Debunking health and safety myths

Health and safety laws are over the top and hard to implement, right? Actually, procedures needn’t take up that much of your time argues Rob Green

A throwaway statement often heard is that health and safety legislation is hard to keep up with, but in reality it changes rarely.

When new amendments take place there is an adjustment period and only in the most flagrant breaches are businesses sanctioned – normally they are warned and given a period of time to respond or redress the problem.

On top of this, business groups, trade unions, government departments such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and a number of private businesses have a wealth of resources aimed at supporting your company to comply with laws that are essential to the safe operating of an enterprise.

It’s true that there’s a lot to keep in mind, but occasionally consulting these great sources of information will give you access to the finer points of health and safety policy that you might not be aware of.

For example:

1. Fee For Intervention

The HSE doesn’t always work for free. This initiative means that companies are charged for HSE time in situations where there has been a breach of health and safety law. It’s an added sanction against wayward firms and another incentive to stay on the right side of the law.

2. Face Fit Testing

Tight fitting respirators (such as disposable respirators) must be fit for purpose – this means that they need to be tested to ensure that they fit the wearer’s face.

The penalty for not doing so could be enforcement action including the potential for an improvement notice (official notification that something needs to be done).

3. Shared responsibility

The concept of shared responsibility means employees have a legal duty to follow instructions or procedures intended to protect them at work.

If they don’t follow clear instructions and sustain an injury or illness, then they have little recourse through the courts.

The third of these points shows that health and safety policy cuts both ways and doesn’t just protect employees from their employers.

The HSE is fairer than you think and it protects businesses that follow the rules just as much as it protects the victims of dodgy bosses.

To ensure you’re on the right side of the law, there are a few simple steps to take:

  • Identify the hazard. This is more complicated than it sounds. To understand the different ways workers can be harmed, you need to do a full inspection of the working environment, including vehicles if you have a fleet, as well as consult employees to find out their concerns.
  • Assess the risk. Having spotted hazards, it’s obviously important to address them. Risks work in a hierarchy (using a ladder is more risky than handling a stapler) and it’s important to prioritise. Once you know where dangers lurk, eradicate them. If that’s impossible then the goal is to reduce them by as greater degree as possible.
  • Follow the hierarchy of control. Eliminate the hazard completely; introduce engineering controls to reduce exposure to the hazard; supply personal protective equipment to reduce exposure to the hazard.
  • Train employees in the procedures and equipment they need to follow and use.
  • Re-assess on a regular basis to ensure the controls applied are still sufficient.

Rob Green is senior marketing executive at 3M and behind a series of tongue-in-cheek health and safety videos starring Ewen Macintosh, who played Keith in The Office.

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