OSH Management and organisation
Raluca Stepa, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH, Germany
- 1 Introduction
- 2 OSH Management
- 3 OSH organization
- 4 Conclusions
- 5 References
- 6 Links for further reading
Management and organisation are interrelated: the management should establish the right organisational structures to achieve defined objectives. Basic requirements on Occupational safety and health (OSH) organisation are provided by legislation at EU level, generally with more details in national laws. The way each company uses organisational structures to achieve objectives and improve its OSH performance even beyond legal requirements, is a matter of management. Guides on implementing and maintaining management systems are available and are compatible with OSH legal provisions. Together with specific tools these can increase OSH efficiency and efficacy and improve legal compliance.
Management and EU legislation on OSH
Management has a very broad meaning: from being able to handle a problem, to the science of management. It has its own body of knowledge formalized in principles, theories and standards and supported by tools. In short, managing a company means being able to take it where it needs or wants to be.
EU OSH legislation and strategy  use the term management without defining it, but it is reasonable to assume it means the modern way of planning and doing activities, leading to continuous improvement. OSH management does not necessarily imply management systems, though such an approach is compatible with both EU legislation and strategy; see also: What are occupational safety and health management systems and why do companies implement them?.
Management must always comply with laws but it should take further, more specific steps Ito meet the company's needs and expectations. A comparison between law and management is presented in table 1.
Table 1. Comparison between law and management
|is reasonably general, cannot have a law for every situation||is mostly situational; it adjusts to differences|
|is based on utility|
|is imposed to everyone||is shared according to common goals|
|is non-discriminatory even if has different provisions for different groups|
|is changed only when needed||it challenges the status quo, to trigger improvement|
|needs a democratic approach to be properly elaborated, put into practice and maintained|
Source: Overview by the author
The general functions of management are also applicable to OSH :
- Planning: set goals and establish the path that leads to them;
- Organizing: decide what functions are needed, how are they distributed in structural units, the relations between units, how many persons and what competences are needed for each function, see also: Definition of work/job design;
- Leading: take decisions and determine people to act on them;
- Controlling: compare progress against plans and results against goals in order to reduce non-conformances and to make improvements sustainable.
The principles of management were formulated about a century ago, some being considered obsolete, while others are still applied today. Several examples and the relation to OSH organization are presented below:
- Parity of authority and responsibility: the person responsible for a task should have the authority to do it, and reciprocated. OSH activities are the responsibility of the employer according to EU law. Once she/he delegates this responsibility, the delegated person(s) must have the authority for it. Assigned workers, OSH services, experts, other managers need to have the authority to command, motivate and take decisions according to OSH policy. Delegated persons should be clearly informed on the results expected and have the means to do the tasks.
- Unity of command: a worker should receive orders only from one supervisor. In the legislation of some Member States the daily responsibility of OSH goes to the leader of the workplace/department. In this way workers are not confused by orders from different sources. Also, OSH is better integrated in the specific workplace conditions and, not least important, leaders cannot "choose" between production and OSH, as they are equally responsible for both.
- Scalar chain: there should be clear lines of authority, like a chain where every link is important but also the succession of links. Employees should clearly know who is responsible for what, and where they are positioned in the chain. In several national legislations the person or service responsible for OSH is subordinated directly to the top management. Clear agreements should define the relations with the rest of the units in the organizational structure and their leaders as well as the direct relations with workers.
- Initiative: employers should be encouraged to participate and initiate actions. EU legislation  has specific provisions regarding the consultation and participation of workers.
- Absoluteness of responsibility: responsibility for certain activities and tasks can be delegated, along with the corresponding authority, but not the ultimate responsibility for results. The ultimate responsibility remains in the end with the one that has delegated.
EU legislation  makes it clear that the responsibility for OSH remains with the employer, regardless of how he delegates work.
In EU, OSH activities are regulated primarily by the Directive 89/391- the Framework Directive. It sets basic guidance on OSH organization and the general principles of prevention. This provides a harmonized basis that allows further developments at national level and specific measures at company level. An overview of the OSH activities at company level, as reflected by EU legislation is presented in figure 1.
