Getting it right… continually

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

Understandably, for the last couple of years, the world’s attention has been on the coronavirus pandemic and how to keep everyone safe. This has brought great change to businesses, with workers furloughed or working from home and different, adapted working practices are now commonplace.

Of course, we still need to constantly improve when it comes to health and safety. However, given the latest from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it’s obvious that, collectively, we have taken our eyes off the ball. Despite the reduction in numbers of people at work, workplace fatalities have risen. How can this have happened? If we look at the type of accidents, we might be able to find the answer.

Falls from height are still the biggest cause of workplace fatalities, accounting for a quarter of all deaths. An increase in construction work and more ‘unregulated’ work by workers lacking supervision might be the underlying cause. It’s just as important now, as ever before, to ensure all those who work at height are trained and competent and that work at height is supervised.

According to the regulations governing work at height, a hierarchy of controls must be followed:

  • Firstly, avoid work at height
  • Use other ways of working to achieve the task without exposing people to work at height

If you can’t prevent work at height from taking place, then prevent a fall:

  • Use guarding to prevent a fall
  • Use a harness that doesn’t allow a fall over an edge

If all else fails minimise the consequences of a fall:

  • Use a harness that prevents the wearer hitting the ground
  • Use air mats or netting, as used on some building projects

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require all workplaces to have a health and safety policy and to complete risk assessments that cover any significant health and safety risks to employees and others who might be affected by the work you undertake. This will include visitors to your place of work, potentially mourners at a funeral service and contractors coming to your premises and carrying out work on the building.

As 25 workers were killed by a moving vehicle, there is a need to have some traffic management procedures in place, with risk assessments and plans in place to ensure adverse vehicle/pedestrian interaction is avoided at all costs.

The work equipment you use each day must also be safe. Specific statutory regulations which cover work equipment are the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998. Employers have a duty to buy equipment and provide information about that equipment to ensure its safe use. Competence of the user is essential as is the need to maintain equipment in a safe manner. There should also be detailed operational instructions straight from the manufacturer for staff to use.

And, of course, all this needs to be backed up with risk assessments. These must be completed to determine what the risk is, the level of risk and what controls to put in place. There are a number of steps to completing a risk assessment:

  • Identify what could go wrong and cause harm to someone in the premises, within the organisation or with the task you are doing
  • Decide on who could be harmed This is really important as a small risk to your staff might be a huge issue to the elderly lady that has just walked through your door.
  • Consider what you already do to make it safe
  • Evaluate the risk – look at the severity of the outcome e.g. broken bones, then consider how likely it is to happen
  • Add more control measures if there is still a risk that you will harm someone – the aim is to get the risk level down to an acceptable one
  • Put it down on paper

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