Archive | June, 2011

A classic example of giving health and safety a bad name

30 Jun

My boyfriend and I recently booked a much needed summer holiday to Turkey through a well known and reputable travel company.

Since booking the holiday I’ve been dreaming about sandy beaches, crystal blue sea and beautiful sunsets, counting down the days until I can lie by the pool every day, read my book and enjoy the sun…12 sleeps to go to be exact.

So imagine my excitement when I arrived home from work last night to find that a cute little booklet had arrived in the post, which included our flight tickets and information about our holiday destination.

Flicking through the booklet I found details about visa requirements, baggage allowance and useful contact details if I need to get in touch with my holiday provider while I’m there.

I then came across a section entitled ‘Health and Safety’. Naturally I was interested to read what there was to say on the subject, but the introduction put me off completely. It read: “It’s not the most interesting topic, so we’ll tell you what you need to know and keep it brief…”

This angered me for a number of reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t take a qualified journalist to know this is not the best opening to something you want people to read. The fact that the very first sentence basically says ‘this is not very interesting’ isn’t going to encourage people to read on.

Secondly, this information is under the heading ‘Essentials’ so I assume they want people to read it? Even if I overlook the ‘don’t-read-this’ introduction, the fact they state that they’re keeping it brief makes me wonder what information they have left out. Is there some other information they’ve neglected to include because they want to keep it brief?

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t claim to be a health and safety professional but one thing I’ve learnt from my four years at the British Safety Council is that health and safety is an important subject that people often dismiss as being uninteresting and unnecessary. This booklet is a classic example of health and safety being given a bad name even before it’s had a chance to prove itself as an interesting and necessary subject matter.

Obviously I won’t be putting the furniture on my balcony near the railings or getting a black Henna tattoo as the booklet advises against. But I can’t help thinking about the other people who have received this booklet and have not read any further than the first line because of the awful way in which this important information has been introduced.

So now I’ve got that off my chest, I can go back to dreaming about sun, sea and sand…and calculating how many more hours of work I have left until my holidy begins! What’s Turkish for health and safety?

A change can do you good

27 Jun

We’ve been talking a lot recently about habits and routines in the Safety Management office. There have been reasons for this. The British Safety Council campaign, Changing habits of a lifetime, reported its first results; we’ve been talking about changing our scenery as summer holidays spring to our minds; and there is our conference in London on 6 July regarding the changing health and safety landscape.

It got me thinking about routines and habits and why we get into those that we do. There are many little routines which we live through every day, so ingrained in us we hardly think about them: putting the kettle on before stepping into the shower; a free newspaper in the hand before stepping onto the train; the unconscious greetings you make while arriving to work; the food left out for the cat; the alarm clock set before sleep comes.

The psychology of our habitual behaviour says that we do many things automatically because it is easier. Research psychologist, and author of Sources of Power, Gary Klein claims all behaviour is automatic, unproblematic and successful. A lot of our habits don’t cause us any problems and as everything we do automatically usually turns out all right, we don’t give it a second thought and so keep doing it.

The only problem is when these habits are working around hazards. Habits and hazards can only go together when the habits are good ones. This is why our Changing habits of a Lifetime campaign promotes such an important message. It’s about understanding the bad habits that have crept in; then educating and righting them. Not putting on the right personal protective equipment: for example, wanting to get a job done quickly and forgetting your goggles; or sitting in an uncomfortable chair because it’s what you’ve always done; or ignoring the rising panic as stress sets in: these are all bad habits which lead to bad practice and can result in workplace injury, ill health or even death.

As human beings, we are quite adaptable, especially when the changes are small and we can see their purpose. We don’t like change for change’s sake, and we can resist intervention when it’s perceived to come from someone ignorant of the situation. This is another importance aspect to our Changing habits campaign: each phase is coming from experts in the field and is brought about by listening to those who work in it: you. We wouldn’t want to be changing habits otherwise.

Viktor Frankl, survivor of the Holocaust and psychiatrist wrote this about change: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” That means sometimes we have to right wrongs in our own behaviour, accept new customs and situations and ways of working. If, ultimately, the changes from our campaign save a life, reduce injuries and make people more aware of their working habits, both good and bad, it has started well on its long road.