Figure 1. OSH activities at company level
Source: Overview by the author
Management can be applied to, and should integrate all OSH activities in a proactive (i.e. positive and constructive) rather than a reactive way (correcting negative aspects).
In practice, four stages of maturity in OSH management were identified :
- the ad hoc stage (reactive stage): organisations have little OSH management expertise and react to problems (e.g. accidents) as they arise, or when sanctioned by authorities;
- the systematic stage: organisations carry out periodic planning, prioritisation of problems and implementation of planned control measures based on risk assessment; they may use external OSH expertise, while still developing internal OSH competency;
- the system stage: organisations implement and maintain an OSH management system applied continuously and even before the start of new activities;
- the proactive stage: organisations integrate OSH management into other systems (e.g. for quality or environment) and into their business processes. The focus is on continuous improvement and more efforts are directed towards the design stage of products, processes, workplaces and work organisation. Collective and continuous learning is promoted. This can include Workplace Health Promotion which is increasingly being recognised as a positive business asset.
Management matures through practice. Companies have to be persistent in maintaining good changes in practice and in learning from mistakes.
Types and styles of management
Considering the main method employed, one type of management is currently much better known than all the others: the management by objectives (MBO). So much so, that is almost MBO and the rest. The 'rest' includes:
- management by leadership: focuses on the leader and his/her capacity to inspire and motivate followers;
- management by control: focuses on strict supervision and enforcement of orders;
- management by mission: general directions are given to define and support company’s role.
Management by objectives is very much used in all kinds of companies. It is used by the main standards for management systems. Objectives at company level are reached by achieving correspondent subordinated objectives at lower levels, throughout the company. Properly applied, it supports unity of action, participation, monitoring and corrective/preventive actions. It may also end up being just a paper exercise, with little practical utility.
Considering the level in the organisational structure, three types of management are generally described below. Examples of responsibilities are presented in tables 2, 3 and 4. This model applies principally to medium or larger organisations. In smaller companies, one person may take on all levels of responsibility from formulating policies (which may not be formally drawn up); through planning; to implementation and supervision.
Top level management consists of the board of directors or chief executives/managing directors. Top managers lead the organization, not every task, and their job is to ensure that the organization has the leadership it needs for every situation, not to supply all of it personally.
Table 2: Examples of top management responsibilities, general and specific to OSH
|General responsibilities||OSH responsibilities|
|Defining policies, objectives overall planning and highest importance decisions.||Define OSH policy, set the level of OSH budget, decide on important technological/other changes to improve OSH, decide on implementing and certifying an OSH management system, approve OSH training structure|
Source: Overview by the author
Middle level (or line management) consists of branch and department managers. They translate the vision of the top management to the lower levels. They ensure cross-functional collaboration between departments.
Table 3: Examples of middle management responsibilities, in general and specific to OSH
|General responsibilities||OSH responsibilities|
|Define departmental (sub)objectives and execution plans to transpose policy, advice, motivate, support, set key performance indicators.||Define OSH branch/department objectives and/or targets, advice and approve OSH measures and training, collaborate with other departments and OSH service leader|
Source: Overview by the author
Lower level (or front-line management) consists of section leaders, supervisors, foremen. They are often designated from the workers and maintain close relations to them. They generally have no managerial education. ‘It's not about giving orders or taking orders. It's about knowing what to do’.
Table 4: Examples of lower management responsibilities, in general and specific to OSH
|General responsibilities||OSH responsibilities|
|Coordinate and supervise workers, advice, propose promotions, ensure work discipline, report to superiors||Train and supervise workers, reinforce OSH rules, participate in risk assessment, advice on good practices, report OSH performance and problems, produce and maintain required records|
Source: Overview by the author
Studies  show that managers have a great influence in achieving OSH objectives, by making OSH a clear priority, by providing the model of a caring, action-driven person, and by encouraging participation in an open, non-blaming atmosphere; see also: Commitment and leadership as key occupational health and safety principles.
