Archive | July, 2011

Worker involvement: the elusive piece in the health and safety jigsaw

29 Jul

Nigel Bryson has been a stalwart over the past thirty years in promoting the immense benefits of actively involving workers in preventing workplaces injuries and ill health occurrences. I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Nigel for the past ten years. The British Safety Council is honoured that Nigel regularly speaks at our events and ones that we partner. It is fair to say that the hundreds who have heard him never fail to be moved by his passion and persuasion.

You never quite know what you are going to get from Nigel in terms of what he will use to highlight the cost of not involving workers and the massive benefits produced when you do. Quite simply Nigel grabs your attention, engages your emotions and presents you with the stark evidence. In his words, “Workers are not the problem: workers are the solution to health and safety problems”.

Nigel has now brought a mass of material together in his new book, “Zero harm: worker involvement. The missing pieces”. Just reading his foreword, “Workers dying to live”, reminded me that for many people the consequences of workplace injury and ill health are not remote but have touched them directly and continue to impact on them and their families. Nigel was deeply affected by his father’s work as a trade union official and the memory of his father having to visit the bereaved families of dead workers. One such instance was a visit to the wife of a worker killed in a quarrying accident. The woman still harboured a faint hope that her husband would come walking through the door. She said to Nigel’s Dad, “You know Mr Bryson there wasn’t even a body to bury.” To obtain a copy of this book or talk to Nigel about his work in promoting worker involvement e-mail him at info@brysonconsulting.co.uk

Civil Sanctions – new regulatory tool in action!

27 Jul

The Environment Agency is the first to use its powers under Part 3 of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 against an organisation that failed to comply with environmental regulations. By using these enforcement powers the Environment Agency is ensuring legal compliance at the same time continuing with its objectives to drive environmental improvement and compliance within business.

The Environment Agency accepted an offer of £21,000 from an engineering and information technology company who had failed to register the group and some of its subsidiaries with the packaging waste regulations. The organisation self-reported the offences which had occurred between 1998 and 2010.

In addition to implementing improvements to comply with the regulations, the organisation offered to fund environmental improvement projects in the local community equivalent to the cost of the offences. The funds will be used to drive environmental improvements and also cover the costs of Environment Agency investigations and future monitoring.

Applicable in England and Wales, Environment Civil Sanctions Orders came into force on 6th April and 15th July 2010 respectively and can be used by the Environment Agency as an alternative to prosecution. They allow the Environment Agency to take action that is proportionate to the offence and the offender and reflect the fact that a number of offences committed by business may be unintentional.

In this instance the organisation failed to register under the packaging waste regulations believing the obligations were applicable to each separate business (meaning they fell below the business threshold) whereas the regulations can also apply to a group of businesses.

The Environment Agency and Defra have published guidance explaining how these powers will be used. Briefly the sanctions include:

  1. Fixed monetary penalty: tend to be at the lower end of the range of potential financial penalties and have a capped maximum the same as could be imposed in a Magistrate’s Court.
  2. Enforcement undertakings: an agreement between the regulator and the operator or individual to require certain works, for example, to be undertaken.
  3. Stop Notices: as the name suggests allows the regulator to serve a notice to require a certain activity to cease, subject to compensatory provisions if the notice is ill-founded.
  4. Discretionary requirements including variable monetary penalties (VMPs)

In the case above the approach taken allows the operator to deal with the regulatory breach in a way that does not attract issues of liability or the negativity of a prosecution. For the regulator and any external stakeholders who may be concerned about the incident, the advantage of this approach is that the focus is on putting right what has previously gone wrong, rather than simply applying a punishment.

More serious offences, such as overtly criminal, reckless, and deliberate acts undertaken with a view to profit, will still result in prosecution. It is expected however that some 20 per cent of matters which have been subject to prosecution may shift to the civil sanctions regime. Moreover it is likely that incidents that are currently subject to warning letters or formal cautions will move to the civil sanctions regime.

As a regulatory tool, and taking this case as the first example, civil sanctions could play a significant part in improving compliance and environmental performance across UK business. It remains to be seen how effective these powers are, however with increased dialogue it seems to me the relationship between regulator and operator can only improve, and local communities stand to benefit too.

“Do the maths” – HSE publishes proposals for recovering its costs from non compliant duty holders

26 Jul

The HSE issued a consultation document on 22 July 2011 containing proposals to place a legal duty “on HSE to recover costs where duty holders are found to be in material breach of health and safety law”.  The British Safety Council will shortly be consulting its own members in Great Britain concerning the proposals through an online survey and face-to-face meetings. The importance of this particular consultation cannot be overestimated.  This impact of this particular regulatory change is not solely about a transfer of the burden of meeting the costs of tackling non-compliance from the taxpayer to the regulator.  It raises questions too about the relationship between the regulator, that is HSE, and duty holders and the policy and practice concerning HSE enforcement. For the present the cost recovery proposals apply only to the work of HSE not to the equivalent work undertaken by local authorities.

