Occupational health and safety (OH&S) is an integral part of the proper functioning and running of an organisation since it affects the employees’ level of performance and their overall conduct in their areas of work. Safety management is an influential factor in employees’ recruitment, training and loyalty enhancement.
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Thus, it affects the ability of an organisation to recruit, train and retain employees. As global countries embark on globalization, the change in economic, organisational and regulation structure has also had an influence in the way organisational human resource sectors are managed.
When more companies move from state-owned to private ones, they may have their own strategy to manage OH&S to suit their own goal. Due to the increasing need for regulations pertaining to the safety of workers in workplace, many governments have opted to set regulatory conditions in workplaces. This move has been necessitated by the increased cases of injuries, deaths and losses incurred by organizations due to lack of proper safety guidelines in work environment.
Definition of terms
OH&S is a recent discipline that addresses the support and preservation of bodily, psychological and the communal well-being of all employees in different organisations. This involves measures that ensure well-being of employees, prevention against health hazards accruing from work environment, prevention from occupational risks and physiological adaptation of an employee to work environment.
The adaptation of an employee is determined by work-capability cohesiveness. OH&S primarily addresses the employees’ health maintenance and the means by which changes, improve the employees’ health, might be implemented in the daily running of an organization (Genus 1998, p.33).
Salt and Leighton (1998, p.53) claim that the human resource section of an organisation deals with recruitment or hiring, training and the overall management of employees. Human resource environment refers to the conditions that are present in the workplace. These conditions differ with the type of an occupation one is involved in.
For example, working conditions of a machine operator presuppose the presence of machines while working conditions of an accountant include work with account books and a computer. OH&S addresses the need for suitable and conducive working conditions that promote and safeguard the health of an employee.
The contribution of OH&S to Human Resource Environment Management (HRM)
HRM entails the means and methods by which an organisation enlists the services of a given person, the training given to a particular person and the benefits that are accrued from such an arrangement. HRM also includes the arrangement between the employer and employees’ working terms and the consequences of outcomes that may emanate from the work, be it positive or negative.
The HRM section of an organisation is tasked with establishing the mechanisms by which an organisation recruits the best workforce from a pool of employees who are interested in the kind of job being advertised. It is similarly tasked with ensuring the safety of employees and effective maintenance of proper working conditions within their respective working areas. OH&S is, therefore, a major aspect of human resource environment management and maintenance (Cummings & Worley 1997, p.14).
There are numerous ways through which OH&S contributes to an organization HR environment management. In fact, OH&S in working places is one of the key areas that most governments have enacted laws and regulations to enhance the well-being of workers in organizations, for example, South Africa.
A lot of cases of health concern arise due to poor and sub-standard working environments that lead to injuries, death and sometimes chronic illnesses to employees. These laws and regulations provide guidelines on how an organisation working environment should be regulated which limits the cases related to hazards occurrences (Ivancevich et al 1997, p.87). These laws must be adopted in every organisation first before normal processes are started.
Basically, such laws include the adoption of safety measures in the workplace, installation of exposure reducing devices and proper compensation in case of misfortunes that may affect employees. Organisations have embarked on safety training programs that equip the new staffs with knowledge on the importance of safety in the working environment and ensure their participation in maintaining safe working conditions (Carnall 1995, p.22).
It also equips the staffs with the pre-requisite knowledge on how to avoid risks and hazards that might affect their health. In setting the goals and policies of the HR department, managers are compelled by the law to include OH&S measures in their policies.
OH&S measures help reduce the losses associated with hazardous and risky working conditions that affect the overall performance and profitability of an organisation (Littler et al 1997, p. 27). Basically, an organisation is obliged to design and implement a management system that will effectively establish, incorporate and manage OH&S successfully in order to reduce losses occurring from poor safety measures.
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These losses include losses from compensation claims, official fees, fines, inquiry time, lost production, lost benevolence from workers, clientele and the community. The organisation also undergoes considerable loss of trained manpower and further costs in recruiting and training alternative staffs.