Considering workers' distance from the decision process, different management styles are described, among which, most cited are (see also: The importance of good leadership in occupational safety and health:
- Autocratic style: decisions are taken without consultation and are communicated as orders. This may reduce personnel motivation, hamper its self-confidence and raise barriers whose shift would need even more authority. Autocratic style is a sign of immature leadership and has only apparent advantages, like any dictatorship.
- Democratic style: subordinates are consulted and may participate in decision making. The ways of implementation are also discussed. This style makes good use of personnel close knowledge of specific problems and encourages them to make proposals. This style is also called participative (or consultative) style.
- Laissez faire style: the leader exerts no authority and acts as a team member. Participation may be encouraged, but is often left at the discretion of each employee. It is a good style for creative work, for tasks shared among very few, or for small businesses. In the absence of authority some employees may act as unofficial leaders, which may divert efforts from achieving common goals to achieving personal recognition and (re)grouping of employees.
Management systems reference documents
OHSAS 18001 -Occupational health and safety management systems. Requirements  has been the main OSH management system standard since its publication in 1999. From the beginning the standard offered the advantage of being easy to integrate with the ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 series for quality and environment management systems, respectively. The 2007 revision made it more similar to the environmental standard and made some changes to enhance worker participation and legal compliance. The publication of the ISO 45001 standard Occupational health and safety management systems — Requirements with guidance for use in 2018 has made the integration with ISO 9000 and 14000 even more straightforward since the ISO standard adopts the same harmonised structure as all ISO management system standards. In comparison with OHSAS 18001, ISO 45001 puts more emphasis on understanding the context of the company (needs and expectations of all interested parties), leadership and health aspects. In 2021 OHSAS 18001 has been withdrawn since companies certified under OHSAS 18001 had three years to make the migration to ISO 45001.
ILO-OSH 2001 (ILO Guidelines on OSH Management Systems) was published by the International Labour Organisation-ILO. The guidelines may be applied on two levels - national and organizational. In organisations, it encourages all stakeholders ‘in applying appropriate OSH management principles and methods to improve OSH performance’ and provides guidance on steps to be taken; see also: The role of legislation in occupational safety and health management.
Certification of management systems is not compulsory but it brings the recognition by a third party that the system is implemented and maintained according to the reference document/standard; see also: Auditing, reviewing and certifying occupational safety and health management systems.
General management tools can be used for OSH, with the advantage of being already known by managers. There are a number of tools, methods and software to help in different aspects of the managerial process. Tools for planning, strategic decisions or data analysis are used mainly by upper and middle levels of management. There are also tools used directly by workers.
The SWOT analysis - uses a diagram as in figure 2 to list internal and external factors that may positively or negatively influence the success of the actions of a company. It helps elaborate strategies that use positive elements and avoid or limit the effects of the negative ones.
Figure 2. Examples of SWOT diagram
|Strengths (positive, internal)||Weaknesses (negative, internal)|
|e.g. high OSH and technical expertise||e.g. old infrastructure|
|Opportunities (positive, external)||Threats (negative, external)|
|e.g. eligible for EU funding programme for infrastructure||e.g. high interest rates for co-financing loans|
Source: Overview by the author
The affinity diagram - identifies relevant data for a particular issue or question, and clusters them into groups (groups 1 to 4 in Figure 3) based on inherent links or similarities and analyses them to identify possible (cause-effect) relationships. It starts with an apparently random selection of ideas or factors (perhaps, in an occupational context, a list of factors influencing a production process and accidents), and then seeks to group these into related clusters. The aim of this technique is to obtain a view on how various factors inter-relate with the intention of (for example) reducing the risk of accidents. Thus there might be a series of factors that can be clustered into groups relating to: production constraints, time demands, training issues, management pressures, etc.
Figure 3. The affinity diagram
Source: adapted from Mind Tools 
The root cause may be one of the elements already in the groups or it may result when analysing relations within and between groups. It is important that the volume of analysed data is sufficient, that there are no restrictions in proposing elements and there is agreement in forming the groups. Simple as it is the diagram helps a lot in making sense of random, tangled information.
