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The forgotten side of Health and Safety

20th October 2015

I have been a health and safety practitioner for 16 years now and have experienced many instances of an ‘Elf n Safety’ culture that is used and abused for all the wrong reasons, giving the two words ‘health’ and ‘safety’ bad press and publicity.

We now live in a society where health and safety in some quarters is seen as a joke or a barrier to progress. It is our job as health and safety practitioners to put perspective on what is important and why. Applying perspective can be challenging against a backdrop of austerity - particularly in the public sector.  Ever shrinking budgets and cuts are inadvertently putting pressure on directors and managers to focus on operational delivery of core services, whilst at the same time, maintaining suitable levels of health and safety compliance.

The challenge health and safety practitioners face, therefore, is being able to educate those in positions of responsibility to put health and safety in to perspective - enabling them to prioritise and make decisions that are risk-based, proactive, reasonable and practicable. We can do this by keeping health and safety simple, using streamlined arrangements, and, crucially, communicating effectively. This helps directors and managers to focus on the management of significant hazards which are often the hidden aspects of health and safety such as premises compliance.

I have found over the years that people are quick to focus on the ‘immediate’ risk – the sharp blade, the upturned carpet, the unguarded edge, the damaged socket. However, latent risks – those that are much more discreet and less easy to identify - can often go unnoticed and unmanaged.

The purpose of my blog is to remind ourselves of these hidden hazards of health and safety that don’t make the day to day press and are not obvious to manage, unlike, for example, working at height or manual handling. I’m talking about managing premises and providing a safe place to work, where we need to avoid tick box health and safety. For example, does your employer have an up to date Fire or Legionella Risk Assessment or Electrical/Gas/LOLER Certificate, or an up to date Asbestos Management Survey?

The answer may be yes but who carried it out - were they competent and did they find any remedial actions? Again if the answer is yes, then do the senior managers who have the responsibility for the estate or premises understand the findings?  Are they acting upon the remedial actions? Some of these remedial actions could be significant and are the managers monitoring effectively to ensure the actions are closed out? Are they competent to manage the health and safety hazards they are responsible for?

I audited a workplace recently and when I asked to see the Electrical Installation Condition Report, they handed me the document. Unfortunately, the system had various non conformities - some of which were serious. I asked if they had been resolved and they said, “No, I didn’t realise there was a problem. I was given the report and just filed it.” After a polite discussion over a coffee they quickly realised that just because a survey was completed, a report submitted, and a tick in the box to confirm it was done, did not represent safe and effective health and safety management…


Clyde Jackett is an associate director in Capita’s health and safety team.

This article first appeared in SHP Online.

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