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SAFETY IS DEAD … LONG LIVE HEALTH AT WORK

Simple and realistic framework to help unify thinking about H&S

The credibility of ‘health and safety’ at work has been seriously undermined over the last 30 years and is now associated by many with negativity, risk aversion, bureaucracy and the stifling of innovation.

Mention of the subject is often met with expressions of exasperation and comments such as “Oh no not Elf and Safety again” or “Let’s all stay in bed and be completely safe”

The management of of health and safety and resultant procedures and rules are often perceived as external and separate from the daily business in which workers, supervisors and managers get the job done.

It is therefore hardly surprising that incident investigations frequently reveal that procedures are routinely not followed and bear little resemblance to how people actually work.

The irony is that despite this frequent mismatch between rules and reality construction teams do work safely most of the time.

So, how might we move forward in creating a more positive approach to securing the well-being of those working in construction or affected by that work?

The framework at Figure 1 below seeks to simplify how we think about ‘health and safety’ and provide a structure to guide the thinking of all from the boardroom to the individual at work.

Minimising Harm or Maximising Safety

UK workplace legislation requires that employers ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees and others affected by their undertaking.

This duty is not absolute but is qualified by the term “reasonably practicable” which involves deciding upon precautions through a process of balancing cost and risk.

The law is therefore is rooted in the idea that work can cause harm and that there are limits to what employers are required to do to eliminate or mitigate that harm.

Zero harm or complete safety are not required by law yet public understanding of this limited legal protection is far from perfect.

Our framework therefore starts from the more realistic aim of “maximising our success in minimising harm”.

Protecting Health or Securing Safety

Do we need to constantly refer to both health and safety?

Safety is defined as the condition of being “protected from injury”. Health is the condition of being “free from illness or injury”. Both terms effectively mean same i.e. people are protected from harm.

What we currently badge as action on workplace ‘health and safety’ at work could therefore more simply be described as action on ‘health’ at work.

Our framework therefore describes a “Health at Work Programme” which includes both the traumatic injury caused by one-off incidents and the longer term harm caused by substances or the way work is organised etc.

Hazards Analysis + Risk Management

A simple, realistic and easily understood framework is needed to structure the positive actions required to “maximise success in minimising harm”.

Our H.A.R.M Assessment process provides one way forward which can be used by both large and smaller businesses and from the Boardroom to project Work Teams to ensure that everyone is speaking the same realistic language. The framework can be used equally at both project design and construction phases.

Ongoing hazard analysis and risk management all levels is the key to success rather than a one off and often fossilised risk assessment. Our framework provides a quick aide memoir.

Trusting People or Securing Compliance

The conventional wisdom dictates that success is achieved by setting out health and safety standards and procedures which are rigorously enforced to secure compliance.

Risk management in the construction sector is based upon the production of Safety Method Statements which are often prepared by those who may have a little understanding of how work is carried out.

An alternative approach is to put greater trust in those trained and experienced to carry out the work safely without copious volumes of paperwork which is often only read by the writer.

Way forward

All those involved in construction project ‘health and safety’ are effectively aiming to maximise success in minimising harm to all who work on construction projects.

The framework below is designed to take forward this objective in a way which is seen simple and more positive by all those involved.

FIGURE 1

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