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?