I also look forward to meeting many of you at our conference on 6 July and debating the changes in the health and safety landscape and how they might affect you.

The government’s work programme: getting the young safely into work

24 Jun

Youth unemployment is a serious issue currently facing the UK. In February it was revealed that nearly one million 16-24-year-olds were out of work, the highest number since comparable records began in 1992. And as getting these young people back into work increasingly becomes a priority, so too must their safety in doing so.

On Wednesday night I attended an All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs whose aim was to discuss the government’s work programme. The event was held at Portcullis house, chaired by Stewart Jackson MP and attended by the employment minister Chris Grayling, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, and a host of young people. Simon Hughes actively encouraged the audience to question Chris Grayling, telling us not to “let him off the hook”.

Grayling outlined the elements to his strategy to provide unemployed young people with the support to get back into work. The approach will comprise of three schemes: the government is looking to create opportunities for young people to undertake eight-week work experience placements; it is looking to create far more apprenticeships – 250,000 by the end of parliament; and is currently compiling a list of employers from all sectors who will take on the services of the long-term youth unemployed, with incentives for them doing so. These employers have applied to the government for the right to be able to provide this employment.

Should the initiative go ahead we could witness an unprecedented number of young people entering the workplace for the first time. While I appreciate the benefits embarking on a spell of work experience and gaining a valuable reference from an employer can bring, young people are more at risk of death, injury or illness for a number of reasons, namely a lack of experience and confidence. I’ve worked in risky and hazardous work environments in the past; I knew full well the risks, but did not have sufficient experience to demand the hazards were managed correctly. And I know I’m not the only young person who has done this.  

If the initiative is successful the companies employing this new generation of apprentices and workers need to effectively and supportively manage their safety and health. And I hope that outlining their health and safety policies and the special consideration they will give to young workers will have been a fundamental part of their application to the tender.

When health and safety used to be called common sense

22 Jun

This has brightened up my rather miserable Wednesday afternoon. Maybe we should all take a leaf out of Steve Hughes’ book? It made me chuckle and nod along anyway.

It’s only 1:20 long. Go on, take a look and have a happy and safe rest of the day.

All Party Parliamentary Group on Health and Safety

22 Jun

 The British Safety Council attended the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Health and Safety on 21 June 2011.

Gordon McDonald of the HSE spoke on the issue of fee for intervention, which is a central, and probably the most immediate, part of the government’s planned legislation. This would be in relation to the recovery of costs of effort where there is evidence of non-compliance.

McDonald reported that HSE has been undertaking some early consultation with a range of stakeholders on the proposals, and will continue to do so into July. Some have already been identified. Local authorities reportedly expressed a “mixed view” about cost recovery – with many wondering whether they would be given discretion to decide whether to levy a cost recovery notice, or not. The HSE will be seeking clarification from the Lofstedt review on this issue. It will also be seeking to ensure that concerns about inspector consistency are met. There has also been concern that inspectors may in some cases be motivated by motives related to revenue generation , rather than pure health and safety issues. The HSE will be looking to allay such concerns as well. Hopefully, such issues will be tackled by the 12-week consultation exercise that the HSE is launching in July 2011. He emphasised that the consultation will not be about the policy “as that was taken as read” but rather focus on how to make it workable. It was anticipated that they will be doing a dry-run of the charging system October through to December 2011, before implementation in April 2012.

Additionally, he identified three further areas that will be targeted in relation to cost recovery, though these were not as immediate. One area includes cost recovery in hazard sectors already not covered by such an approach, such as mining, pipelines and explosives.. Another is in relation to charges associated with land-use planning where HSE is a statutory consultee, which will need to be addressed through the planning legislation. A third area is regarding costs to account for statutory advice when sought by parties, such pre-application advice to developers or to foreign governments. When raised as a question, MacDonald responded that currently it is unclear whether the revenue from such services will feed back into the HSE.

Andrew Miller, MP, spoke about his views on the Lofstedt Review, on which he will be the Labour representative. According to Miller, Professor Lofstedt was keen to ensure that his role would be independent before he took the post, an encouraging sign. What Miller found somewhat less encouraging was the mass of statutory instruments up for “simplification.” Some 200 SIs in 30 workplace categories are listed in the call for evidence – and all need to be dealt with in detail. Miller expressed fears that this would not be possible, and that pressures to over-simplify could prevail.

