Archive | January, 2011

Remembering Steven

31 Jan

Steven Burke, young worker

I’ve spent the last week getting all technological and setting up a microsite for a new joint venture with The Co-operative Group called “Safe in our Hands”. In setting it up and writing the copy, I was reminded of the generous spirit, humility and caring nature of one particular young man.   

Today I want to take time for all of us, where ever we’re working and whatever the workplace to remember Steven Burke.

As part of the “Safe in our Hands” charity dinner, we’re giving all proceeds raised to Francis House Children’s Hospice in memory of Steven. Sunday 30 January was the anniversary of Steven’s death. He died too young and aged only 17 years old, in a preventable and tragic workplace accident.

Last year, we ran a new campaign called “Speak Up, Stay Safe” which was aimed directly at young people to make them aware of the potential hazards in the workplace.  As part of the campaign we interviewed parents, teachers, employers and young people to get their stories. It was during this campaign that I met Steven’s mum, Barbara. Watch her story here>>

People like Steven are the reason why I and my colleagues come into work every day. It’s not rocket science. Too many people are dying or being horribly injured. People who had so much more to give and who leave behind devastated families, friends and colleagues.  

So think of Steven today and maybe we can start to make stories like Barbara’s a thing of the past.

Visit www.fack.org.uk for more information.

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Sound as a pound

24 Jan

The Safety Management team recently moved across the office. Now we are all sitting together in a little hub of wonder and creativity. It’s a more comfortable spot for us all to be together and it helps communication between us. I no longer have to shout or wave across the office at people to get their attention when I want one of those, you know, conversations.

However, the move hasn’t been without its surprises. Noisy surprises.

It’s quite remarkable how used you can get to an environment with certain sounds. Whilst on the other side of the office, we had to contend with loud telephone chatterers, I also had the luxury of a colleague’s low-level radio: soft music is subconsciously calming whilst reading and writing, and I didn’t even know I actually listened to it so much until I came over here and wondered where those romantic ballads were.

Of course, then I started singing them, but this only lasted about 3 minutes until my new neighbours told me to shut up.

That’s the interesting thing about noise and sounds: they are so very personal. Now, we are closer to the refreshments and printing area of the office. There are new noises which come with these: the fridge, the copier. And the funny thing has been noticing how we only realise how loud they can be when they aren’t there.

GRRRRRRRR-UMMMMMMMMMMM, and then… silence. “Blimey, that fridge is loud isn’t it?” Everyone agrees. Then, the next time it stops whirring, everyone looks up as if they are missing something.

While noises, or rather, sounds, can be beneficial: they can calm and relax us, so they can also be stress-inducing. There are very few workplaces which are totally silent and so each one has a myriad of sounds we have to get used to whilst trying to focus on the task in hand. Some of us are better at this than others. And studies have shown that elevated noise levels can result in more workplace aggression and anti-social behaviour, as well as inducing stress. This is something no employer or employee wants, especially when it is probably something which can be easily rectified. In a case of noise intrusion, it has got to be best to speak UP rather than go quiet and suffer in silence.

We do live in a world that is less free of noise: a bus ride without a loud mobile phone conversation is a rarity. Text messages beeping, mp3 players blasting, emails pinging into in-boxes, instant messages ker-ching-ing onto the screen: the modern world is noisy and distracting.

So maybe the fridge isn’t so bad, after all. At least it doesn’t take us away from what we are supposed to be…

Bee-Bap-BAP-BOOOOOP Bee-Bap-Bap-BOOOOOOOP!

Sorry, that was my bank calling. Time to turn it to silent, I think.

Check out February’s issue of Safety Management for a feature on noise and the effect it can have on the workplace and employees’ hearing: Keeping your hearing as sound as a bell.

Do you feel safe at work?

21 Jan

Firstly take our poll…

The Health and Safety Executive released new statistics today around violence at work. According to the main stats, in 2009/10 approximately 318,000 workers experienced at least one incidence of violence at work.  I find this utterly shocking. True it’s down from the previous number of 327,000 but it’s still not acceptable.

It’s not surprising to see that the highest number of incidents came from people working in protective service occupations (police, prison officers etc). Health care professionals again featured highly. No great shock here as these are sectors which have a greater interaction with people. What was more disturbing was the fact that 5% of offences were actually committed by work colleagues.

Employers have a duty of care towards their staff and this extends to ensuring that the people with whom they work are not a threat.  I’ve worked since I was 14 – from shop assistant, fast food bunny, waitress, civil servant to a charity bod. I’ve worked in a variety of environments – from serving the inebriated at Cream nights to organising film premieres and to the more sedate typical office working day. I’ve stacked shelves, cleaned needles out of toilets, shaken charity tins and organised PR campaigns. Yet I have never had any cause to fear violence from a work colleague.

I cannot imagine coming into work and feeling threatened. Yes it’s a small percentage but the consequences for those people working in fear is far reaching and can cause not only physical distress but could affect their mental well-being and family life.

Violence in the workplace regardless of who commits it is not tolerable, but it’s particular heinous from a person in a position of trust.  

Read the full report here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/violence/british-crime-survey2009-10.pdf

Can standing be safe? Football fans speak

17 Jan

Discontent is bubbling in the stands. Following the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, the Taylor Report recommended all-seater stadia for the top two football divisions, which the government made mandatory. It was thought that seating would eventually be accepted by fans but this has not always been the case.

