In the last few months a question frequently asked of our Health and Safety Consultants has been ‘how often should I be checking my policies and procedures?’ It seems that the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act along with the increase in the number of health and safety offences for which imprisonment is possible and the marked trend for the Enforcing Authorities to prosecute directors, owners and managers of businesses has stimulated the concerns of business leaders.
The basic legal requirement is for employers to ensure the health and safety of employees through the provision of physical safeguards and also through their management systems and arrangements. This has to be a continuous process. A defence based on the assurance that everything was alright last year or six months ago will rarely, if ever, succeed. Official guidance says that the management of health and safety is no different to the standard of management required for every other aspect of running your business. It is similar to almost every other aspect of good business management and will be based on having policies, procedures and controls that are based on an assessment of risk.
In answering the question think about how often you check your financial management arrangements. What policies do you have in place to ensure that your purchasing controls are effective, that credit control arrangements are working, that cash flow problems do not arise, that staff expenses claims are valid, etc. and how often do you check that they are being followed? Similarly think about your operational arrangements for stock control, production planning, deadlines, quality issues and so on, how often do you check that they remain fit for purpose and are followed.
Some of these topics are very important issues that require tight senior management control and frequent decision making. They are crucial to the survival of the business. Others, while important, are not as significant, can be delegated, and require less frequent senior management consideration.
So too with health and safety. Management, monitoring and review should be a continuous process based on risk. An assessment of the health and safety risks is the starting point. Where risks are not controlled to a reasonably practicable, tolerable, level action must be taken to reduce risk. If they can be eliminated by e.g. substituting a non hazardous substance for one that is toxic, or providing sound secure guards systems a lower level of management involvement will be required than in a workplace using say highly flammable and toxic substances and operating a large number of dangerous machines.
Where there are risks you need to have in place policies and procedures for their control- these will be based on what you do and the people you have working for you. As you develop your policies and procedures you will need to determine both the level and the frequency at which you are going to check that they are being observed.
You may, for example, decide that the risks of fire, injury or ill health from the use of highly flammable substances is particularly high and that the safe system developed for their use must be checked on a weekly basis. Although you might choose to delegate the task to a junior manager, you will not be effectively managing health and safety if you do not make formal routine checks that the junior manager is properly and competently completing their assigned task. In some high risk situations this could require a monthly check by senior managers, in others a quarterly check, while in a lower risk situation a six monthly check and review might be appropriate. Although PBS consultants will guide you in setting these monitoring and review schedules when they visit to evaluate your health and safety management systems and standards of compliance you have to make the final decisions.
If your active and reactive monitoring shows sub-standard levels of compliance or uncontrolled risks this should lead to a timely review of your policies and procedures. Where there has been no call for change we, nonetheless, suggest that as a minimum you review your policies and procedures on an annual basis – like an MOT test to check that everything is in place and working as intended. It doesn’t have to be a complicated or onerous procedure. Consider whether there have been work related injuries or ill health during the year, have processes changed, have supervisory roles changed, are all staff adequately H&S trained. Unless you identify issues that need attention simply note the date of your review and a brief account of evidence supporting the status quo.
Don’t forget to consider the impact on your policies and procedures of changes in the organisation, changes to processes, changes to personnel, and any new hazards or risks that arise as a result. You need to take account of these when they happen. It isn’t necessary to review and revise procedures for every trivial change but the impact of significant change must not be overlooked.
Remember, if you are a Peninsula client, you will be able to gain advice on setting up a risk management system as well as ways in which you can control the health & safety of employees in your workplace. Just call the Advice Service on 0844 892 2785 and one of our specialists will be happy to help.