Earlier this year, at Truro Crown Court, a care home owner and a domiciliary care company were each fined £10,000 and required to pay prosecution costs totalling £62,000 for breaches of health and safety legislation. A person in their care, with a severe learning disability and unable to talk, suffered severe burns to his body when they failed to control the temperature of his bath water. He could not tell them that his bath water was too hot or get out unaided.

The Health and Safety Executive investigation into the incident revealed a number of failings. These included the fact that four internal maintenance reports had highlighted that the TMV for the bath wasn’t working, that the water temperature at the tap was 60oC and identified it as "high risk" and inadequate staff training.

The case illustrates the importance to effective health and safety management of involving and consulting the workforce as a matter of routine. The failures that led to the scalding incident were known to the workforce within each company but there were no systems for managers to learn about and take action on the issues, problems and shortcomings faced on a daily basis.
Previous articles in this series have referred to the importance of worker involvement; here we consider what is involved and the essential ingredients of an effective system of worker involvement.

There is a legal requirement for employers to consult and involve their workers about issues concerning health and safety at work. Specifically they are required to provide information, instruction, training and engage in consultation with their employees. Many businesses go beyond this minimum legal requirement and encourage the full participation of their workforce in the management of health and safety. They recognise the benefits to their business of having a workforce that co-operates, identifies problems and works to find solutions. Workforce involvement brings their buy-in and in turn fewer injuries, fewer accidents and mistakes involving equipment or product damage and a reduction in the costs and overheads that result from such incidents.

Effective workforce involvement will;

  • Provide timely instruction, information and training to enable employees to work in a safe and healthy manner.
  • See safety representatives or representatives of employee safety carrying out their full range of functions.
  • Consult the workforce or their representatives on Health and Safety issues relating to their work when changes are planned or before they are introduced.
  • Engage workers in risk assessment and make the results of assessments known to all.
  • Engage workers in identifying hazards and safe systems of work in dynamic situations, when there is a new or unexpected task or unfamiliar circumstances arise.
  • Include hazard reporting arrangements, suggestion schemes or formal open meetings with managers.
  • Routine tool-box briefings and team meetings which may be led by employees.
  • Lead to joint decisions on health and safety matters.

In a small business it may not be necessary to have formal arrangements for consultation and involvement. Simpler, less formal systems such as face to face meetings, periodic reviews and tool-box talks will suffice so long as they engender trust and cooperation between everyone involved.

Next time – Effective Arrangements