‘Christmas’ Work Parties – Disaster waiting to happen?

So you think you have the party planned out; where, who and when… but is that enough? Have you ensured that you are catering for everyone fairly and that health and safety and misconduct issues have been prepared for in advance?

Christmas parties are to celebrate business success for the year and to thank employees for their hard work, aiding employee morale and bringing teams closer together. Therefore, it is important to ensure that everyone is included.

  • Food/Set Meal Plan: Have you considered the different possible dietary needs for employees’ beliefs/religion or medical requirements? (Providing suitable food for vegetarians, nut allergies etc.)
  • Theme, decoration and activities: Is the plan in good taste for everyone? (E.g. visiting a local pub for a ‘booze-up’ may not be suitable if some employees’ religion is against the consumption of alcohol).
  • Timing: Are all employees able to come? (Maybe consider employees’ family responsibilities and when they are expected in work).

Health and Safety responsibility:

The party needs to be remembered for the right reason; that awesome time out with the team, not the time that employee was involved in an accident, so health and safety is paramount.

  • Have you made sure that all employees (and any invited significant others) remember to drink in moderation so everyone can enjoy the night and not have the health and safety of themselves and others jeopardised.
  • Have you considered pre-booking a bus/taxi service to and from the venue to ensure the safety of the employees and help to avoid the possibility of any post-celebration drunk driving.

Employee Conduct & Brand Image:

Damage control is required to ensure that company image is protected and that employees conduct themselves appropriately at the party.

  • A dress code may be of use to encourage a greater team feeling for the celebrations and to ensure that clothing choices are not offensive.
  • Have you made sure all employees (and any invited significant others) know what is expected of their behaviour (and that poor behaviour may lead to disciplinary action) to ensure that they remember to act responsibly whilst partying. Make sure a harassment claim isn’t something that needs to be dealt with after all the fun.

Make the most of your work Christmas party and ensure it is a morale booster to bring the whole team closer together rather than a black mark and a waste of the company money… Do the extra preparation now, and enjoy the extra free morale boost of the holiday season!

Related Link

Human Resources Aid: Example pre-party memo, for all employees, to help cover necessary information (and behaviour warnings)

Blog: ‘Christmas’ Work Parties – Disaster waiting to happen?
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Health and Safety Policy: Just a load of conkers!!

“School “conkers” health and safety fears – David Woodland’s full report on a conker tournament being held at a Bristol school, despite general safety concerns about the tradition.” – ITV, Oct)
“Christmas lights out for the first time in 20 years – Christmas lights could be banned from one British high street for the first time in 20 years over health and safety fears, as residents accused the authorities of killing their festive spirit.” – Daily Telegraph, Nov)

Bus driver orders everyone off after someone spills their coffee – Health and Safety madness – The Sun, Mar. Olympics sandcastle demolished over health and safety fears – The Guardian, Apr. Flower Potty:Church officials ban plants from graveyards over health and safety fears – The Mirror, Sept. Airline cabin crew told cold passenger they could not give her a blanket because of health and safety reasons… but they would sell her one for £5 – The Mail, Aug. Christmas lights out for the first time in 20 years over health and safety fears – Daily Telegraph, Nov.

In the news there is continuing complaints about applied Health and Safety being “over the top” and saying that Health and Safety has “gone mad”, restricting and spoiling the spirit of activities. Among many other incorrectly labelled rules, Health and Safety is being reported as the reason. Stopping workers from decorating their workspace during celebrations or requiring workers to use PPE or restricted types of clothing even in low risk environments – It is not surprising that health and safety is being portrayed with a killjoy stigma that could lead to people outright ignoring health and safety policies meant to save lives!

Since April this year HSE has been working to bust some of the myths surrounding Health and Safety. In many cases it was found that where health and safety was being misused as the reason for a ruling, companies were either following misinformation or hiding another underlying reason that they wished not to disclose. Typical reasons include avoiding the prospect of civil liability or insurance alterations, a matter of hygiene or creating the right company image or a simple inability or reluctance for the company to accommodate the request.

As health and safety is about protection from serious injury, mistakenly following another’s health and safety policy blunder or covering up another reason for a decision to avoid questioning is likely to get noticed. Whoever notices it may not be entirely sure of their convictions but they are still likely to be frustrated and annoyed if it is not clear why a ‘health and safety’ precaution has to be taken.

