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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Why Have They Stopped Work? Because Heath and Safety Told Them To!

Of all the public sector organisations it is probably the Health and Safety Executive that takes the most flak.  The media leaps on to any judgement that, in their view, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about what happens in the real world.

Typical recently have been the edict from a local authority that children playing conkers must wear safety spectacles and there are many similar examples.

I recall another situation where a restorer of paintings in an art gallery asked to take down a painting to examine it more closely.  She was told that as the picture was on the wall and over sic feet above ground, she would need to:

  • Use scaffolding and definitely not a ladder
  • Take a two-day course to familiarise herself with scaffolding
  • Wear a hard hat at all times

She resigned the job.

Of course, it is relatively simple to poke fun at the bureaucrats and the media are not behind the door when something occurs that is off the wall.

There is a mass of statistics available on Health and Safety which I haven not surveyed in detail but I am willing to bet that over the past decade there will have been and marked reduction in the rate of accidents in the workplace.

There is little doubt that the whole subject if Health and Safety can be contentious but in the end it is the company taking the matter really seriously that demonstrates to its workforce that their safety is of primary concern.

I have several companies in my Vistage groups that employ people in the workforce who run the risk of injury during the normal run of events and it is those companies that take the subject most seriously.

Perhaps primarily those companies with a large workforce away from base and on site that need to ensure that the rules are followed without exception.

The consequences can be drastic especially if there is a fatality where now the management of the business can be charged with a string of offences right up t manslaughter, never mind the possibility of the business being closed down.

In the end there are two major criteria that persuade leaders to ensure that Health and Safety is taken really seriously at all levels in the business.

Firstly and obviously strict compliance with the rules vastly reduces the risk to the business of fines and more levied on the company and its management quite apart from a negative effect on profitability.

Secondly, because the company visibly takes the whole subject seriously, the workforce is likely to realise that the subject is constantly under scrutiny and that the management takes their well being seriously as well.

Indeed Vistage UK speaker, Jo Haigh, strongly recommends that Health and Safety must be on the agenda of every Board meeting. Moreover one member of the Board must have final responsibility for ensuring that it is taken seriously at all levels of the business.

At least three of my Vistage members have appointed a Director of Heath and Safety to demonstrate the importance of the function.

It is the good employer that shows the level of commitment of the business to the well being of its employees is a paramount consideration.  That would be expected to result at least in a lifting of morale.


Poke fun at the anomalies, yes, because it’s easy and amusing; on the other hand if it can prevent an accident or even save a life during the working day how can it be discounted as unnecessary and intrusive?

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2 comments:

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Jerry Niman said...

There was no local authority edict, see http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/september.htm

Similarly, there is no regulation that says you have to use a ladder in the situation described - the requirement is that you must take precautions to prevent a fall, and the proper use of a ladder may well be sufficient.

One of the problems here is the delight that the media have in pouncing on 'nanny state' stories (you know who I mean, Clarkson).

The other (in my humble opinion) is the uncritical use of third party H&S advisors. They tend to be over cautious to avoid litigation, and have no particular interest in ensuring that the procedures they recommend don't impose unreasonable costs or restrictions on the business.

As you say, if companies have significant hazards in the course of their business, they should be taking their Health and Safety issues seriously, and not offloading them onto someone who doesn't necessarily have the business' best interest at heart.