Nevertheless, he recognised the opportunity to address those regulations that may be out of date and the potential to consolidate some, while cautioning that reducing the amount of regulations might give some “numbers game satisfaction” without affecting real change that can be felt by businesses and workers.


Blog by:
Sam Urquhart, Interim campaigns and engagement manager

Youth Action Day inspires young people to speak up

22 Jun

Last Friday saw the British Safety Council host Youth Action Day at ZSL London Zoo.

This was a health and safety conference with a difference. No discussions about regulation, nor was there a suit and tie in sight. This was an event set to appeal directly to young people, and run by (relatively) young people, all taking place within the scenic and refreshingly laid back location of London Zoo.

The aim of the event: to get young people engaged and receptive to workplace safety, to encourage them to take action if they encounter unsafe practices in the workplace.

The day was opened by Hollyoaks actress Jessica Forrest who spoke about her own experiences of health and safety and who touched a nerve with the audience. Exercises throughout the day included a poster workshop, a health and safety quiz, a discussion about health and safety in the movies, a talk from a young explorer, question and answer session with a range of young experts from different backgrounds, and a live health and safety auction. There was also entertainment provided by a modern dance group and boy band who opened and closed the day with a bang.

Youth Action Day was free to attend for anyone under 19, and a number of schools and youth groups took advantage and benefitted from the experience.  Feedback was positive. One young person, Alfaz Dinmamoude, said of the day: “It was great, and was good to meet new people and learn new things. I enjoyed the whole day and I think it will help me be more aware of health and safety in the future.”

The Löfstedt review of health and safety legislation : British Safety Council members speak up

17 Jun

The British Safety Council commenced a consultation exercise with our members earlier this week on the questions posed by the Löfstedt review of health and safety legislation. Over 200 members have already accessed the questionnaire in which we seek their views on the potential for regulations to be merged or simplified and on their impact and effect. It is clear from early responses that there is considerable support for the contribution that our current regulations and supporting ACOPs have had in improving health and safety and believe that reform is not necessary. Almost half of respondents considered that there were regulations that could be simplified.  Half of respondents consider that the benefit of health and safety regulations outweigh the burden while one in four held the opposite view.

There are still two weeks remaining for members to let us have their views which will form an integral part of our submission of evidence to Professor Löfstedt  – the survey can be accessed at

Shifting the cost of health and safety regulation – consultation looms

15 Jun

The government in its plans for further health and safety reform set out in Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone made clear that it believed “that it is reasonable that businesses that are found to be in serious breach of health and safety law – rather than the taxpayer – should bear the related costs incurred by the regulator in helping them put things right.”  The government clearly set out the rationale it believed justified this proposal to enable HSE to extend its power to charge to recover costs way beyond ‘permissioning’ regimes as nuclear, offshore and onshore major hazards and approvals of new substances.

Our members will, when the proposals become law, have to pay a ‘fee for intervention’ to cover HSE’s costs for the work it undertakes to address non-compliance up until the point where compliance is achieved. That fee could be considerable. Although we must await the publication by HSE of the consultation document in order to get a real sense of the scale and cost of what is being proposed it is already clear from what has been made public that these changes could impact significantly, for example, on the relationship between the regulator and the duty holder.  ‘Fee for intervention’ is very different from the ‘polluter pays’ principle that underlies charging for the permissioning regimes.

Already concerns have been raised about the wisdom and equity of charging non-compliant duty holders – in effect imposing an administrative sanction for a breach without having to go through the due process of law.  The argument in support of civil administrative penalties for health and safety breaches is bound to raise its head once again. This new development is bound too to raise questions about HSE efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out its enforcement role.  Transparency and proportionality will be key. The projected income that will be generated from ‘fee for intervention’ has no doubt already been factored into HSE’s budget for 2012/13 and forward years. It is essential then that the British Safety Council effectively represents the views of our members on this radical proposal.  This we will be doing shortly.


Changing attitudes towards ‘the change of life’

13 Jun

I’m getting old. I know at 26 I’m comparatively young, but there are some days when I feel –  as I’m sure many of you do – old before my time.

