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!