We have all seen and read articles in the media reporting that health and safety people have stopped someone somewhere from doing something that was fun, harmless and very clearly not dangerous. Recent examples have included stories about stopping children playing “pin the tail on the donkey”, about banning carnivals, the sale of candy floss on sticks and even stopping patients knitting in hospital.
These misleading reports create an impression that professionals engaged in the management of health and safety in industry and commerce are nothing but kill joys with nothing better to do than eliminate the most trivial of risks. This impression has been exacerbated by the media reports.
Every one of these false stories does a major disservice to everyone working to improve health and safety in the work place; people whose efforts have over the years led to the working environment and health and safety standards in the UK being one of the best in the world. Our achievement is envied by many other countries who have copied both our laws and our systems. Think back to Victorian workplaces with dangerous machines, workplace fires, huge numbers of workplace fatal accidents routine industrial poisoning and you will realise that we have come a long way.
Regrettably though, people are still being needlessly killed and injured or made ill at work; 180 fatal injuries in 2008/9, almost 132,000 seriously injured, another 250,000 other injuries and more than half a million cases of work related ill-health. Remember, these are all people who left home fit and well and either did not return to their family or did so with an injury, due to work related issues. When you consider that these incidents led to nearly 30 million lost working days there is clearly a need for the sensible management of health and safety to improve on these statistics. This is the 21st Century challenge for health and safety professionals.
Sadly, there are still many employers who do not value their employees or recognise the business benefit of protecting their well being. Absence caused by a work related injury or ill-health is surely something every employer would want to avoid, especially as the costs affect the business’s ‘bottom line’ and profitability. Many serious work place accidents could be considered trivial e.g. someone slipping or tripping but the resultant injury are certainly not trivial, especially if the fall results in a broken leg keeping the employee off work for several weeks.
If we believe the media, employers are focusing on trivial issues rather than being concerned with real process related and procedural workplace health and safety concerns. Stopping the Christmas party or banning office decorations are clear examples of employers who do not understand the issues surrounding workplace health and safety. Everyone needs to have an understanding of hazards and risks in the workplace. They need to be able to recognise the difference between hazards and risks; from what can have serious consequences to those in the “social environment” which do not.
Health and safety legislation, aimed at the prevention of reasonably foreseeable injury or ill health, requires employers to “risk assess” their activities to reduce the risks. This does not mean banning carnivals or preventing children playing with conkers. It does however relate to making sure that employees are properly trained and managed in all the tasks they are expected to complete, that machinery guards are in place, that dangerous and hazardous substances are appropriately controlled, that workplaces are not excessively dusty or noisy, that work areas are not cluttered with debris and that emergency procedures are in place.
If we, as a society, trivialise health and safety the real issues will be ignored and the potential for injuries and ill-health to workers will increase.
Make sure you don’t become a health and safety statistic. Call your Health and Safety Consultant or our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2785.