The consultative document makes clear that HSE would not have discretion on whether to apply fee for intervention. Rather HSE would be under a duty to recover the costs of its intervention activity where there had been a material breach of health and safety law.

An average hourly rate of £133 would be used for all HSE staff with the costs of specialist support staff added where required. The preferred option in the supporting impact assessment, that is option 6, estimates that the “the benefit to the taxpayer equal to the sum of costs recovered from businesses” would be approximately be a maximum of £46.3 million per year. Doing the maths produces a figure of some 323,000 chargeable hours to generate the revenue necessary to recover costs of £46.3 million. If we make a working assumption that each intervention, where costs are to be recovered, averages out at 10 hours of HSE time we can expect to see some 30,000+ interventions per year. What will be the consequence for HSE of not generating the additional income from cost recovery that will be built into its budget for 2012/13 and beyond?

These are significant sums of money both for the organisations who will have to bear the costs and for HSE who from April 2012 will have to recover these costs in order to carry out its full range of statutory responsibilities.

The HSE consultation document can be accessed at http://www.hse.gov.uk/consult/condocs/cd235.htm  and the impact assessment can be accessed at http://consultations.hse.gov.uk/gf2.ti/f/15138/393893.1/pdf/-/CD235%20Impact%20assessment.pdf

Building a safer future at the Olympics

21 Jul

On Monday I had the pleasure of a guided tour around the Olympic Park in preparation for a feature I’m writing for September’s Safety Management. Now, I must admit, I’m not a great sports enthusiast. Not anymore at least. I can image the 14-year-old me would have been ecstatic to visit the Olympic Park. But now I was excited to see firsthand how a dangerous construction site was managing safety. I was just a bit excited to be going to the Olympic Park before its open to the public.

To begin with I sat down and had a chat with some of the people working on site to see how they have found the project. One thing that struck me is how everyone is incredibly proud, not only to be working on the Olympic Park, but to be part of a project that has such an excellent health and safety track record. So I got kitted out in my PPE and, escorted by the excellent guide Alan O’Hagan, assistant health and safety advisor at BAM Nuttall and former carpenter on the Olympic site, I had a wander around the Park.  

You really cannot escape from safety on the Park; it’s everywhere and seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I won’t list the initiatives in operation to make safety the top priority because it will take all day. But it was clear to me that everyone was engaged by the idea of safety. Safety is considered first before anything is done, which, considering construction is such a dangerous industry, is precisely as it should be.

Some have expressed doubt about whether this can ever be achieved again. But I see no reason why this should be the case. So long as everyone involved in the Olympic construction phase, whether that be the project directors, health and safety managers and advisors, contractors, workers, office staff, take the attitudes towards safety with them as they move to other projects, imparting this knowledge and these ways of working to others, we could see safety as a top priority across the board. If the thousands upon thousands of people involved in some way with the Olympic project take something of the Olympic perception about safety away with them, we could well see a safer industry.

My grandfather worked in construction his whole life, starting in the late 1940s and retiring around 12 years ago.  I can’t help feeling if he went onto a construction site now he would barely recognise it. If he could visit the Olympic Park and see the advancements made in worker health and safety, I imagine he would be slightly shocked, but incredibly pleased.

Read the full article in September’s Safety Management.

State of the Planet – reap what we sow

20 Jul

We’re currently in the throws of updating our environmental diploma course, within which the first topic explores the state of the global environment and the complex inter-relationship between environmental, social, economic, political and demographic drivers and pressures.

Referring to source material from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) it’s clear the health of our environment remains under seemingly relentless pressure. For example, releases of greenhouse gases continue to rise and our marine and coastal environment is at significant risk.

For those interested in a few facts, just to illustrate the point, the globally averaged mixing ratios of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO2) reportedly reached new heights in 2009. These values are greater than those in pre-industrial times (before 1750) by 38%, 158% and 19% respectively. And with regard to the oceans and the marine environment, as much as 80% of the pollution load in coastal waters and the deep oceans originate from land-based activities.

The latter statistic, linking with another diploma subject area – environmental monitoring – serves to demonstrate the complexity of environmental systems and the nature of pollution. While legislation aims to control and indeed prevent harm to the environment, the persistent, synergistic and cumulative effect of our releases illustrates the insidious nature of pollution and the substances we use, and ultimately release into the environment. Regulatory control therefore is not necessarily going to work on its own.

In the environmental news this week Brittany has been struck by tonnes of toxic algae washing up on the beaches. This has caused the death of local livestock, not to mention significantly harmed the tourist industry. Such events are increasingly common where nutrient loading and high organic discharges lead to algal blooms. And in June this year a report by the International Programme of the State of the Ocean (IPSO) highlighted the plight of the oceans, indicating that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. The combined effects of pollution, over-fishing and climate change are acting together in ways not previously recognised, and the consequences are already affecting humanity.