Health & Safety is about reducing the risks to workers and saving lives – putting in the policies that are needed to provide a safe working environment.

Statistics brought out at the end of October by HSE show an improvement of Health & Safety at work in the UK in some key areas with slightly less work related ill-health and injuries reported over the last year (Apr 2011-Mar 2012) than the previous year and the five year average – see some of the figures below.

Figures from HSE released end of October: Major Injury - Eg. Amputation, fractures, burns - 2011-12: 22,433, 2010-11: 24,944, 5 years Av.: 27,170. Serious Injury - Eg. Other injuries requiring four or more days off work- 2011-12: 88,731, 2010-11: 91,742, 5 years Av.: 103,627. Long-Term Illness - Eg. Illness caused or made worse by work - 2011-12: Est. 1.1mil (452,000 new), 2010-11: 1.2mil (554,000 new), 5 years Av.: 1.25mil. Fatal Injury (Death) - 2011-12: 173, 2010-11: 175, 5 years Av.: 196.

Chair of HSE, Judith Hackitt said: “Britain has earned the reputation of being one of the safest places in Europe to work, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.” As she poignantly continues: “We need to ensure that we all focus on managing the real risks which lead to serious workplace harm.”

Currently the quality of health and safety policies implemented appears to be lacking and the messages meant to protect human life and quality of life may start being lost among a wash of incorrectly ‘Health and Safety’-labelled requirements.

When making health and safety policies it should be about quality not quantity: Not labelling every possible health and safety risk or using the health and safety label to reinforce other decisions but making sure that suitable precautions are taken against real risks with serious consequences all the time.

Check out our Health and Safety Policy Blunder Busting Factsheet for help on making your health and safety policy quality over quantity; avoiding health and safety policy myths and blunders, and making sure your Health and Safety policy saves lives instead of just annoying people!

HSE to Illuminate the Health & Safety Policy Tightrope!

man on a 'Health & Safety' tightrope

This July HSE published their business plan for 2012-2015. The aims put forward bode well for businesses struggling to walk the Health & Safety tightrope – without falling off or over spending on unnecessary Health and Safety policy action.

Many companies are still getting their Health and Safety policies disastrously wrong and not taking risks seriously enough. Just in July, in the South East, HSE reported five companies prosecuted and penalised for Health and Safety failings. The responsible companies and directors accrued fines and costs totalling £322,609 and no doubt loss of company image as well. The serious Health & Safety negligence under trial had led to a patient fatality, serious injury of three workers and the possibility of multiple fatalities and/or serious injuries. And this is not abnormal for a month for reported prosecutions!

Many companies are putting in place sufficient Health and Safety Policies but are suffering from unnecessary Health and Safety overhead costs slowing the progress of their business growth. As the Association of British Insurers (ABI) pointedly remarked in March, with confusion between Health and Safety fact and myth and fear of heavy penalties for even minor injuries, companies blindly over-compensate for their Health & Safety risks: From annual electric testing of kettles, onerous risk assessments, misinformation about the need for dedicated health and safety consultants and even a ban on the use of bunting at events, there is a risk that prevailing health and safety myths can slow UK businesses down and foster risk aversion.

Help is coming! The new HSE business plan encapsulated the spirit of the last twelve months of government Health and Safety reviews and consultations, and the red tape challenge. Their aims include making company compliance expectations easier to understand and focusing more attention on high impact risks. Hopefully this new focus will lead to more businesses taking risks seriously, and businesses that are uncertain if they are overspending on their health and safety policies can look forward to extra help coming soon!

HSE has already started on their action for clarification of expectations, for example, with the publishing of Maintaining Portable Appliances in Low Risk Environments back in June. Deadlines in the HSE Plan for other useful guidance publications and or important change in regulations that you may wish to make note of include:

  • Sept 2012: guidance to help businesses understand what is ‘reasonably practicable’ for specific activities with ongoing arrangements to ensure guidance is kept up to date.
  • Oct 2012: Revoking a first batch of unnecessary legislative measures
  • Apr 2013: Revoking a further batch of unnecessary legislative measures subject to the appropriate approvals
  • Oct 2013: Following consultation – amending Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) and associated guidance to provide clarity for businesses on how to comply with the requirements
  • Dec 2013: Amending the Health and Safety at Work Act along with any necessary Regulations to exempt from health and safety law those self-employed, whose activities represent no potential risk of harm to others

Useful Links:

Full HSE 2012-2015 Business Plan
Holges Consulting’s quick overview of maintaining portable devices

Health & Safety Policies: Slips, Trips & Falls at work

business man slips on banana photo

There are some dangerous assumptions surrounding slips, trips and falls at work that may leave your health and safety policies lacking the conviction they need to cover you if there is an accident at your workplace. Believe it or not, the following statements are true!

