Did you, like many others, make a New Year’s Resolution to shake off Christmas indulgences by becoming fit and healthy? Have you thought about a similar Resolution for your business, to make it fitter and healthier? If not, why not plan to improve by adopting sense and sensibility as your approach to managing health and safety in the year ahead?

Newspapers, magazines, TV and radio often pickup on the stupid and doubtful decisions made in the name of health and safety. By taking this approach they ‘rubbish’ the work of everyone striving to reduce the toll of mostly preventable work related deaths, injuries and ill-health, be they business managers, supervisors, true health and safety professionals or enforcing officers. They send out messages that health and safety is a difficult, complex, irrational and unnecessary burden.

That’s not the truth.

Last year 173 people, all of them fathers, mothers, sons or daughters were killed whilst at work, and another 111,000 serious injuries were reported to the enforcing authorities. Over a million people are suffering from work related illnesses and 27 million working days were lost because of workplace injuries and ill-health.

Apart from the injury and suffering caused to individuals and their families every one of these events comes at a cost and not just to the injured person.

Employers face the cost of lost time, lost product, lost sales, lost opportunity, and of dealing with the aftermath of an incident – injury claims, enforcing authorities, lawyers, insurance companies and so on. For the employer most of these costs are not recoverable through insurance. A 2002 study by one company suggested that a lost time accident would incur uninsured costs of £2097 (£32,870 at 2012 prices). An accident requiring no more than first-aid treatment would attract uninsured costs of £33 (£45 at 2012 prices).

To the wider economy every incident involving immediate medical treatment, long term healthcare or support, or the enforcing authorities comes at a cost; a cost recovered indirectly through taxation.

Employers who effectively manage health and safety benefit by reducing the overheads of health and safety mistakes or omissions. The savings are there to be made. It only takes sense and sensibility.

Over the coming months we plan to set out and explain a common sense approach to managing health and safety and putting sensible cost-effective health and safety procedures in place.

We begin, however, with example health and safety statements that are very definitely without sense or sensibility. They are taken from the reports of the Health and Safety Executive’s Mythbuster Panel.

  •  A school production, contributing to students GCSE exams could not go ahead because the lighting operator had not had attended a fixed ladder training course.
  • Comment – A decision made without sense or sensibility, an unnecessarily rigid interpretation of working at height regulations. It would a good idea to move the box in the longer term, ensuring that meanwhile anyone who accesses the box takes reasonable and sensible precautions.
  • A bar refused to let a customer carry a tray with their drinks on it because they had not been ‘health and safety trained’.
  • Comment – The suggestion that special training is needed for a customer to use a tray to carry drinks or food in a restaurant is patently ridiculous. There is no occupational health and safety legislation which requires customers to be trained to do something which they are likely to do regularly in their own homes.
  • A charity shop claimed that they could not sell knitting needles for health and safety reasons.
  • Comment – There are no health and safety regulations which apply to sale or re-sale of knitting needles. There is no legitimate health and safety reason which could justify this decision.
  • An airline told passengers that it could not lend passengers blankets for use during night flights for strict health and safety reasons. It could however sell them a blanket.

Comment – This was obviously a commercial decision aimed at avoiding the costs of providing, collecting and cleaning used blankets and the risk of blankets not being returned. There are no valid health and safety to prevent this customer service. The airline should not have hidden a commercial decision behind health and safety.

The panel has considered more than 100 similar examples. In almost every case they have found neither sense or sensibility nor a justification in health and safety legislation for the particular prohibition or allegation.

In preparation for the next article, gather your health and safety documentation, including your Policy, Safety Arrangements, Risk Assessments, Accident Statistics, etc., where we will continue to support your resolution with tips on a sense and sensibility approach to health and safety.

For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.