situated on its own or within human resources in your company’s organizational chart, it is a very important function that has many touch points with HR. In order to best manage the function, HR professionals need to work closely with the OH&S team to ensure an organizational commitment to safety within the organization and promote safe working practices and procedures. Ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that all employees return home safely and without harm at the end of every shift.

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