They say you’re only as old as you feel. Well if that’s the case I’m about 56 today! It’s a lovely hot day outside and I’m writing an article for the magazine about the menopause at work. As I do my research, I joke with my colleagues about the fact I think I’m going through ‘the change of life’ 30 years early. “I’m sure I’m having a hot flush,” I panic, but they reassure me I just feel hot because it’s a hot day.

However, reading on through my research I realise this is no joking matter. With around 3.5 million women aged 50 and over in work in the UK, the menopause is an increasingly important matter for workplaces to consider as it usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. But it seems there is very little awareness about this subject as an occupational health issue and it is somewhat of a ‘taboo’ topic.

Symptoms that menopausal women can experience include hot flushes, headaches, tiredness, anxiety attacks and increased stress levels. High temperatures, poor ventilation and a lack of access to cold drinking water in the workplace can make all of these symptoms worse. It is therefore important for employers to ensure that the conditions in the workplace do not make the symptoms of the menopause worse.

Women often feel too embarrassed talking to their manager about going through ‘the change’, particularly if their manager is younger than them, or male. According to research from the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF), nearly a fifth of women thought the menopause had a negative impact on their manager’s and colleagues’ perceptions of their competence at work, and felt anxious about this supposed drop in performance. And more than half of respondents reported that they were not able to negotiate flexible working hours or working practices as much as they needed to in order to deal with their symptoms.

Employers therefore need to recognise that women of menopausal age may need extra consideration, as changes during the menopause can affect how a woman does her work and her relationship with her boss and colleagues.

There is a lot that can be done to make the menopause a more comfortable experience. Work can be organised to include flexible hours, and issues around ventilation can be improved, such as providing a fan or having windows that open. A lot can be done without actually pinpointing menopausal women. It is just generally good practice to have these systems and processes in place.

I’m not normally one to suffer in silence but putting myself in the shoes of a woman experiencing these symptoms, I think I’d find it difficult to talk to anyone at work about what I was going through. Hopefully, through more awareness, it will become easier for women to talk about the menopause and easier to continue working through this stage of life with minimal disruption. But in order for this to happen, there needs to be a change in attitude. I, for one, will think twice before making another ‘wise crack’ about having a hot flush.

Read my article in full in the July/August issue of Safety Management magazine.

G20 discuss nuclear safety following Fukushima

10 Jun

This week has seen Group of 20 nations convene in Paris to discuss nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, stated that safety, not funding, should be the main concern of the nuclear industry and it was agreed that the incident was a failure of the global nuclear security system. European national atomic agencies have been called to conduct stress tests to ensure facilities can resist accidents or emergencies. And all of this happened against a backdrop of Germany announcing in May that it will close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022, with Switzerland following suit.

Sarkozy has also recently been advocating international nuclear safety standards to replace the current Convention on Nuclear Safety which requires the 72 countries that have atomic energy plants to submit reports of the other contracting parties. This is not binding, however, and the French President seems to be suggesting that non-binding standards are analogous to no having standards at all.

Director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano has called for revised international emergency response procedures, as the current set were drawn up in the seven months following the Chernobyl disaster and do not reflect the circumstances of the 21st century.

Nuclear safety has rightly been on the top of the international political agenda in the wake the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. But, there seems to be one problem with nuclear power that is conspicuous by its absence in current discussions. And it is a problem inherent with nuclear power; it will not go away, but people seem unwilling to address it. That is: what on earth do we do with nuclear waste? We – quite rightly – can have every safeguard conceivable in managing hazards in nuclear facilities, but we also need appropriate and long-term plans for managing the waste from nuclear fission. Some nuclear waste takes hundreds of thousands of years to decay into stable isotopes and will remain hazardous to humans and the environment until it does so.

The US has designated the Yucca Mountains as a Nuclear Waste Repository for storing spent fuel, but is sticking it in a huge hole in the ground really a solution? I’m not sure it is. Until the risks associated with spent fuel can be effectively managed, can nuclear power really be considered as an option to the world’s growing demand for power? As a fundamental aspect in the safety of nuclear power, I hope it will be brought up at the IAEA conference on nuclear safety in Vienna later on in June.