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!

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?