Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
The business environment today is highly volatile, and organisations need to adapt to the latest trends in order to succeed. With rapid advancements in technology, the way organisations do business changes as well. Aggressive competition in in the industry adds continuous pressure for top organisations to change in order to reach business goals.
Organisational change is not just changing what’s done, but also how it’s done and the structure around it. It includes all personnel, process and system-related changes to either directly or indirectly affect the control of significant health and safety risks. This includes changes to various aspects such as staffing levels, roles and responsibilities, reporting responsibilities, organisational structures and outsourcing. If managed poorly, these changes will have an adverse effect on the safety of the workforce. The fire at Hickson & Welch Ltd, which killed 5 employees, occurred when a vessel containing potentially unstable sludge was heated for cleaning. This was due to recent reorganisation, leading to inexperienced and overworked staff.
Impact of organisational change on employees and their safety
“Reorganisation can, however, be a major source of stress. It has also been identified as a factor contributing to a number of major accidents involving multiple fatalities” (HSE, Successful health and safety management, Second Edition, 1997). Also, a survey done by American Psychological Association showed that workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change (55% vs. 22%), and more than 4 times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34% vs. 8%).
To ensure employee safety during organisational change, there should be a proper vision of what is being changed and why. Once vision is established, a plan of implementation is required which is in line with the vision. This action plan will be a road map to success and sticking to it will help to avoid false starts and ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction. Now, the people who will execute the action plan must have the skills required to carry out the necessary tasks. For safety, this means that safety managers should have full working knowledge of compliance requirements and how human factors affect an organisation’s overall safety performance. Lastly, the organisation also needs to allocate sufficient resources – from financial support to necessary equipment and training time.
Most organisations are aware of the risks of technical changes but often overlook the detrimental effects of organisational changes on the stress and safety of the workforce. Here are 11 key principles in integrating human factors in organisational change:
- The key issue is that the direct and indirect effects of a proposed change on the control of hazards should be identified and assessed.
- Due to the greater potential consequences of an accident, major accident hazard sites should aim for higher reliability in their planning and decision making.
- Avoid too many simultaneous changes which may result in inadequate attention to some or all. Phase changes whenever possible.
- Organisational change should be planned in a thorough, systematic and realistic way; similar to the processes for managing plant change.
- The reaction of the employees during organisational change must be acknowledged and addressed in order for it to be a success.
- Two aspects of the change need risk assessment: risks and opportunities resulting from the change (where you want to get to) and risks arising from the process of change (how you get there).
- Consult with staff (including contractors) before, during and after the change – don’t miss serious issues hidden among all the natural concerns.
- Ensure that all key tasks and responsibilities are identified and successfully transferred to the new organisation.
- Provide training and experienced support/supervision for staff with new or changed roles.
- Consider reviews of plans and assessments by independent internal or external experts – be prepared to challenge.
- Remember that change can happen even to apparently static organisations e.g. the effects of an ageing workforce.
Change is never easy but it’s a necessary part of evolving as an individual, team or organisation. Laying out the groundwork, considering all parties involved, planning ahead and preparing for the unexpected will make the transition as seamless as it can be. It would also minimise the potential safety and health risks to the workforce when handled properly.
Integrating Human Factors into Design & Operations Risk Framework is a 3-day training course held from 30 March – 1 April 2020 (Singapore) and 25 March – 27 March 2020 (Kuala Lumpur). The training course will describe the best practices in the development of competency management systems and how management can identify of the types of human error and pre-conditions that increase the likelihood of error occurrence. Other topics include the ergonomic aspects of the human-machine interface, organisational cultural models and behaviours surveys, the principle characteristics of “High Reliability Organisations”, best practice leadership approaches and more.