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The missing link

elvs on transport
It’s all too easy to forget your mobile workforce when it comes to regularly checking that they are operating safe working practices.
Health and Safety Consultant, Phil Wass thinks you may have potentially missed one essential step when it comes to evidencing your commitment to health and safety at some time in the future. Phil is an advisor to MVDA members and a regular contributor to their quarterly magazine.

So, you have an up to date health and safety policy (as required by ‘The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act’), you have carried out your risk assessments (as required by ‘The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations’) and you have carried these forward into documented safe systems of work and the whole workforce is signed off against these (thus evidencing their training).

Thanks goodness all of that is out of the way – now we can concentrate on running the business again knowing that if something was to go wrong then we can show that we did all we possibly could to avert any such incident.

But you have potentially missed one essential step in truly evidencing your commitment to health and safety at some time in the future – should you be required to do so (what I am referring to in this article as ‘the missing link’).

The workplace is a very dynamic place – populated by very different personalities indeed (as you all well know). Some of your workforce will be committed to doing things consistently correctly and safely and others will only do what you want if you constantly monitor, nag and cajole them.

Phil Wass
Phil Wass is a Chartered Safety and Health practitioner and has a Masters Degree in Occupational Health and Safety. He is Managing Director of Wass Management Limited who specialise in all aspects of health and safety training, advice and guidance. Phil is an advisor to the Motor Vehcile Dismantlers' Association and understands the needs of the industry. He regularly carries out work for MVDA members.

If you have any health and safety issues, visit Wass Management Limited, email Phil or you can contact him on 01773 541441
I recently worked with a large company who employed a mainly ‘mobile’ workforce. They were in the business of providing and installing household equipment and had over a 100 engineers working up and down the country each one allocated to their own ‘home area’ region. So these employees worked completely under their own direction from day to day and from week to week. They also carried out extensive ‘work at height’ as part of the process of providing this service to the domestic consumers who were their customers.

Now this was a very professional company who cared sincerely about the well being of their workforce as well as the well being of the customers whose homes their engineers were working within. They provided the very best equipment to their engineers and also provided excellent training to them as well in how to complete the range of work tasks effectively and safely (with this training starting ‘intensively’ at induction and then being ‘topped up as necessary’ thereafter).

However, after a couple of quite nasty incidents, they came under pressure from the enforcement authorities (the factory inspector from the HSE on this occasion) to ‘up their game’ – or else!

But what were they not doing – they thought they were pretty good ?
They were not carrying out periodic ‘safety inspections’ - this was the ‘missing link’ in their health and safety management system and this was the missing activity that the factory inspector was not happy about.

The owner of this business was not a ‘happy man’ at this time either, in terms of the extra costs which would now be involved in introducing monitoring arrangements to check whether well paid employees were carrying out their work in the manner in which they had been trained and equipped in the first place. However, he had little choice but to take action and, somewhat reluctantly, he employed someone to carry out random checks on this ‘mobile’ workforce. The results horrified him. Only 25% of mobile engineers were actually following the company’s current health and safety procedures – which in this case involved securing ladders at the top and the bottom, using fall arrest equipment (such as harnesses) at all times, etc.

Now the possible reasons for this are a little too ‘deep’ to go into right now but many academics have researched and written extensively around the reasons for ‘non compliance’ such as this amongst a workforce – such things as different ‘perceptions of risk’ from one employee to another (such as - ‘I have been doing this job for 20 years and have never had an accident – so why is it necessary’) or ‘sheer wilfulness’ (such as – ‘they can get stuffed if they think I am going to do that’), etc.

So how confident are you that the guy you sent out to collect some vehicles on his recovery truck earlier today will actually follow the desired system of recovery that you originally put in place (like strapping the numbers of wheels you specified, etc.). One thing for sure, if one of these vehicles is not properly secured and comes off the recovery vehicle and lands on a pedestrian then you could quite possibly be held responsible for not doing all that you possibly should have done to monitor that such safety critical procedures were being followed.

The HSE publication ‘Managing Health and Safety – 5 Steps to Success’ (INDG275) refers to a health and safety management model known as ‘HS(G)65’ and safety inspections are a clear part of this system and therefore something which you must respect, practice and evidence – should you wish to fully comply with the law.

It is quite easy to walk around your main place of work once a week, once a fortnight or even once a month armed with a pre-prepared check list of what you expect to observe (e.g. security bars taken off fire exit doors, fire extinguisher access not blocked, vehicle inspection pits covered when not in use, everyone wearing high visibility clothing, keys not left in unattended fork lift trucks, etc.). You can then pick up the things which are most commonly being ignored, forgotten, etc. and take action before it is too late.

But it is all too easy to forget the mobile workforce (who are ‘out of sight’ and therefore often ‘out of mind’ as well) so these workers should also occasionally be put to the same test to see if they can demonstrate to you a good practical understanding and application of the safe working methods which you believe you clearly conveyed to them when they were first trained and authorised to undertake these tasks.

It is a simple fact that you could be asked to provide such evidence in order to demonstrate a commitment to checking that your health and safety policies, systems and procedures are well and truly embedded within your organisation should something go wrong in the future.

We cannot just assume that once someone is trained in a task that they will then follow this training consistently from that point forwards – for in practice many of them will not (for a variety or reasons) !

The use of periodic random safety inspections will highlight where people cannot be bothered, where they have forgotten, where they have misunderstood your instructions, etc. so that you can take action before something serious actually occurs.

Many of you may be doing this already (i.e. as you tour your premises periodically) – but perhaps you are not recording it and therefore potentially not giving yourself credit for it either.

So make sure that in future this is recorded. You will then get the credit for this activity that you deserve and you will be closer to having a fully compliant health and safety management system – one without any such ‘missing links’.

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