Tackling Health and Safety in 2017
Health and Safety compliance is sometimes seen to be something to aspire to rather than a core business issue. However a new year is as good a time as any for employers to get to grips with sensible workplace Health and Safety. Here we give some tips for how organisations can start planning for safety success.
In the business world, much like our home lives, sensible and above all realistic planning can make all the difference when it comes to making our aspirations come to life. The first step is often to stop kidding ourselves and acknowledge that we need to take action rather than burying our heads in the sand.
Yes, the law places a duty of care on employers. There is no avoiding it. If you have 5 or more employees you must have a written H&S Policy. You will need to have written Risk Assessments. You need to give suitable H&S training to employees. You need to make sure your premises and work equipment are safe and fit for use.
Enforcing authorities such as the HSE, Environmental Health Officers and the local Fire Brigade will ask to see such documentation but don’t forget that if you tender for work, your client may also. Large contracts can be lost through providing poor H&S documentation and records, not to mention having to declare RIDDOR[I] reportable accidents (which can be verified by the client by checking the HSE’s prosecutions database).
Planning is vital in business. Decide what the objectives are and plan realistically around that. For some organisations their objective might be to get their documentation in order. For others, it may be time for a total overhaul and re-launch of Health and Safety. Sometimes this may be the best option, particularly if the organisation has had an unsuccessful flirtation with Health and Safety in the past.
As with most plans, there must be a budget attached. The law requires for employers to provide suitable budgets for Health and Safety in their organisation. Although the initial financial outlay may take some budget juggling, good Health and Safety practice will reap rewards in terms of process efficiency, increased tendering success, reduced insurance costs and employee morale as well as the more obvious benefits of avoiding the costs associated with an accident such as fines, legal costs, sick pay, repairs, bad publicity, poor business reputation and loss of work.
One Bite at a Time
The main thing with H&S planning is to make it ambitious, but achievable. Don’t necessarily expect total compliance with all best practice requirements over the first year of the plan… aim first for good legislative compliance and work from there. Naturally some organisations are further down the H&S compliance road than others but the key point here is tackling the big risks first.
HSE is very keen to promote simple, direct documentation accurately reflecting the organisation’s activities. No-one is expecting a small business to have an all-encompassing Management System for Health and Safety but they will need to make sure that control measures are implemented and adhered to.
It is a simple fact that high risk activities will require a higher level of attention than low risk ones. An organisation using carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals for instance will need to have more controls in place than would be required by using cleaning chemicals in a simple office environment.
Risk Assessments should prioritise significant risks: ones that are likely to cause injury or ill-health. Look at your accident statistics and absence rates to identify any ongoing trends. HSE’s industry microsites[II] list the problem topics for each industry: for instance the most common types of accident in a warehousing setting are being hit by a moving vehicle, falls from vehicles, manual handling and slips and trips.
For larger and/or higher risk organisations, a Health and Safety Management System is important for ensuring a structured approach to Health and Safety management. HSE’s standard ‘HSG 65 Managing for Safety’ is a great starting point and follows a straightforward Plan, Do, Check, Act methodology, common to many business processes.
For organisations seeking high-level certification for their System, ‘BS OHSAS 18001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management’ should be considered. While it can be somewhat time-consuming and potentially expensive to implement, it is internationally recognised as the Health and Safety standard to aspire to – if you deal with an organisation holding 18001 certification you can rest easy knowing they have Health and Safety under control.
Get Competent or Get Help!
Health and Safety is sometimes seen as an esoteric subject, understood only by its practitioners, legal personnel and enforcers. However it is not necessary for an employer to know everything about the subject – it is okay to delegate much of the management of H&S issues to others within an organisation.
The law[III] requires the employer to appoint competent persons (i.e. persons with suitable qualifications, training and experience) to assist them with H&S matters. Again this is a question of scale – low risk workplaces may require a relatively basic understanding of H&S issues whereas the more hazardous the environment, the higher a level of competence in terms of qualifications, training and experience is required.
If it is not feasible to obtain in-house H&S competence, the services of a Consultancy such as Croner Consulting may be taken. There are a great many H&S Consultancies in the UK but before entering into a contract, always check their qualifications and relevant work experience. In particular you should look for Chartered Membership of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (CMIOSH) and registration on the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR). Furthermore Health and Safety experience within your industry is important so that they understand the risks and issues faced by your organisation.
Manager and employee buy-in to Health and Safety is critical. If the employees down through the ranks are not committed to improving safety standards then a poor safety culture will almost inevitably follow. To help secure director and senior manager commitment it may be helpful to highlight the financial and operational benefits outlined previously.
Once the management team is committed to the H&S Plan it can be rolled out to the rest of the workforce. The key message here is that despite the media generated ‘nanny state’ myth of Health and Safety the real thing is about sensible risk management, not making their working lives tougher. Consult with them about their work, ask for ideas for improvements and involve them in the risk assessment process.
Health and Safety compliance should not be too onerous and the amount of effort put into it should reflect the level of risk of the activities that are carried out – prioritise the things that may actually harm people, the costs of which can be crippling for a business. Furthermore good Health and Safety standards can actually improve processes, help secure contracts and lead to happier, healthier workers.
[I] Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013
[III] Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 as amended, Section 7