The PERT chart- the Programme Evaluation and Review Technique  is not as easy to use or read as the examples above but it helps organizing tasks in more complex projects. It is a variation of Critical Path analysis and uses a network with numbered nodes representing successive milestones, linked by arrows representing tasks, to which task duration is attached, like in figure 4. PERT can identify the critical path that will determine the duration of the whole project and can help improve the overall distribution of tasks and resources. The method requires estimates for each activity of the shortest possible time, the most likely length of time, and the longest time that stage might take and then calculates the estimated time to be allowed for a task by using the formula: Estimated time = (shortest time+ 4 x most likely time+ latest time)/6. Perhaps more obviously used as a production tool such a chart can be used to identify where time pressures are likely to occur and safety constraints become over-ridden as a result.
Figure 4. The PERT chart
Source: Overview by the author
The 5S method – can be applied directly by workers in their daily activity. The five S stands for:
- Sort: eliminate unnecessary items from the workplace;
- Set in Order: improve accessibility of sorted things;
- Shine: keep the workplace clean, this will improve ambiance and make more visible the leakages and waste;
- Standardize: make the three S above the standard practice, by integrating them in the regular duties;
- Sustain: maintain the established ’S’ procedures.
OSH can be positively influenced by this method. Workers can implement 5S and propose improvements to the standardised practices.
The IT industry and research institutions have developed specific software for OSH management. Management needs modern tools in order to be more effective and to avoid becoming obsolete.
OSH services and experts
EU legislation places the responsibility of health and safety on the shoulders of the employer. The employer may perform OSH activities himself (for small companies with non-hazardous activities) or delegate it to others.
EU legislation provides that one or more workers should be designated by the employer to do OSH activities, or OSH services should be used if internal competences are missing or are not sufficient; see also: Occupational health and safety services. The employer has the obligation to insure that designated workers or services:
- have adequate time;
- have necessary capabilities and means;
- are sufficient in number;
- are not placed at any disadvantage because of their work or opinions.
National legislations provide more details on the organization of OSH services. Such details generally include:
- competences for service members, like technical or medical background, a number of years of experience in OSH, level of education for members/leaders,
- requirement for internal or external OSH service depending on the size and type of the company;
- requirements for the external service certification/authorisation
- requirements for space and technical facilities for OSH activities, especially training.
Competences of service members differ from country to country. Multidisciplinarity is more clearly requested in countries like Belgium, Denmark, Spain or the Netherlands. In these countries several specialties are required for a service, that may include occupational medicine, occupational safety, hygiene, ergonomics, psychology.
In other countries there is a simpler dualism, between occupational doctors and safety experts. For example in Portugal or Romania medical and safety activities are in general performed by separate services.
Most of the external services in EU are specialized, private institutions. OSH services may be provided also by insurance organizations (e.g. Germany, Austria) or professional associations (e.g. in France the building industry and public works).
Other experts may also be used by employers, for fields like toxicology, life cycle assessment, management systems, mathematical simulations etc.
Legislation   says that workers should be involved in OSH matters. The employer has the obligation to provide representatives that have special OSH duties with the adequate time and means to carry their tasks. Workers and their representatives have the right to:
- propose OSH measures and comment on existing ones
- investigate complaints from workers on OSH matters
- be consulted in the designation of OSH workers or enlistment of external services
- be consulted on planning and organization of training
- appeal to OSH authority if they consider the measures and means used by the employer are not adequate
- submit their own observations during inspection visits by the authority.
National legislation generally provides more details on the organization of workers representation. In many countries the companies over a certain size have to organise OSH committees or groups with a balanced composition of workers and employer representatives. A minimum level of training is also required for the members of the committees.
For companies that are below the threshold that requires them to organise committees, trade union representation may be a substitute, or if there isn’t one, collective bargaining or other form of direct consultation and worker participation should be applied.
Studies show that worker representation is more common in larger organisations, in companies where the management is committed to OSH and to collaboration and where a culture of safety exists. The presence of older workers and comprehensive training of representatives gives more confidence to representatives.
Direct, non-mediated participation of workers is highly influenced by the relation they have with the supervisors, OSH services and managers. It is mostly encouraged by a general participative culture in the company and by seeing OSH as important for the general performance of the organisation.
