Hang out the bunting for Safety at Work

workplace safety on 25 March 2010 - day 84

Workplace safety affects us all, doesn’t it? – Well it should do – Despite the bad press that elf ‘n’ safety has received over recent years, most of which is born out of poor grasp of the facts and/or legislation, Health & Safety isn’t actually the ogre that many (particularly this Government) would have us all believe…

With all the unrelenting bad press, as the stupidity of the recent Burnham-on-Sea Jubilee Bunting debacle tends to show, it’s hardly surprising that; Councils and companies are being accused of “using health and safety rules as an excuse to make unpopular decisions banning low-risk activities” (bbc.co.uk).

But in many respects it’s the lack of knowledge and understanding, that and the inherent fear of litigation, that is the root cause of many of these ‘astounding’ decisions. Health & Safety legislation was originally developed to protect workers in high risk and industrial occupations however; workplace safety needs to be considered in every workplace. Matters as diverse as bullying, computer use, work-related stress, and disability are all relevent in the workplaces, not just higher risk industrial locations. And all of them are occupational health issues impacting upon overall safety.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employer or an employee, a self-employed trader or a director of a large company, we all have safety responsibilities. You might be a customer in a shop, or a client visiting business premises but many people have little or (worryingly) no understanding of their safety rights and responsibilities.

With all this confusion and poor understanding is it any wonder the media continue to successfully stoke the funeral pyre of our Health & Safety legislation? Protection and guidance that was actually designed and developed to protect and help us all, not hinder us, impede work or put us out of business!

Last year the government proposed the abolition of a large amount of health and safety rules (see here). This followed an earlier report by Lord Young in 2010 (see here) and a subsequent independent review carried out by Prof Ragnar E Lofstedt, director of the Centre for Risk Management at King’s College London.

Lord Young’s report Common Sense, Common Safety calls for a shake-up of health and safety measures to an end “senseless” rules and regulations and tackle Britain’s “compensation culture”…(bbc.co.uk)

But despite all the reported difficulties, much of which is simply myth (see here), Lofstedt actually concluded in his report Reclaiming health and safety for all the problems are; “less with the regulations themselves and more with the way they are interpreted and applied”. He also subsequently pointed out how the PM’s approach to health and safety isn’t helpful.

Don’t let the jobsworths jeopardise jubilee celebrations: …Often health and safety is invoked wrongly to disguise a person’s real motives – an unwillingness to honestly defend an unpopular decision, concern over costs or complexity of running an event, or worries about potential civil liability claims…(hse.gov.uk)

Health & Safety isn’t all bad, even the HSE, often feared and much maligned by many in business, say that the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations “should go ahead without red tape” – they are actively encouraging people to fight back against “health and safety nonsense” (see here).

But where do you look for the facts? It isn’t always easy to find easy to read, high quality information about workplace safety.The internet contains rafts of Health & Safety information but how much of it is up to date and correct? As with any information gleaned from the web, it’s not always a good idea to treat everything you find as the right answer to your question.

Even when you refer to ‘experts’ such as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) or the British Safety Council (BSC), the information you find is often confusing. As with any legislation, the laws and guidance relating to Health & Safety can sometimes be complicated. Because of this, it’s also easy for them to be applied incorrectly (or mischievously) as previously mentioned above.

At the risk of undermining my own worth in this field, I want to point you in the direction of an extremely useful resource. One of the best websites I’ve found of late is SafeWorkers.co.uk. This valuable and worthwhile resource was put in place to serve the needs of the lay person. You can read more than 150 of the articles they’ve produced on specialist workplace safety issues. You can also ask them a question and receive a reply published on the site.

Remember – Workplace Safety is an important consideration for all of us!

HSE Video: Health & Safety impacts on real people!