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The importance of health and safety in the workplace

The importance of health and safety in the workplace

The importance of health and safety in the workplace

The importance of health and safety in the workplace

How important is health and safety in the workplace? The Health and Safety Act was introduced in 1974 in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of those in the workplace. However, the debate about its importance has been gathering momentum over the last few years and has detractors and supporters on both sides.

There are some who argue that workplace health and safety has gone too far. Health and safety has to a certain extent become a generic phrase and it appears that not a lot of people are aware of what it means.  These people argue that health and safety law is often used as an excuse to ban or limit activities when in reality the risks posed are trivial or could be prevented by a risk assessment.

They also argue that health and safety measures are too complex, with some arguing that it is better just to use common sense rather than carry out risk assessments. Furthermore, it has been claimed that health and safety in the workplace wastes time and money, with workers having to carry out ridiculous measures in order to avoid minor risks, for example receiving safety training with staplers in order to avoid stapling themselves. The claim is that health and safety legislation actually hinders productivity and interferes with day to day life.  It could also be argued that some workplace health and safety rules are outdated.

A survey of 6000 businesses, conducted by the British Chamber of Commerce in 2011, found that almost half of the firms surveyed felt that health and safety regulations are a burden to deal with. David Frost, director general of the BCC, argued that the number of rules confuses employers, especially smaller organisations.

He stated, “Time and time again, we hear of unnecessary and unreasonable examples of health and safety. For example, home workers are treated in the same way as those working onsite, with the employer forced to conduct ever-more elaborate and costly assessments of the employee's home environment."

The importance of health and safety in the workplace

However, if the health and safety initiatives carried out in workplaces help prevent the serious injuries that can be caused in the workplace then that surely must be a good thing. If organisations are required to adopt a balanced and well-thought out response to controlling risks then this is a must be seen as good move. More than 200 people are killed at work each year (not including work-related road deaths); if implementing health and safety measures can help cut down on these numbers, then this should be seen as positive move.

Whilst for some, health and safety in the workplace is seen as a hindrance, it is something that workers have fought for as they have attempted to improve their overall working conditions. If we implement cuts to do away with it, then we underestimate the positive effect health and safety has had on the workplace. It could also have a positive effect on employees’ morality and wellbeing, as they feel the workplace is attempting to look after them.

It seems that there is a great deal of confusion and falsehoods about what health and safety actually is and what its legislation entails. It does seem that health and safety helps more than it hinders and its place in the workplace is extremely important.

The importance of health and safety in the workplace

 

When manufacturer’s or old machine safety control measures may not be enough

Old Machine Safety

Old Machine Safety

Old Machine Safety

This week we have been to some pretty disturbing site investigations where incidents have recently happened involving RIDDOR. It got us thinking, as we all know Britain is not the great manufacturing giant that is used to be so with that in mind we tend to import a lot of machinery into the UK to be used in factories and so on. Now this week we have investigated a few incidents where guarding and safety devices although not bad could indeed be improved on. We have even seen an ex army world war two pillar drill being used as the business owner told us that "it is the best" and "you just cannot get a machine these days that will do the job". With a slight modification we managed to make the equipment safe for the requirements of the twenty first century and the business owner is not only happy he can use this great tool, his employees and anyone using it are a lot safer from potential harm (from the machine) than our predecessors who used to use it back in the war.

So it may be worth completing a new risk assessment for any equipment you may have that may be old, unusual or may not even have instructions or a service manual in English.

Old Machine Safety

Stress in the Work Place and How to Tackle It

Stress in the Work Place and How to Tackle It

Stress in the Work Place and How to Tackle It

Stress in the Work Place and How to Tackle It

Most average SME's do not have Human Resource Departments or specifically designed training for managers that tackle stress in the workplace.

SME's that are still trading and making good profit in the new globalized world especially during these economic hard-times should be congratulated and please do not think we are not trying to take anything away from the effort taken to prosper at this time.

During the last twenty something years the world has been changing at a pace that many of us don't know how to keep up with... Every essential part of our lives is so different than it used to be not too long ago such as family life, work, even shopping and relationships. More and more often the individual feels lost in a world lead by pure numbers, profits, global interests, banks bailed out with taxpayer' money, strong economic recession etc.

So how does one deal with work-related stress when having responsibilities in a small or medium sized business?

Stress in the Work Place and How to Tackle It

Without taking into account all the shiny named departments, professionals and resources of the multinational giants, a SME has as much legal obligation in dealing with work-related stress and employee' wellbeing as a big company. Ensuring employees are not subject to stress is an employers responsibility not only under health and safety regulations (HSWA 1974, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999), but also other laws such as Employers' Liability Act 1969, the Public Order Act 1986, etc. Having effective policies and procedures such as including stress and mental health issues in your Health and Safety Policy is also a legal requirement.