Employee engagement can bring important improvements in OSH, but not only, as some studies show :
- 49% less safety incidents;
- 16% more profitability;
- 18% more productivity;
- 25-45% less turnover;
- 37% less absenteeism;
- 60% less defects.
Besides consultation at company level, Member States have sectoral representation and national representation in the tripartite structures of social partners that include trade unions, employers' organisations and authorities. Social dialogue is used to agree on major aspects of regulatory or strategic nature, but also on practical measures that need co-ordinated action and/or higher investments.
Internal and external collaboration
Internal collaboration is needed for effective implementation of OSH measures, otherwise OSH activities will not have full support, will provide only too general or formal results with limited utility and a discouraging effect on further initiatives.
It is agreed that ‘lateral’ or ‘horizontal’ collaboration (between departments) is just as important as the ‘vertical’ or ‘hierarchical’ one. For example, the production departments need to be involved in providing data and support in assessing specific risks and developing feasible operational control measures. Collaboration with the maintenance team contributes to safer work and higher productivity (maintenance itself may be hazardous). The supply procedures should consider OSH criteria for the selection of substances, products and equipment (not only production devices but also others e.g. ergonomic furniture).
External collaboration with other companies or services is also important. According to legislation  the employer has to provide relevant information on risks and protective measures for external workers that work for its company or in its locations. Companies that share work need to have a clear agreement on how they share OSH responsibilities.
Collaboration with external emergency services is essential, especially for preparedness and response activities. In some national legislation, company emergency plans need to be supervised by a local authority to verify their appropriateness and the compatibility to local plans, considering vulnerable areas and critical infrastructures. Periodical drills should be attended by the company intervention units together with the external emergency teams. This will test the plans, consolidate teams, detect improvement points and optimise reaction time, very important issues, especially in high reliability organisations.
Using management terms, is a way by which OSH legislation and strategies encourage employers and companies to use knowledge, commitment and collaboration for real and continual improvement.
There are still challenges for OSH management in the near future. For many companies these would include:
- establish effective performance metric system to demonstrate added value;
- integrate OSH management better and clearer in all processes and structures;
- include management in employee development planning;
- motivate workers to maintain their involvement and support, see: Job satisfaction: theories and definitions.
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- EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming OSH into business management, 2010. Available at: 
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- BSI Group.BS OHSAS 18001:2007 Occupational health and safety management systems. Requirements, 2007. Available at: 
- ISO 45001 Occupational health and safety management systems -- Requirements with guidance for use.
- ILO – International Labour Organization, Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems, ILO-OSH, 2001. Available at: 
- MindTools. Affinity Diagrams. Organizing ideas into common themes. Retrieved 25 January 2013 from: 
- MindTools. Critical path analysis and PERT chart. Retrieved 25 January 2013 from: 
- Brawner, J., Harris, G., Davis, G., Will the real relationship between lean and safety/ergonomics please stand up?, Applied Ergonomics, Volume 100, 2022. Available at: 
- EU OSHA-European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. E-Facts 58.Occupational safety and health and leadership: Tools and Toolkits. Available at: 
- Council Directive 2001/86/EC of 8 October 2001 supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees. Available at: 
- Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation. Available at: 
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2012-Worker representation and consultation on health and safety-An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER).European Risk Observatory. Report. Available at: 
- Harter, J.K., Schmidt,F.,L., Killham, E.A., Agrawal S. (2013). Q12 meta-analysis: the relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes. Available at: 
Links for further reading
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, The use of occupational safety and health management systems in the Member States of the European Union, Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2002. Available at: 
EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Occupational Safety and Health culture assessment - A review of main approaches and selected tools, 2011. Available at: 
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Improving compliance with occupational safety and health regulations: an overarching review, 2021. Available at: 
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, EU-OSHA review of successful Occupational Safety and Health benchmarking initiatives, 2015. Available at: 
EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming OSH into business management, Bilbao, 2010. Available at: 
ILO – International Labour Organisation, OSH Management System: A tool for continual improvement, ILO, Geneva, 2011. Available from: