C-Suite Agenda

Do You Know the CEO’s Responsibilities to Occupational Safety?


It is fairly easy, in the aftermath of a workplace accident, to blame the management. It is easy to portray those in the C-suite as cold and uncaring for the workers on the floor. Management’s task is to make sure workers have no viable reason to make such claims. That is only possible when management takes its responsibilities to occupational safety seriously.

As a CEO, do you know what your occupational safety responsibilities are? Do you know what the law says about your obligations to your employees? If not, it is time to change things. You cannot effectively lead from a health and safety standpoint if you don’t know what your obligations are.

Government Regulations the World Over

From the US to Australia and the UK, government regulations ultimately hold management accountable for the health and safety of workers. South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act is a good example. It codifies management responsibilities and creates a standard framework that applies to businesses and public sector entities of all sizes. The law ultimately holds CEOs responsible for the welfare of an organization’s workers.

Fortunately, CEOs do not have to guess as to their responsibilities. Just about every national government publishes regulations and guidance that tell CEOs everything they need to know. CEOs in the US can check out a plethora of resources on the OSHA website. The Health and Safety Executive is the go-to organization in the UK. In Australia, it is each state’s Department of Commerce.

Here’s the point: there is no escaping government regulation in regard to CEO occupational safety responsibilities. Any CEO who is unsure of his or her role in maintaining workplace safety need only consult the regulatory regime of the country in which the business operates.

Basic Health and Safety Concepts

Though regulations differ from one country to the next, there are some basic health and safety concepts that apply to CEOs the world over. For example, CEOs and the rest of the members of the C-suite are required to create and maintain policies that ensure a safe, healthy, and risk-free work environment.

They must also:





  • exercise appropriate control overall health and safety measures within the organization
  • take responsibility for managing occupational health and safety matters
  • familiarise themselves and remain up to date with all legal and regulatory requirements
  • delegate health and safety responsibilities, as provided by law, to designated persons.

A practical example here would be the CEO of a global entertainment and promotion organization. Any events the company promoted in the UK would be subject to UK health and safety regulations. It would be up to the CEO to understand those regulations and delegate responsibilities to qualified people on the ground.

UK regulations cover a plethora of safety issues, including fire. It would be up to the CEO and his or her delegated persons to understand all the implications of fire safety, including the deployment of fire extinguishers for large events. If there were a fire at an event that was allowed to get out of control for lack of available fire extinguishers, management would be held responsible.

A Lot of Things to Know

In fairness to the CEO, there are a lot of things to know about occupational health and safety – above and beyond what CEOs have to know about running successful businesses. That is why the regulations in most countries allow for the designation of health and safety responsibilities to others. CEOs can delegate certain responsibilities without abdicating their authority. That is key.

A typical company in the UK has a designated safety officer. It is that individual’s responsibility to handle the day-to-day issues of workplace safety. The officer typically conducts safety assessments and heads up the development and maintenance of health and safety policies. He or she works with individuals within and without the organization to maintain a safe workplace at all times.

Whether a company has a designated safety officer or not, it behooves the CEO to surround him or herself with people who are fully versed in occupational health and safety. The CEO cannot do everything alone. As such, he or she relies on quality people with the knowledge, experience, and qualifications to pick up the slack.

Safety Must Always Come First

Worker health and safety is no joke. Indeed, the phrase ‘safety first’ should never be reserved only for press releases and marketing materials. Safety must always come first. It must be a way of life for every entry-level worker, middle manager, and C-suite member.

Always remember that the law ultimately holds management responsible for health and safety lapses. If you are a CEO, occupational health and safety ultimately sit at your feet. Help yourself and your company by understanding the law, taking an active role in health and safety issues, and surrounding yourself with quality people to whom you can delegate health and safety responsibilities.

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Mindy Wright

Mindy Wright

Deputy Commissioning Editor
Mindy Wright is CEOWORLD magazine's Deputy Commissioning Editor, and leads global newsroom coverage and management. She oversees and coordinates coverage of the news and ideas in partnership with writers across the continent. She has reported from more than 15 countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. She has advised CEOs, investors, boards, and high-profile industry leaders on a wide range of issues impacting the global business landscape. She can be reached on email mindy-wright@ceoworld.biz. You can follow her on Twitter at @ceoworld.