Since I became self employed and started communicating with small businesses it amazes me how many have no health and safety policy or procedures and worse than that, no understanding to what it is all about, how it can benefit them, their employees, and their business let alone the legal side of things. I still frequently hear the old ‘health and safety gone mad' and ‘it costs so much and you get nothing back’. So in this article I am going to try and address these issues. Before I do however, a little bit about me and health and safety.
In my mind there are 2 types of folk, the academic ones and the practical ones, health and safety is no different however I know from my experience that behind the scenes we have always worked well, advising and helping each other. I class myself as one of the practical ones, used to working with the client, using the process to our advantage to solve problems and not hinder them. In simple terms, I like to remove all the unnecessary trees so we can see the wood.
Lately with covid-19 and risk assessments, how many small businesses have brought in professionals to advise, unfortunately too few, keep costs down, do it yourself! It is so easy to follow suggested precautions but that is not risk assessing, not looking at the bigger picture, how in some cases these additional controls actually make existing hazards, that have been previously risk assessed, even more hazardous. There are very few instances where you would do things yourself such as book keeping, marketing, teaching your kid to drive, electrical work, fitting gas appliances and pipes, the list goes on, so why did the government just state that a risk assessment had to be done? What makes individuals think you are competent at risk assessing? After all this is people’s lives we are talking about.
Risk assessing is only part of the health and safety management system but it is central to what it is based on. I understand why some say ‘health and safety gone mad', I’ve witnessed it many times myself, from health and safety policy documents 50 or 60 pages long, full of irrelevant information or going into to much detail on each section, to suggested controls well over the top with excessive costs. In my opinion a policy or procedure document should be brief and to the point including the sections. People will actually read it and understand what the business is trying to achieve. The brief information in the sections can be expanded in separate procedures. The cost of controls has to be considered, ALARP stands for As Low As Reasonably Practical, REASONABLY being the key word, it is a balance between cost and control.
By having a clear and easy to follow health and safety policy the management are more likely to support it as they can see what they are trying to achieve, the targets and goals can be reached, and they can see what benefits it would bring to the company. The employees are more likely to buy into the policy if they can see management supporting it, they find it easier to follow and can see the benefits for themselves. This alone encourages a good positive safety culture.
A positive safety culture encourages everyone to take ownership of health and safety, management actively take part and are visible, safety is seen to take priority or at least on a par to production, improvement suggestions are encouraged, maintenance issues are dealt with, the work site is kept clean and tidy, accident levels and sickness levels are reduced, recruitment is easier, temp and recruitment staff costs are reduced which also reduces training costs and time, efficiency increases, production targets are easier met which increases bonuses, reduces penalties which encourages more orders, legal fees and insurance cost may reduce. New clients and contracts are easier to find, companies want to deal with reliable and safe businesses.
By reviewing and analysing the health and safety data, making changes to policy and procedure where necessary and setting new targets or goals, continuous improvement in health and safety can be achieved and the circle, as described in the paragraph above, continues.
So to conclude, the perception of ‘health and safety gone mad' and ‘it costs so much and you get nothing back’ is wrong and needs to change. The actual benefits far out weigh any efforts, costs, interference etc. In fact, if the business continues along the right continuous improvement track and achieves an iso rating then the sky is the limit and new clients will be rattling on your door looking to work with you.