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The Commitment to Health and Safety

In a year that has seen the 35th birthday of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) and the 30th anniversary of NEBOSH, health and safety in the workplace still remains a highly sensitive issue but one that is crucial to the wellbeing of Britain’s workforce.

The HSWA has remained the framework for all health and safety legislation and has also managed to adapt to change since its implementation in 1974. In a society which has moved from a largely manufacturing-based industry to a service driven economy and with a more transient and diverse workforce, it remains crucial that employers and health and safety professionals also adapt to changes in working environments and employment patterns.

The HSWA has clearly contributed to saving many lives, with the number of deaths from workplace accidents falling from 651 when it came into force to 180 between 2008/9. This record low is also a significant drop from the previous year where there were 233 fatal injuries. There has also been a reduction of more than 7,000 in the number of workplace injuries classified as serious or incurring more than three days absence from work. This, however, is for all involved in health and safety still too many and more must still be done to reduce the average of over 200 workers dying each year in Britain’s workplaces. The HSWA and bodies such as the HSE can only do this with the support of those actually within the workplace.

One of the biggest challenges in recent times is the media perception of ‘elf and safety’. The myths which perpetuate this perception often arise through a misunderstanding of health and safety requirements, failing to get proper advice and because sometimes it appears easier to ban something than to find a way to make it work safely with the proper precautions.

This lack of understanding of the principles and regulations of health and safety is dangerous and threatens the safety of workers because it can directly create unsafe working conditions and also undermine the importance of regulations by creating a feeling that they are a hindrance rather than a help. This increasingly popular view that the ‘health and safety brigade’ are to blame for almost all of modern Britain’s ills is acknowledged by health and safety professionals as one of the biggest threats to their ability to effectively tackle real issues that endanger life.

In addition to this, the impact of the economic downturn has created the potential issue of health and safety being given lower priority and corners cut in order to save money. Apart from the obvious consequences from failing to follow a health and safety policy it can actually be financially damaging if an injury or fatality takes place and you are then liable to pay compensation through neglect.

The key responsibilities of any employer, facilities manager, director or health and safety professional, therefore, is to make sure they fully understand the requirements of health and safety, support its aims by communicating issues in the workplace clearly and thus challenge poor misconceptions. Employees must be encouraged to take the issues seriously as it only takes one person who does not, to result in an unnecessary accident.

Remember that the key phrase of the HSWA is “so far as reasonably practicable” and so this allows you to take a risk based approach to health and safety in your workplace. Blanket bans are never popular and normally not necessary. Instead, by fully assessing risk, you should be able to take a balanced view between sensible protective measures and cost. Health and safety is based on the key conviction that no one involved in the profession wants to see someone hurt or made ill, particularly when this is avoidable. With good practice and common sense you can help dispel those tabloid myths and help keep Britain’s workers safe from harm.

If you are responsible for health and safety in your workplace or simply have an interest in it and you don’t know where to begin there are plenty of people who can help you. As well as professional consultants who can take the ‘burden’ from you, there is also plenty of useful information to be found from organisations such as the HSE. An example of one of their useful tools is the Health and safety leadership checklist which is designed to help you check your status as a leader on health and safety.

Health and safety leadership checklist

  • How do you demonstrate the board’s commitment to health and safety?
  • What do you do to ensure appropriate board-level review of health and safety?
  • What have you done to ensure your organisation, at all levels including the board, receives competent health and safety advice?
  • How are you ensuring all staff – including the board – is sufficiently trained and competent in their health and safety responsibilities?
  • How confident are you that your workforces, particularly safety representatives, are consulted properly on health and safety matters, and that their concerns are reaching the appropriate level including, as necessary, the board?
  • What systems are in place to ensure your organisation’s risks are assessed, and that sensible control measures are established and maintained?
  • How well do you know what is happening on the ground, and what audits or assessments are undertaken to inform you about what your organisation and contractors actually do?
  • What information does the board receive regularly about health and safety – e.g. performance data and reports on injuries and work-related ill health?
  • What targets have you set to improve health and safety and do you benchmark your performance against others in your sector or beyond?
  • Where changes in working arrangements have significant implications for health and safety, how are these brought to the attention of the board?

http://www.hse.gov.uk/leadership/checklist.htm

A recent survey, ‘The Value of Safety and Health’ published by Safety and Health Practitioner magazine and IOSH found that nine out of ten health and safety professionals would recommend a career in health and safety to others. For anyone that wishes to follow this career path there are recognised qualifications, such as the NEBOSH general certificate, which can be attained to increase your knowledge and ability.

On the topic of working in the industry, Rob Castledine, Associate Director at Workplace Law, said:

“Having spent over 20 years in the industry, I’ve met an awful lot of Health and Safety Practitioners and those that stick out to me are those that have a ‘can do’ attitude. Of course, any form of advice or guidance that a Health and Safety Advisor gives out needs to be balanced between risk, legal compliance and the practicalities of any control measures. But managers and organisations, as a whole, welcome sensible risk management which provides a solution to an issue, rather than another excuse not to do it.

“In particular, it’s essential for those just starting out on their safety career to ensure they fully develop their qualifications, be it a NEBOSH Certificate or an NVQ, with lots of sound and real life work experiences, which will help them to make more informed judgements concerning managing health and safety risks in the workplace.”

Article by the Workplace Law Network

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