Duty holders of SME's are becoming more and more aware of these responsibilities. Especially because many are starting to realize that a happy workforce and well organized work processes are essential for surviving and expanding during the present economic downturn. A recent study of Zurich Insurance conducted among 500 SME' decision-makers have shown that 42% of them realized that stress was having a negative impact in their businesses and expressed a desire to tackle the problem. 25% have serious worries about the deterioration of employee' work morale and the high costing stress-related absences, especially during the last two years. The study also highlighted that a high percentage of employers feel stressed and pressured.

During the worse period of the recession 2008-11, many SME's had to take radical cost-cutting actions, which automatically had translated into overloaded workforce and exasperation.

So how would you know where to start and how big of a problem there is in your SME?

1. The law recommends treating the work-related stress problem as any other work risk. Using continuous and regular risk assessments are essential and will help you recognize to what extent stress is affecting your organization.

2. Make sure all employees know exactly what their obligations are, starting with the initial training, conducting regular performance reviews, setting clear objectives and targets. Having a written job description for each employee and highlighting their particular responsibilities proves to be an excellent tool to reduce stress.

3. Every change means and leads to more spending more and is a major cause of work-related stress. Planning ahead and informing your workforce about future organizational or structural changes is always helpful to avoid stress.

4. Try to involve employees in the decision-making process. Let them feel free to express their suggestions and worries. Not only will this control stress levels, but it is also proven to be beneficial for reducing costs. Managers need to be supportive and sympathetic.

5. Invest in training as much as you can afford. It makes staff more involved and more compromised with the company, apart from making them feel more secure it helps them receive a personal benefit from the job.

6. Good, fluent communication is also essential.

And remember that work-related stress does not necessarily occur in specific industries or only in people who have major responsibilities in their job. It is the silent, fast growing and expanding disease of the whole of our society.

None of us can ignore it.

Stress in the Work Place and How to Tackle It was written by our top health and safety consultant in Manchester

Grandfather Rights and Formal Qualifications in Health and Safety

Qualifications in Health and Safety

Qualifications in Health and Safety

There has been a long standing dispute in many industries that an experienced person with years of practical work in a particular field is more competent than someone with little to no experience but does however hold a formal qualification in that same field?

Obviously this could be argued in different ways depending on what field or profession we are talking about.  For example a person with 10 years experience in glassblowing is bound to be more practically adept than a student who has just taken a written exam on glassblowing; where as a fresh graduate of accounting may well be as proficient as a 10 year veteran accountant with no such qualification. These are obviously extreme cases but it highlights the point we are trying to make nicely.

Qualifications in Health and Safety

So when a run of the mill type business receives a PQQ (Pre Qualification Questionnaire) and comes to the dreaded question "What Qualifications in Health and Safety do the Managers Hold?"

A lot of companies get stumped here and start to panic if no Qualifications in Health and Safety are held while others just answer as follows: "We have been completing and managing this type of work safely for xx years thus giving us the qualification of grandfather rights."

Is this a suitable answer and will it satisfy the auditor of your PQQ? Again unfortunately there is no easy answer and it depends on many variables such as; the type of service you provide (high, low risk), years experience, past track record, accidents and so-on. The problem is if your application is declined you will not always be informed and you could be losing contracts to your competitors for this very reason without even being aware of it.

So what can be done? Well no matter how many years experience you have it is always better to make yourself or a member of management aware of current health and safety regulations. A good example is driving, if you took your driving test and behaved the way you drive everyday in front of the instructor do you think you would pass?

There may have been bad habits adopted over the years and regulations being breached that you do not even realise because you have been working the same way for so many years.

So the next step may be to employ a health and safety advisor to come and help as legal requirements enforce companies to receive competent health and safety advice. However the other thing to remember is that all health and safety advisors do not suite all jobs for example we took a student through a practical health and safety audit of an engineering workshop for part of a Nebosh course, when the student was asked if the Lathe was safe the reply "what is a Lathe" was given. Now this student passed the whole course with ease but without experience and knowledge about what a Lathe is this person would not be the correct choice for giving health and safety advice to an engineering workshop.

So in conclusion a mix of experience and some formal education or advice is always the best answer and you may just find those PQQ's are easier to answer and may even win you more business.

Qualifications in Health and Safety

Health and Safety for the Self Employed

Health and Safety for the Self Employed

Health and Safety for the Self Employed

Health and Safety for the Self Employed

During the last year significant changes have been made to health and safety legislation. Most of the recommendations of the Lofsted review have been implemented or are on track. The main idea behind most of the changes was to get rid of issues such as over compliance, too many unnecessary regulations, and too much paperwork but mostly to reduce the “where there’s blame there’s a claim” suing culture revolving around health and safety.

There is however still a significant amount of work to be done and the most difficult thing to change is people’s minds and ideas about health and safety culture. The government, regulators and institutions have always used there own risk and evidence based health and safety systems and are now going to get more involved with European regulations as well. This will obviously make our working lives safer.

There are many situations we encounter as safety advisors, when the only one to blame when an accident had happened is the big bad bear or employer. Authorities and employees in most cases are tending to blame management and bosses and ultimately those are the ones paying all the costs.

