The Rule Maker vs. the Interpreter

I often wonder who has the most influence over the direction of an organisation: Andrew Demetriou, the Australian Football League?s (AFL) chief executive officer (the rule maker) or Michael Malthouse, the three-time Collingwood Magpies and West Coast Eagles premiership coach (the rule interpreter)?In the last year, Boral?s Victorian operations have focused on Job Safety Analysis (JSA) workshops. Senior management at every opportunity has attended these sessions, with regional managers attending 95 per cent of the 42 workshops conducted to date.
Senior management attending and being active in the JSA workshops is one indicator of senior management commitment to safety.
 ?The link between management practices and occupational safety performance has been extensively investigated. Few would deny that management actions are an important determinant of an organisations safety record.?(1)  
Thus, personal attendance at site JSA workshops indicates senior management commitment to safety. 
Much of the research linking management?s actions to safety performance has focused on top management.(1) Top management establishes safety objectives, sets safety direction and what resources are directed towards safety. Senior management determine policies and procedures for safety. A recent example at our workplace is the ultra violet (UV) light policy. 
Senior management may set policies but it is the supervisory level of management that needs to interpret and put these into practice. Over time I have been inundated with questions on how to interpret the UV light policy guidelines as supervisors put into practice the policy developed by senior management. 
Senior management make the rules, a bit like Andrew Demetriou in the AFL determining that there are only three interchange players and one substitute player on the bench in season 2011. Demetriou has made the rules. 
Research has identified that supervisory behaviour is a critical determinant of workers safety behaviour.(2) It is suggested that supervisors influence accident prevention in two ways:
? By being personally involved in accident prevention, for example by undertaking site inspection, being involved in incident investigations and training new employees by undertaking Take 5 and JSA assessments.
? By encouraging workers participation in these activities.(1)
The senior management approach to safety can have a positive affect on workers? safety behaviour, but research highlights that supervisory level practices are the most immediate and direct determinant of workers? safety behaviour.1 Demetriou sets the rules, but the players? actions and behaviour on the field is directly influenced by Malthouse.
If supervisors are the key influences through interpretation of policy, then the style these supervisors use to manage people must be vital to safety. Research suggests that workers? willingness to actively participate in workplace safety programmes is increased by strategies designed to enhance workers? self esteem, belonging and empowerment in safety.1
This style of leadership is characterised by interactions based on trust, loyalty and openness and reciprocity. Malthouse as the supervisor interprets the rules then through a leadership style empowers the Collingwood players to do the job on the field. This style seems to be successful. 
Supervisors are the key to improving safety. They interpret the rules and display the importance of these rules to the workers by there willingness to obey these rules.
Demetriou is the AFL CEO, but Malthouse is the most influential person in football. Senior management at Boral set the safety rules and direction, but it is the supervisor who has the most influence when safety is considered within Boral.
Supervisors need senior management support and the workers? support to be able to manage safety at the worksite.
Gavin Merriman is the OHS manager for Boral Construction Materials (VIC/TAS). 
This article first appeared in LinkUP, a Boral newsletter, and is reprinted with the kind permission of Boral Construction Materials (VIC/TAS).
1. Lingard H, Cooke T, Blismas N. Group-level safety climate in the Australian construction industry: Within-group homogeneity and between-group differences in road construction and maintenance.Economics 27 (2009): 419-432.
2. Simard M, Marchand A. Workgroups propensity to comply with safety rules. Safety Science 21 (1995): 113-129.

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