How Much Health and Safety is Too Much?

According to some elements of the press, the trades and even some of my clients, ‘Health and Safety has gone mad’. When pressed to enlarge upon the notion, they always refer to the fact that conkers were banned in schools or that kids were made to wear safety specs before playing conkers. And then the argument generally peters out. In my view the reason is that it is hard to argue against most health and safety measures because they are largely sensible, easy to adopt and cost relatively little to apply.

Some Figures

Now I am sure that there are some onerous Health and Safety rules that cost money and take time out of the working day, but for me the bottom line is that fatalities and injuries on British work sites have fallen dramatically and that is largely down to a growing awareness of the need for health and safety rules and practices and the widespread adoption of PPE gear in many trades. Take this simple statistic: – in 1974 (data adjusted) 651 people were killed on British jobsites while in 2014/2015 the number had been reduced to 92. When seen as a percentage per 100,000 employees the 1974
figures show 2.9 while the latest show 0.48.

…the bottom line is that fatalities
and injuries on British work sites
have fallen dramatically…

While any deaths are regrettable, the figures show that the building industry in Britain is a safer place to work, and there is still the zero figure to aim for so there is no room for complacency.

In Practice

Health and Safety rules and their effectiveness often go along with having effective Health and Safety representatives on the jobsite. HSE guidance stresses that safety is a shared concern. Everybody on the site should be able to report their concerns and expect a reasonable response from their boss or employer. The key to implementation of safety concerns is via thorough risk assessments. Having done these myself for a variety of workshops and activities I know that they can be done with an eye on minimising inherent dangers, or overdone, so that everyone feels paralysed with overbearing dangers lurking in every corner. The answer to this dilemma is training and skills. It really helps if the person concerned is an expert in whatever risks are being posed so that he can see a sensible way through to getting jobs done with minimal risks.

The answer to this dilemma is
training and skills…

I was recently having a discussion with a manufacturer of safety equipment about the Purchasing Manager’s Dilemma – which often amounts to this: – if I buy the best quality, latest, and most expensive health and safety equipment then I can rest assured that I have done my bit to ensure the safety of the employees. You can see how the ‘health and safety gone mad’ argument arises here, when the Health and Safety budget hits new heights and the Finance Manager starts asking questions. And again, the counter arguments here are that training, knowledge and information will mean that there is scope for a graduated response to risks so that companies will use the right grade of equipment for the jobs in hand.

Personal Responsibility

But when it comes to it, all workers need to have a personal risk assessment going on in their heads all the time. Conditions change – a job that was safe enough in the dry might suddenly pose a slip risk in the wet. I don’t like working at height on a ladder, but I feel a lot safer on a scaffold or work tower so I am happy to pay the extra for my fears. And, of course, the range of safety gear is plentiful and competitively priced nowadays. There is simply no excuse even for sole traders not to have good quality work shoes, work gloves, safety specs, dust mask and helmet or bump cap
in your own personal kit. Oh, and by the way, they do need regular checking – that dust mask with extra layers of dust is no longer fit for purpose.

And, of course, the range of safety
gear is plentiful and competitively
priced nowadays…

Awareness of the rules and regulations also helps. In my youth I regularly lifted more than the recommended 25Kgs but now I can feel the effects of overstraining my muscles, especially when my back gives me a twinge. By observing the recommendations now, it helps workers look forward to a healthy future. I still see people working with disc cutters with no water damping of dust, no ear defenders or safety glasses. Clearly they still get away with it most of the time – but the point is that Health and Safety is not just for when the boss is looking, it is a state of mind that will hopefully ensure that you have a long and accident free career onsite.

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