I came into Occupational Health Safety and Environmental Care (HSE) on a strong recommendation. I was a Production shift Manager in a manufacturing plant and already knew a bit about Quality, Safety and Total Productive Management (TPM). I was good in driving productivity, communication especially writing and enforcing rules. Due to one reason or another, our site HSE Manager was relieved of the job. That was how I became the site HSE Manager. My first baptism on the job was an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Audit. I was scared to death. In that organization, failing an audit was a big deal. Fortunately for me, I got a lot of support from everybody and the corporate HSE team.
Early in my career, I discovered that the HSEQ Manager's strength is his knowledge of the relevant standards and applicable legislations. Like a Prophet, he must have foresight and hear the word from “God” (the HSE Standards).Like an evangelist, he must have a voice and be able to proclaim the gospel
of workplace safety for the safety of every employee. Like a teacher, he must be able to teach, train and coach. The HSE Manager is a general manager called to lead by influence. In the early days of my career, I found these responsibilities intimidating more so in an environment that regarded safety as a priority. You could lose your job due to negligence in Safety or Quality irrespective of your position in my former company!
To win the trust and confidence of my line managers, I read the applicable standards and legislations like a degree student. When I speak, it was thus saith the standard. Initially, the line managers will argue with me and to be sure I wasn’t just becoming overbearing say, “Wale, show me the standard. I want to see it myself”. At plant meetings, the more senior line managers will challenge my presentation and disagree. I don’t argue, I will simply state the relevant standards and highlight the benefits of compliance and of course the consequences on non-compliance. Once I do that, the Plant Manager, on whose head lay the overall responsibility will ask, ‘How do we comply? All these challenges made me devour the standards the more, to seek best practice and stay on top of my job until I became a walking reference point. In our environment, the work of the HSEQ Manager is a very challenging one. Our cultural beliefs towards
work place accidents, our low risk perception, inadequate legislation and poor enforcement by agencies, poor safety awareness etc places occupational safety and health at the mercy of who is in the top management. Quality has a little better deal because of its visible and immediate direct impact on the
product and bottom line. To succeed as an HSE Manager therefore, you must keep all these in mind- understand the pressure on your line managers and top management and develop your people skills.