How OHS professionals can use protective capacity to shock-proof organisations

Thursday, 9 April, 2020 - 18:45
Industry news
National News

The approach that some organisations take to improve supply chain security in response to crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic can hinder organisational agility and impair workforce resilience while multiplying safety risks, according to an expert in the area.

The natural and logical tendency for organisations that experience the present dramatic change in demand (along with shocks to the ability to supply) is to cut costs as fast as possible and try to improve efficiencies even more, said Hendrik Lourens, an expert in manufacturing and supply chains and owner of consulting firm Stratflow.

This often leads organisations to reduce resource allocation so that they end up with a balanced capacity production (supply) chain with just enough of everything.

“But in our current situation, where we experience more variability, this strategy will reduce our production capacity and operations can easily change into one of firefighting and blame-shifting,” said Lourens, who recently presented as part of an AIHS webinar on business continuity and security management through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have now made work more difficult and safety risks multiply.”

Lourens explained that these actions will decrease the stability and robustness all organisations need to function “and we thus will not have a base from where our employees can operate to deal with new challenges as they arise,” he said.

“We will have lost the resilience (agility) we now need more than ever.”

Given the unstable nature of the current operating and business environment, Lourens observed that executives are very aware of the risk the organisation face on the health and safety front.

“It is hard to see the holistic picture and know where the risk is entering the organisation, in other words, where the leverage point for effective intervention lies,” he said.

“This is not the time to cut resources across the board in order to reduce cost.

“It is when work demand exceeds the available resources that work becomes difficult and safety risks increase.”

Businesses need protective capacity around bottleneck areas to handle surprises and shocks, and Lourens said this can help make businesses more robust and allow agility (resilience) to emerge.

“By making executives aware of the need for protective capacity in crucial areas, OHS professionals can have a significant impact on safety as well as on productivity,” he said.

Lourens explained that the principal of obliquity states that it is often more effective to address problems indirectly than tackling them head-on.

“Protective capacity is a useful approach in improving OHS outcomes in these unstable times,” he said.

By making work easier he said the pressure to deliver and take shortcuts reduces and safety outcomes improve.

“And finally, don’t try to do everything,” said Lourens.

“Think holistically and focus on the areas of leverage where 20 per cent effort will lead to 80 per cent of the results.

“Otherwise, the effort will be wasted, and you will experience substandard outcomes.”