  • The law dictates that duty holders* are to ensure that anyone that could be affected by their workplace are kept safe from harm, including from the hazards of slips, trips and falls.
  • Slips, trips and falls in a workplace are NOT treated by the law as inevitable accidents and the person in the accident is not usually blamed just for being clumsy! For example, 50% of all trip accidents are found to be caused by bad housekeeping, and so the blame, and therefore the cost, usually falls to the duty holders*.
  • Accident insurance will not cover all costs for slips, trips and falls in a workplace; each accident occurs hidden costs that may include production delays, temporary labour and/or training, investigation time, fines and loss of company image.
  • Slips, trips and falls need to be taken seriously, on average these accidents account for over half of all major workplace injuries every year and cause two fatalities a year!

*Duty holders are employers, the self employed, and any person who controls the work of others, such as facilities managers.

Luckily, simple cost effective health and safety policies can reduce these accidents. In turn, these policies can increase the chances that you, as the duty holder, are not found to blame if an accident does occur!

To reduce slipping and tripping hazards (and so possible consequent falls) your health and safety policies should ensure that areas where people walk are provided AND maintained in good condition, clean and free from obstructions. Also, any slopes or change in level should be clearly visible. To aid maintenance, employees should be trained and encouraged to fix, or make safe and report, anything they see that damages the suitability of the walkways.

To reduce risks of falling from height your health and safety policies should ensure that all work at height activities are risk assessed, planned and carried out by competent persons and that the following hierarchy for work at height is followed:
  Avoid working at height (eg. Work from ground level instead)
  If the above is not possible: Use measures to prevent falls (eg. guardrails and working platforms)
  If the above is not possible: Use measures to minimise the distance (eg. nets or airbags) and consequences (eg. personal fall protection – work restraints, fall arrest and rope access) of potential falls.

By law employees must not cause danger to themselves or others and must use any safety equipment provided, so you are not expected to cover ‘what if’ hazards for employees possibly partaking in dangerous activities. So, do you chose to ignore slip, trip and fall hazards because you still think they are just inevitable, or try to avoid becoming part of the statistic by implementing simple cost effective health and safety policies?

The No. 1 reason for not taking on employees? – Health & Safety. Why?

highlighting health & safety legislation

Recent Government research indicates that the top deterrent against employers taking on new employees is Health & Safety legislation and that this is of particular concern to micro-businesses. Heavy employer responsibilities, risk of fines and prohibition orders for non-compliance, and the doubled risk to new employees within their first 6 months of employment may look like too much of a risk for small companies. But is it really so difficult to comply that companies should stop their expansion?

Just a little bit of planning, preparation and action can unlock the ability for your business to begin taking on new employees to continue reaching new, bigger and better goals. To achieve this can be as simple as amending or creating usable Induction Policies and Health & Safety Policies for your company.

But where to start? … At the beginning of course!

Firstly, to ensure basic Health & Safety information is passed to all new employees on their first day (and avoiding that £15,000 HSE fine), why not make it part of their Induction, covering what to do in the case of an alarm, where the Fire Exits, Call Points and Extinguishers are, what to do in the case of an accident or injury etc. Next to ensure that all new employees receive all the Health & Safety training required for their position in your team, consider the Hazards and Risk associated with their job and include any necessary training in these areas in their initial weeks’ training program. See the HSE guide for more information.

As far as taking on new employees is concerned, this is the employer’s basic health and safety responsibilities covered – it really is that simple and you’re on your way!

The next step may be Policies and Risk Assessments – but they’re not so daunting – and if they are then there is always someone to help and advise. The benefits of new employees to help grow your Company far outweigh the perceived problems.