Before we begin, a quick confession: I’m not truly an ‘health and safety person’ in the traditional sense (despite what my official job title at Tribe Culture Change says).

Truth is, HR was my thing for many years, and I came to H&S later on in my career, after collaborating with JOMC (who merged with Hill-Solomon to form Tribe) on well-being and culture change during an enormously complex, eight year long construction project.

Yet more enlightened readers will realise that H&S and HR have more in common than that which divides them, and that apparent ‘division’ is increasingly blurred. In progressive organisations, HR people and H&S people already collaborate on matters as varied as well-being, resilience and work-related stress.

So it’s an interesting time for people like us, straddling the so-called gap between the two disciplines. And as both outsider and insider, this hopefully puts me in a unique position to comment on where we are as professionals and where we’re heading.

Why side-step into H&S?

I was leading culture change during the construction project when I had a realisation: that what makes good safety leadership also makes good leadership in general.

The principles are, in fact, exactly the same. It’s all about creating a culture where everyone feels respected and listened to, and plays their part. It’s just good business.

And now, by working with lots of different organisations, supporting their efforts to develop safer cultures, I felt I could really make a difference on a bigger scale – hence the move to Tribe.

At Tribe Culture Change we’re about as far away from finger-pointing and clipboards as you can get. To us, H&S – specifically behavioural safety and culture change means listening to, inspiring and connecting with people. It moves beyond the traditional safety agenda to include well-being in all its guises, like mental health, stress; and resilience. This is about creating a positive culture across your organisation where managers and employees cooperate.

Good safety is good business

Likewise, strong leadership in safety – leading by example and setting the tone, is just strong leadership all round – whichever arm of the business you’re in! This is all part of the same thing – creating environments where people can thrive.

So if, like me, you enjoy a challenge and love getting the best out of people, while making a difference to people’s well-being, H&S was the next logical step.

From first-hand experience, I know it gets results too.

Construction is a prime example – diverse, yet cohesive teams of people forming from many different companies, all looking out for each other in pursuit of the same vision. Our success all came down to safety culture.

Will HR and H&S roles merge into one?

Like I said earlier, it’s a modern H&S professional’s duty to play their part in creating working environments where people not only survive but thrive. But we can’t do that alone. H&S people need close collaboration, not just with HR, but with all leaders tucked away in isolated silos.

So to answer the question above: no, I don’t think so.

There’ll always be a need for ‘nuts and bolts’ specialists in every field. But the issues facing modern global businesses are complex and interrelated. Challenges like mental health don’t respect inter-departmental boundaries. Consider this – is it really even possible to make any single department responsible for morale in your organisation?

These are difficult issues to grasp, let alone solve. But what I do know is if we follow the core principles of good leadership; develop ‘just cultures’ and foster mutual respect for one another, we’ll go a long way towards fixing them.

That is the true, contemporary role of leaders, not just H&S professionals like us.

And wouldn’t it be great if we all did this instead of making decisions based solely on our individual view of the world?

Essentially, whether the sign on your door says ‘H&S’, ‘HR’ or ‘CEO’ – it doesn’t really matter. All leaders must play their part in creating healthy environments like the kind I describe here. We have a responsibility to help our people be the best they can be. A great safety culture means a great culture overall.

And that’s great for business.