Getting educated at Sandown Park

8 Mar

Safety consultant Malcolm Tullett addresses the audience on day one.

As the Deputy Editor on the British Safety Council’s Safety Management magazine, it is vital that I stay up-to-speed with developments in the world of health and safety and last week I got the chance to do just that by trotting along to the ‘Health and Safety 11 – South’ exhibition at the famous Sandown Park racecourse in Surrey.

The British Safety Council is the educational partner for the Health and Safety series of regional exhibitions – which take place at four locations across the UK every year – and the free seminars we organise provide people with the chance to broaden their knowledge and keep abreast of changes in the field.

On the day I attended, Wednesday 2nd March, there were four presentations running, and keen to hear what the various speakers had to say, I made sure I had a seat right at the front for each one.

The session that appealed to me most was the legal update by health and safety solicitor Mark Tyler. Mark specialises in health and safety legislation and has been involved in many high profile Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions, making him ideally placed to explain the latest developments in the law, its implementation and surrounding policy. And his presentation didn’t disappoint: in crisp fashion, Mark took us through the most important recent and forthcoming legislative and policy developments, including planned changes to the personal injury compensation process; proposed changes to the RIDDOR accident reporting requirements; and Lord Young’s ideas for tackling the so called ‘compensation culture’.

But my interest really peaked when he moved onto the subject of the first corporate manslaughter prosecution, the recent conviction of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings following the death of a geologist in a trench collapse. Myself and others in the packed room – around 400, by my reckoning – waited with bated breath for dire warnings of the consequences the case holds for corporate Britain, but Mark calmly explained that the prosecution does not really tell us very much about the new corporate manslaughter offence at all. In fact, he said, the prosecution could probably have been brought under the old gross negligence manslaughter law since the company appeared to be under the control of a sole director, which would have allowed for such a charge.

There were, he added soberly, no real lessons to be learned about the way the new offence will be applied to companies and other organisations, other than the fact that the first case has now been taken, and the courts will probably pay close attention to the sentencing guideline stating that fines should “seldom be less than £500,000”, since the judge actually levied a £385,000 penalty.

While this explanation proved a bit of an anti-climax – given the fanfare surrounding the Cotswold case – it was reassuring to hear the facts first hand from a legal expert, and Mark also provided some enlightening news about some other developments. For example, he explained that fines for safety offences, including fire safety breaches, are generally on the rise, and alerted us to the first prosecution under the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Mark’s presentation was rightly met by loud applause, and several people took the opportunity to rush forward to ask him questions afterwards – a pattern that was repeated with all of the other three speakers. One of those taking advantage was David Batten, purchasing & facilities manager for the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), who described the seminars as “excellent”, a sentiment that was echoed by several others throughout the day.

Mark’s seminar was, however, just one of the four organised by the British Safety Council, and we also heard spirited talks on the benefits of involving the workforce in preventing and managing musculoskeletal disorders, how to measure noise and hand-arm vibration and encouraging safe behaviour at work.

All three were excellent, and work psychologist Sarah Cudmore got a great buzz going by asking us to pair up and think of an unsafe behaviour within our workplaces that could be changed by looking at the task and people’s behaviour and attitudes towards it. My partner for the exercise, Gary Woodrow, a safety advisor for a college, concluded that always getting people to wear PPE could sometimes be a problem for him, but applying Sarah’s logic, he felt this could be tackled through spot checks by the college’s senior management, which would demonstrate high level commitment to safety.

I certainly enjoyed the day, and feedback from the previous day’s seminars was also positive, with a drama-based seminar in which the audience got to ask questions of two actors posing as “employees” following a fatal accident proving particularly popular. Iain Bainbridge, health and safety advisor with construction company Faithdean plc, seemed to sum up the mood of those I spoke to on the second day when he said: “It was so informative. I have learned an awful lot and found lots of areas where I can get information from.”

The Health and Safety 11 exhibition series (http://www.healthandsafetyevents.co.uk) will be taking place at three further locations this year: Edinburgh on 7-8 September; Bolton on 5-6 October; and Dublin, Ireland, on 16-17 November. So, if you are based nearby, and if you can find the time, get along; you really will find the free seminars to be of use.

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