A Shift in Perspective: How Health and Safety Impacts Human Resource Management

A Brief History of the Human Resource Management Movement

In the early 1900s, Human Resource Management (HRM) played a minor or non-existent role in most workplaces. Primary duties of HRM staff were clerical, and may have included hiring and terminating and/or benefits administration. Thirty years later, at the conclusion of the Great Depression, laws were passed to ensure minimum wages, employment insurance, and the right to belong to unions. As a direct result, legal compliance became a major focus of HRM.

Government passed more legislation that affected human rights, wages and benefits, working conditions, and health and safety in the 1970s and 80s. Due to such legislation and the increased focus on enforcement and penalties for non-compliance, HRM started to evolve yet again. In fact, this is the period when the term “Human Resources” gained traction. The role of HRM in companies expanded significantly, and was no longer a simplistic clerical function. It continued to support recruitment and training, payroll, and compensation and benefits, but for the first time HRM roles expanded to include health and safety program administration, strategic planning, and change management. 

The Evolution of HRM Continues…

Currently, HRM is in a shifting paradigm. This means that through history, there were distinctive phases that HRM went through to arrive where it stands today. Changes do not happen overnight. That is certainly the case for the changes that HRM has undergone since the early 1900s. HRM is undergoing a large-scale shift currently. It is moving from a somewhat narrowly defined role to a diverse field that encompasses everything from clerical functions to helping companies achieve objectives through a comprehensive human capital strategies.

What does this mean for HRM?

It’s expected that the shift in the HRM paradigm will continue into the 2020s. The driving forces behind the change include changing technology and changing attitudes toward talent retention. Another major factor in the change is emphasis being place on succession planning. With so many CEOs, Presidents, and other major players in companies and corporations approaching retirement age, the focus on succession planning to ensure smooth transitions has taken great importance in the role of the HR professional.

Another very significant driving force behind the shifting paradigm within HR is that the rules have changed. Amid corporate scandals and millions of dollars in misappropriated funds, new laws and compliance standards were introduced. In addition, health and safety legislation is always continuing to change and evolve.  Keeping abreast of changes in health and safety legislation is a key component of HRM administration, but not the only part. Health and Safety legislation also requires that training records are adequately maintained, and that program administrators are familiar with what laws apply to them. This can be tricky because health and safety legislation differs between jurisdictions, and not all businesses are covered by provincial legislation. It’s necessary for HR professionals to know what legislation applies to their workplace, and then to further understand how to operate within compliance of that legislation.

What does this mean for Health and Safety?

Health and Safety initiatives are part of a strategic approach to HRM. No longer just a “thing” that companies have to comply with, health and safety is being used as part of a company’s overall strategy for talent retention, overall objectives, and loss-time prevention.

Consider the benefits of loss-time prevention: the most obvious benefit is to the bottom line. Healthy employees are productive employees, and productive employees have very positive effects on the company’s bottom line. When employees start to feel that their work is unsafe or that their employers does not care about their health or well-being, productivity may start to slip. Witnessing injuries, or having to cover jobs while other workers are out injured can also impact productivity; as well as morale and retention.

Investment in health and safety programs, including disability management, proactive health and wellness programs, preventative measures, and a sound on-boarding and training program, produces quantifiable bottom-line returns.  By using health and safety to prevent loss-times injuries and keep productivity at a premium, companies are using health and safety programs to help achieve overall goals and objectives.

Not only can health and safety be a part of a company’s overall success strategy, but it can also be used as a tool for talent retention. Employee health, safety, and wellness management are important determinants of employee perceptions regarding fair treatment by the organization. In fact, a bountiful and comprehensive wellness program can be a powerful incentive for new talent to strive to work for your company, as well as a strong retention tool. Health, safety, and wellness programs can include anything from training and education opportunities, subsidized gym memberships, nutrition counselling, and/or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). What is included in a health and wellness program is limited only by the imagination (and funding) of the organization. 

This means that health and safety is in a shifting paradigm too. No longer just something companies do to remain compliant and avoid tickets or fines, health and safety is impacting the role of HRM ins a company’s overall strategy in a major way. HR professionals can’t get away with having little to no health and safety knowledge. In evidence, the Human Resources Professional’s Association in Ontario requires successful completion of an entire competency in health and safety legislation and program administration before CHRP hopefuls can write their National Knowledge Exams.

How will this Evolving Relationship Look in the Future?

The future is bright for health and safety and HRM. As each field continues to evolve, so to do they continue to grow together to form one cohesive ideology that promotes employee wellness and company achievement.

Trends indicate that in the future Human Resource Professionals will be more focused on health, safety, and wellness than ever before. They will be seeking creative solutions to reduce job stress, and prevent lost-time claims that are resultant from burnout, stress-related illnesses, or for first responders; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Benefit plan administrators are also taking a proactive approach to health and safety, offering many preventative programs to stave off health problems that may result in lost-time claims down the road, such as nutrition counselling, smoking cessation programs, and EAPs to help employees deal with a range of issues from work-related problems to marriage troubles to drug/alcohol, or gambling addictions.

With the rise of Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs), ergonomics is now becoming an active focus for HR professionals who administer health and safety programs. 

The most significant trend in current health and safety is the focus and introduction of legislation that aims to protect workers from workplace violence, harassment, sexual violence, and/or sexual harassment. In conjunction with legislation, HR professionals are putting an emphasis on protecting workers, and helping workers who may have experienced any form of violence and/or harassment at work. The law mandates that all workplaces must have a policy and a program to support the policy in place to protect workers, and it falls to many HR professionals who look after health and safety to administer this program as well.

Now more than ever, HRM and health and safety are being integrated. That is why it’s becoming more urgent that HR professionals have a sound and working knowledge of health and safety principles, program administration, and legislation. It is beneficial to everyone – the company as a whole, the HR professionals, and the workers.

As seen in our March Be Safe Newsletter

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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