Under health and safety legislations, an employer is reasonably responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the employees. The duties under safety law of the employer includes the responsibility to make the work premises safe, raise awareness and clearly inform the workers of their exact obligations, provide the necessary safety training, give enough opportunities for the workforce to communicate their safety concerns.

The employee’s responsibilities include the obligation to be able to take care of themselves and other people affected by their work activity, co-operate at all times and comply with managements requirements on health and safety and not to interfere with any materials or recommendations provided to maintain their health, safety and welfare. If an employee feels exposed to safety risks or considers that the employer is not complying with its legal duties a legal complain should be made to the relevant authority.

Currently the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places general duties on everyone who is “at work” and this includes the self-employed. When assessing the duties and responsibilities of a self-employed person is not always straightforward. Depending on the industry the health and safety for the self-employed are working in, he or she could act in different occasions as an employer or as an employee and sometimes regulations apply for both at the same time.

Health and Safety for the Self Employed

The consultation conducted by the HSE between August and October last year has been based on the recommendations of the Lofsted review to relax regulations and duties for those self-employed whose work activities don’t pose a potential risk of harm to others, those not working in high-risk industries like office-related activities. The aim is to avoid the existing confusion in the law and clarify the obligations in the different business activities of self-employed. Any resulting changes should take effect along 2013.

Having a high standard of safety culture among management, workforce and the self-employed is not always an easy task. Developing and promoting such a standard saves lives and money. Hopefully the process of eliminating the extensive safety red tape will continue to save lives while in the meantime will ease the lives of business.

Health and Safety for the Self Employed was written by out health and safety consultants Lincoln

Alcohol at work

Alcohol at work

alcohol at work

Alcohol at work

Let’s face the truth- occasional drinking is part of our culture. We all know how to enjoy few pints at the pub with friends responsibly and yet the bombardment of information about the risks that alcohol involves is continuous. And let’s not talk about continual alcohol price increases.

When the risks of drinking too much alcohol are mentioned many people may picture an alcoholic not able to walk, screaming and behaving inappropriately. The biggest problems of drinking however are well hidden and despite the mini “prohibition” regime we live in, when stressed most people are more likely to turn to alcohol rather than their GP, friends or family.

Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that half of participating adults feel stressed every day, with a quarter saying every few days. Over 59% of people confirmed that their lives are more stressed now than five years ago with money (26%) and work problems (28%) being in between the top causes of stress and anxiety. This is understandable bearing in mind the hard economic times we all have to deal with.

The consequences of turning alcohol into a kind of therapy against stress and hard times are well known. Social costs, increased crime, civil disorder, ill health (this last one involving strong NHS spending costs for treating alcohol related diseases) and costs for employers are rising too as it increases sickness absences, inability to work (unemployment and early retirement), premature deaths and so-on.

Society needs to tackle this problem seriously with families and employers being among the first that should intervene instead of waiting for people’s distress to become a disease leaving the health services to deal with what may be too late.

The average SME’s managers very rarely have to deal with an alcoholic, but with an employee showing incapacity to organize themselves correctly; poor time keeping and low production rates all of a sudden should be an early indicator that something is a miss and could be to do with the affects of alcohol at work.

Try and investigate what may be causing this out of the ordinary behavior before making a decision that it is alcohol at work and if so what action to take for tackling the problem.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 the employer is reasonably responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the employees. An employer could be prosecuted if he or she allows an employee under the influence of alcohol at work or other substances to perform a job. The law presumes that this would be a significant risk for everybody involved in the work in progress and an employer could be liable if an accident happens. Virtually any job could be a risk, when it comes to alcohol at work but special care should be taken in activities such as operating heavy machinery, driving, working at heights or working with chemicals.

What can we do about alcohol at work?

Screening employees for alcohol is a sensitive issue. Many companies especially from high risk industries are introducing such screenings on a random or regular basis

To be 100% sure nobody turns up to work with elevated or dangerous levels of alcohol in their bloodstream, an employer should test regularly. However be careful with such screenings because they could undermine the spirit, respect and trust with your employees.

In any case written consent and/ or change of the terms and conditions of the employee’ contract should be in place before any tests are conducted. If an employer tries to force a screening the employee has the right to resign and claim “constructive dismissal” as well as other legal implications.

An honest talk with the employee should be the first step regarding alcohol at work and could be the solution; it also gives you the right idea of how serious any potential problems are.

Be mindful that an employee with a drinking problem has the same right to confidentiality and support as somebody with medical or psychological condition.

In any case dismissal and disciplinary actions should be the last resort, especially because a court might find the dismissal unfair if the employer is not able to demonstrate that enough good-will action has been taken to resolve the problem.

Also the cost of recruiting and training new employees could be higher than keeping an existing one rather than giving a helping friendly hand.

I hope this has given some insight into one of the unspoken problems of alcohol at work that many businesses and individuals face on a daily basis.

For more information on this or any health and safety related issue please do not hesitate to get in touch with our health and safety consultants

alcohol at work