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!
The organisation of shift work and management of its potential effects on staff are “becoming issues for more and more employers as the 24/7 economy grows”, according to a recent Health & Safety article. Around 14% of the UK working population (3.6m) now do shift work (source HSE), in some professions such as the emergency services, this percentage is obviously far higher.
Having been a ‘shift worker’ for the vast majority of my working life I can confirm these factors and perhaps more importantly, I fully understand many of the issue involved, both from an employee and management perspective… There is a simple given with the management of shift working; you will never please all the people all the time however, wouldn’t it be more beneficial (for all concerned) if we could at the very least, try to please most of the people, most of the time?
For nearly all of my thirty years police service I worked shifts, it was one of the aspects of the job that I (and others) found attractive about the career, that and the daily diversity of work. It provided me with a level of work/life balance not always available in other types of employment. But, it’s also a factor many often fail to understand when they join the force; being a ‘shift worker’ is actually a way of life.
The impacts of shift working aren’t usually fully appreciated by new employees and/or their management, especially if those people have little or no experience of working shifts, in previous or current roles.
Long term consequences of disturbing natural circadian rhythms have been investigated. A study by Knutsson et al. in 1986 found that shift workers who had worked in that method for 15 years or more were 300% more likely to develop ischemic heart disease…(wikipedia.org)
Many would expect the police to have a handle on most of the issues involved, having many years experience of a 24/7 role however; the amount of management tinkering with shift patterns over recent years would tend to negate this fact. It should be said however, most of these attempts at change have been born out of financial reasoning i.e. improvement of workforce resilience to meet demand for the lowest cost possible. That, or a mostly self-interested desire to be, the man/woman responsible for changing the world on their CV perhaps?
Efficient management of shift workers presents additional problems for those new to the management role in a 24/7 workplace environment. Which in its self is a factor often compounded by managers who have risen to the top of their organisation, relatively quickly and with limited personal experience of shift working. But, failure to understand and make allowances for the impacts of shift working can also have negative impacts upon the organisation. Issues such as reduced productivity, increased levels of sickness and the propensity for higher levels of workplace accidents and injury should never be underestimated.
HSE – Hnts & Tips for Shift-Workers: People vary in how they cope with shift work depending on their health, fitness, age, lifestyle, and domestic responsibilities– some adapt well, others do not. Whilst we cannot change our inbuilt characteristics, it is possible to alter our behaviour or make lifestyle changes that may make shift work more tolerable…(more)
John Wilkinson and Dick Rudd recently described what needs to be done, using two case studies to illustrate how shift work should and should not be managed, in the latest edition of Safety & Health Practitioner (SHP), the monthly journal of the Institute of Safety & Health (IOSH). This article is highly recommended to those required to manage shift workers.
Irrespective of the normal organisational issues around efficiency of operation and value for money, employers also have a duty of care towards their employees. This management duty is covered under general health and safety law, as well as certain other regulations, such as those governing working time. That said, there is no specific definition of shift work in law per se.
Perhaps some of the problems presented by shift work should be addressed right from the start? Often, little or no consideration is given to the subject at the recruitment stage in many organisations. A mishmash of poorly communicated individual and organisational requirements or full understanding of the issues compound this. By way of example; I know of one case where a police recruit completed their basic training and was told – “congratulations and welcome aboard, your first posting is night shift in the city.” The hapless soul was absolutely horrified and replied “sorry I don’t do shifts!” Evidence of individual/organisation expectations/requirements not being fully understood.
There has also been a great deal of political noise lately (see Lord Young Review – Common Sense Common Safety) that tends to suggest - Health & Safety legislation has a negative impact business. But, as the HSE pointed out, Health and safety is “used as an excuse” for not doing things correctly. However, it appears H&S may not be the impact that many perceive it to be?
A recent survey showed that the threat of health and safety claims by employees has little or no impact on business decisions in almost half of companies; dispelling the myth that firms are battling a new compensation culture. Caroline May, a spokesperson for Norton Rose LLP, who carried out the survey said: “What our study has shown though is that the commercial impact on business of health and safety legislation is relatively minor.” Whether that means business isn’t worried or, doesn’t actually understand the impacts of non compliance is another issue.
Once again, it isn’t H&S law or guidance that is at fault here, it has more to do with media fuelled public misconception and a strong element of management misapplication… There is a world of difference between all the lip-service documentation and actually implementing change to minimise risk. Managers often tend to create a false vision and perception of safety action. Issuing someone with a yellow jacket and telling them to direct traffic in the middle of a motorway, without the correct training, doesn’t make the operation any less dangerous. That is one of the reasons How high-visibility took over Britain… In many respects simply packaging without substance.
Many of the more difficult issues (like shift working) that managers face today become so, due to a combination of differing factors however, the ‘human’ aspect is one of the greatest. By this I mean we often tend not to consider our fellow workers as humans or in a humane manner. We tend to see our staff as tools or simple components of the final processes.
There is a pressing need for fundamental shifts in some of the predominant management styles, priorities, methods and ethics… Greater levels of experience in the task those managers are responsible for managing also wouldn’t go amiss!
For what seems like an age, we have all listened to the indignant calls of astonishment…“Not more bloody elf ‘n’ safety tosh? Well finally all this is set to change (apparently), as councils and companies are being directed to stop using health and safety rules as an excuse for making ”unpopular decisions” (bbc.co.uk). The fundamental question however remains; are these changes occurring for the right reasons?
It would appear that politicians are finally listening to practitioners at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)… How long this ‘understanding’ goes on will remain to be seen however; whilst it does go on, and the government are receptive to the advice of those practitioners about such an important subject, the lobbying should continue.
People in authority such as councillors and managers need to be much more risk literate or risk intelligent. And third parties such as clients, funders or insurers need to avoid requiring people to do things in the name of elf n safety which are not actually required by the law…(bbc.co.uk)
There are still far too many individuals calling for removal of many Health and Safety laws; opinions which are often based solely upon supposition and innuendo. Current legislation has in the main, been developed and applied over many years, it is also (mostly) balanced and fair to all those it seeks to protect. There are inherent dangers in a knee-jerk watering down of that legislation, despite the need to “end the epidemic of excuses wrongly citing health and safety”. Health and Safety law is not;
…a reason to prevent people from doing pretty harmless things with only very minor risks attached. This has to stop. The law does not require this to happen – people must be encouraged to use their common sense…(Chris Grayling MP)
IOSH recently posed a pertinent question on their Facebook page; what is the likelihood of this announcement proving to be the watershed in the public’s perceptions of health and safety? As one respondent quickly pointed out; “It is the media’s reporting of health and safety that needs to be changed, and that’s what Lord Young‘s review should have focussed on instead of changing a system that isn’t broken”.
As alluded to above… Far too much of today’s public opinion is often fuelled by journalistic sensationalism and emotive headline methodology. It follows that in addition to that fact; politicians also have the propensity to base policy and action upon popularity polls. There is a distinct possibility that any of the proposed changes will be born out of totally wrong reasons. These are issues that shouldn’t be underestimated and must be guarded against, for those reasons, I’m reserving my judgement upon the final outcomes.
- Health and safety ‘myths exposed’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Ridiculous ‘health and safety’ bans challenged (independent.co.uk)
- ‘Spurious Health And Safety Bans Must End’ (news.sky.com)
- Chris Grayling publishes list of ten most bizarre health and safety bans (telegraph.co.uk)