In December, Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster brought a bill before parliament to give all the clubs the freedom to build or maintain standing sections in their grounds if they choose. The Football Supporter’s Federation back the ideas with their Safer Standing campaign. Both Foster and the FSF claim that it is possible to reinstate standing without compromising on safety.

I am a complete outsider to the world of football so it’s nervously I enter an east London pub at half time in the Tottenham Hotspurs V Manchester United game yesterday to speak to fans about their opinions. I needed have worried as, once I explained what I want to talk about, most people were keen to give their views on a subject close to their hearts.

Ellie, 44, a Bristol Palace fan had a tale to tell of how she broke her arm at a game.

But Jack, 31, had fond memories of standing at Arsenal as a child.

And Everton fan Tony, 55, thought the lessons had now been learned from Heysel and Hillsborough.

Watch the interviews here: http://www.youtube.com/user/britishsafetycouncil

A longer article about the question of safer standing will appear in February’s Safety Management.

A birthday too far

12 Jan

Read 'Will you still need me when I'm 64?' in Safety Management

In January’s issue of Safety Management there is a feature on ‘The Coming of Age’: the growing need for employers, and employees themselves, to recognise the changing demographics of our workforce and put appropriate programmes in place to keep workers safe and healthy for as long as they want to be in the job.

The article discusses the issue of age discrimination, which is seen to be ripe in the media and advertising sectors. If anyone has read or listened to the news today, it will be apparent that those issues are all the more significant if you are a woman over a certain age working at the BBC.

The BBC has been found guilty of ageism: that same organisation we all pay for which promotes fairness and equality regardless of sex, age and race in their corporate literature. Lip service, then, to those well-regarded and qualified presenters and journalists who have been moved to darkened corners of the corporation, or pushed out altogether.

The case of Miriam O’Reilly is about image and discrimination. There were no justifiable reasons under any employment law which led to her axing from the Countryfile programme.

However, this case is one which should be noted across all sectors, not just the media. Dumping an experienced, knowledgable worker simply because of their age is not only unjust, but detrimental to the organisation which would lose that wealth of expertise.

Age is just a number and with the right support in place, older workers can continue their contribution as long as they want (or may need to). Having an image based solely on young whippersnappers will also not hold the same values as organisations which cherish and relish their older and wiser employees.

Mark Twain wrote that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Organisations should take heed of these simple words. Healthy older workers who know the rules and have been safe their whole working lives are extremely valuable to businesses. The number of years they have been alive should never be reason to remove someone from a job they can do well and safely.

If you would like to read more on this issue, check out this month’s Safety Management, page 42. And don’t forget to get in touch with your comments and stories.

Safe ‘Rome-ing’

7 Jan

Before coming to work at the British Safety Council, I had never worked in the sphere of health and safety. Like many others, I had simply read and heard sensational news stories about death-causing conkers and child-unfriendly schools.

Then I became editor of Safety Management magazine.

Without wanting to stoop to the sensationalist level mentioned above, working here has really opened my eyes to aspects of working life which had never even crossed my mind before.

Aside from those frown and tut-inducing stories loved by various sections of the media, I have had to read about the truly sad and horrendous things which have happened to people whilst at work, in this day and age in the UK: fatal accidents which were entirely preventable; needless explosions and burns; avoidable amputations, scarring and injuries. It woke me up the importance of health and safety, not only at work, but when commuting, travelling and living the rest of your life.

Banos Bridge JumpI am someone who likes risks, adrenalin and extreme sports. I’ll try my hand at anything and have done a number of bungee jumps and a parachute jump. I love skiing and scuba-diving. I’ve tried mountain biking, caving, surfing, climbing, rappelling and abseiling. The thought of swimming with sharks gives me goose bumps from the excitement, not the fear.

But even with this attitude to life, the seriousness of how many people conduct their daily work strikes me each day, working here. I understand that your work place is different to your home. You have different responsibilities and, usually, an employer who has a duty of care. When this duty is mismanaged, as is apparent in many instances across Great Britain, the consequences can be terrible. No one should be killed or injured by their work: we should work to live, not work to die early.

Dec 2010

I recently went on holiday to Rome, and as I wandered that beautiful city, my Safety Management eyes cast over some worrying sights. The city is full of incredible ruins, many of which are still be uncovered, protected and restored. The nominal safety signs were there, telling workers to don their hats, boots and jackets. And then, scanning across the Roman Forum to the Basilica Lulia, which is currently being worked on, I spotted a man. He was up a ladder talking to his colleague who was already balanced on an upper part of the ruin (how this is protecting it, I don’t know, but that’s another post). Neither were wearing PPE, one was smoking and the ladder was balanced as precariously as some of those roman stones.

I had to look away and take photos what might still be there in ten years’ time, unlike, possibly, these workers’ livelihoods.

People tell me that health and safety is not an interesting or ‘sexy’ topic. It’s dull and boring. I don’t know what’s dull and boring about companies finally trying to save the planet; about workers being safer and healthier as part of wellbeing programmes or high risk industries doing all they can to make sure each worker goes home well at the end of the day.

You can spend a third of your life at work. Keeping that part safe means that you can enjoy the rest of it, however you live.

It is life that is interesting, and what we do here is to try and keep it so.

LM, Ecuador

Rappelling in Ecuador 2005