Such incidences may also cause potential employees to shun seeking employment from an organisation. This system must be capable of assessing and identifying the risks and hazards associated with each level of organisational work, their potential threat and define the measures to mitigate them. The system should also define the means by which the level of employees’ health will be assessed and monitored from time to time (Theobald 1994, pp. 10-13).
Hazards in occupations range from heavy inflictions of industrial production to office managerial slight inflictions. Hazards can be grouped into mechanical ones which emanate from heavy causal agents like machines, building stones and climbing ladders among others and cause damages in the form of cuts, crushing and stabbing, material hazards such as noise, lighting, radiations and sensations; biological hazards such as bacteria, tuberculosis and virus infection; chemical hazards that are as a result of exposure to chemicals and psychosocial hazards which include stress, violence, aggravation and mobbing among other hazards (Lenz 1994, p. 42).
Current OH&S issues and their impact on HRM in contemporary organisations
One of the most addressed issues of OH&S issues is the effect of stress on the mental well-being of workers. It has been found out that mental illness resulting from work based stress has been increasing as states continue to industrialize. In Japan, for example, an increase of people who reported job related stress increased from 53% in 1982 to 63% in 1997 (Harnois & Gabriel 2000, p. 8).
Mental health causes disability and impacts negatively an organisation. Such disability causes reduced productivity due to loss in the human potential and sequential absenteeism from work, costs associated with services of treatment, disability benefits and opportunity costs arising from income that could be generated by the employee.
Although, it is hard to quantify the excesses of the working environment in causing mental illness, working environment is largely considered to be among the leading causes of mental illness among the working population. Work is at the extreme center of fashionable life for the majority of the people, providing economic safety, individual personality and a chance to present a significant input to societal life (Dutton & Penner 1993, pp. 89-113).
Mental health is paramount to employees productivity and the realization by most organisations of the importance of the mental well-being of its employees and its relationship to production; it enhances the policies that an organisation adopts to ensure that its employees remain mentally healthy.
Increasing complexity, competition and rates of change that continue to bombard the organisations has elicited the need for a proper consideration of the mental well-being of employees. Organisations that do not heed the current developments in the field of occupational health and safety measures being adopted are forced to do so by law or continue to make losses arising from poor performing workforce (Pynes 1997, p. 27).
Job stress has been classified as one of the leading causes of mental illness among the working population. Job stress can be defined as negative physical and emotional reactions that arise as a result of job necessities that do not match the capabilities, resources at disposal and the needs of a member of staff (Harnois & Gabriel 2000, p. 6).
Job stress can arise from harassment, sexual abuse and job insecurity, pressure to meet unrealistic deadlines, discrimination and improper treatment at the place of work. These job related causal factors often lead to mental illness after a build-up. Work places have been identified as one of the causal agents as well as a major area of promoting mental well-being of an individual. An organisation prevents mental illness by creating a good working environment.
Organization also devises ways of promoting better mental health to employees through training them on causes of mental health problems, assessing the level of mental health through screening and active programs (Nankervis et al 1999, p. 67).
Organisations need to employ health services to single out work processes that cause mental illness, take action to improve the health of employees, help in modifying the work environment and enhance the organisation ability to retain employees. Another issue in OH&S affecting human resource management is the national and international laws that have been enacted to ensure that all organisations adopt measures to ensure the safety and the health well-being of employees.
In conclusion, therefore, it is true that dating back to the 1970s, there have been various organisations that have cropped up to protect the safety and health well-being of employees in organisations throughout the world. Currently, governments have stepped up efforts in the sector of improving the working conditions of employees.
Organisations are required to meet specified regulations and laws that pertain to the protection of employees and ensure that they remain healthy within the cause of their duties (Chowdhury & Paul 1997, pp. 96-102). These regulations include cultivation of a discrimination free job recruitment process, laws that ensure that employees are not harassed, compensation regulations pertaining to employee dismissal and effects of work on their health and the protection of workers in their respective areas of work.
These laws and regulations ensure that organizations place a paramount importance on the recruitment, training and protection of employees’ health. Organisations that do not meet these requirements are not permitted to start production or the existing organisations are heavily fined and their licenses withdrawn.
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