Effectiveness of Management System Standards

| August 18, 2009

I recently read with great interest a paper entitled The Limits of Management Based Regulation by Neil Gunningham and Darren Sinclair.

In this paper, the authors sought to answer the following question –

Do management-based OH&S initiatives work?

This is an excellent article.  It is well-researched, well-written and, most importantly, actually supported by independent research.

It also challenged my beliefs about the effectiveness of management system standards.  That was uncomfortable, to say the least.

This paper concludes with the following paragraph:

These findings have important implications for regulatory theory, and suggest that the claim that management based regulation – or meta-regulation more broadly – can overcome many of the traditional challenges of regulating complex organizations is overstated….in [the mining] industry at least, management based regulation is substantially constrained by low organizational trust, minimal mine site commitment and divided loyalties.

The research for this paper was conducted in the mining industry – the Australian mining industry to be exact.  The report consists of two case studies that were developed based on reviewing OH&S documentation and conducting interviews at 13 mine sites.  The sites selected were within the two very different mining organizations and included both facilities characterized as “leading” and “laggard” based on their reported injury statistics.

Based on their research, the authors concluded that trust is more important in achieving good OHS outcomes then corporate management system standards.  They argue that although corporate standards may be outwardly complied with – employees go through the motions – an OHS management system will not be effective in an atmosphere of mistrust.  As the paper points out “the gap between corporate rules “in the books” and “in action” was often a chasm.”

j0431529Does this mean we should throw out our management system standards?

I don’t think so – nor did the authors of the paper.

What this paper does provide is a “caution sign” that makes common sense.  Management systems must be supported by a culture of trust if they are going to be fully effective.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2009)

Category: OHSMS Implementation

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