I highlight these because at the same time the most recent talks on climate change, held in Bonn, failed (again) to agree on emission limits, the future of Kyoto and finance. While some technical solutions were agreed, the ongoing stumbling point is agreeing on future target reductions and apparent lack of progress in achieving existing targets. The UK’s former chief scientist Sir David King also added to the debate recently suggesting that Kyoto should be abandoned and instead each country should set itself a carbon quota based on population size.

It’s clear that to achieve the required modes of sustainable consumption and production for a healthy planet we need a fundamental change in our collective behaviour and attitude to the environment. This of course is a huge undertaking however if we fail to agree and act now, as Galatians 6:7 advises, the future looks rather bleak. Or to put another way… because there is no Planet B.

The Price of Energy – the inevitable rise

15 Jul

It may have passed you by but there’s been an important development in the environmental arena this week. The Electricity Market Reform (EMR) White Paper has been published starting the biggest shake up in the electricity market since privatisation.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced the paper this week explaining that the current electricity market simply isn’t up to the job to meet predicted future demands. With our continuing reliance on fossil fuel imports, we would be exposed to volatile energy prices which we, as private and business consumers, would need to pay for. The EMR therefore aims to protect the UK consumer from price instability as well as ensure security of supply and meet our low-carbon objectives.

The EMR was originally launched in December 2010 but this week the white paper confirms four key elements:

  1. A carbon floor price of £16 per tonne to encourage low carbon technology
  2. Long-term ‘contracts for difference’ promoting low-carbon energy generation and establishment of feed-in tariffs
  3. A contract framework for capacity through either central procurement or a market-wide approach
  4. Emissions standard for all new power plant

Opponents to the proposals suggest that the reforms are over complex and may actually hinder competition in the energy market. For energy suppliers they need certainty in energy markets to allow them to invest in the technology and infrastructure needed to meet carbon reductions. With an industry currently geared to deliver energy at the lowest cost, in order to deliver energy with lower carbon emissions the industry claims they will need support as they will be required to use technology which is not lowest cost.

The Renewable Energy Federation (REF) also suggests there is a significant cost attached to the EMR proposals which could put the Governments low carbon objectives at risk. With energy prices already increasing, the REF indicate that if the EMR does not deliver lower cost energy then a degree of ‘consumer rebellion’ will be expected especially if domestic as well as business consumers find it increasingly difficult to pay for their energy.

The EMR aims to provide certainty in the market which it is claimed will provide cheaper capital leading to lower development costs for new power plant and stable, if not lower, priced energy.  The Energy Secretary claims the EMR is the only way forward. The electricity market in it’s current form will mean energy prices are certain to rise and with demand predicted to double by 2050 there will be a higher risk of black outs. The system needs to change.

The overall aim of the EMR is to make a fundamental shift away from fossil fuel generation and to open the market up to smaller producers. Opponents suggest the EMR is unlikely to achieve either of these, however one thing does seem certain. The price of energy will continue to rise, even with a move towards low carbon technology, and we all face higher and ongoing energy price increases in the future.

Landscaping a safe working future

12 Jul

Hampton Court: the scene of ghostly tales, royal spirits and an English country garden which was built by young, talented and dedicated apprentices who are going for gold.

 

At the cottgae which was built by the apprentices

Team UK will be competing in World Skills, which takes place in London this October. Billed as the ‘Skills Olympics’, it is the largest international skills competition in the world and from 4-8 October Team UK will compete against 1,000 other hopefuls from over 50 countries/regions. The UK is entering competitors in 37 skills ranging from cooking and hairdressing to electrical installation and bricklaying.

I had the opportunity to meet some of the trainers and apprentices who are getting nearer to competing for those gold medals. They were at the Hampton Court Flower Show showcasing their garden, which had been designed by television presenter and garden designer Chris Beardshaw. He worked with apprentices and trainers in the skills of landscape gardening, bricklaying,and dry stone walling, who all came together at Hampton Court three weeks prior to the show opening to build, landscape and plant their garden.

I’m not saying this because I got to go on the garden and interview them – I’m saying it because it’s true: their garden, The Stockman’s Retreat, was the best. It was visually stunning, with a river running through and a naturalistic pond surrounded by flowers, plants and grasses; and, in the background, sat a cottage, with a path leading to an English meadow. It was the only garden the Duchess of Cornwall had wanted to walk around when she made her visit to the show last week.

The apprentices are a bright, enthusiastic bunch of young people. They started their crafts young, learned to love them and became good at them. Now they are able to display what they can do to the world. And to be able to show safe working practices is important and taught to them from the beginning. At World Skills, losing points for health and safety can mean the difference between gold and silver.

One of trainers told me: “Young people do need more guidance; coming straight from school they are susceptible to all sorts of things and accidents. They are not quite aware; they have been living in a bubble for 15 years.”

Talking to these young people there was a sense of the sponge mentality: they had always wanted to absorb information and best practice; that included health and safety guidance.

The idea that young people don’t have the confidence to speak up is one the British Safety Council works to break through, encouraging young people to voice concerns and worries with employers, friends and family if they feel they are unsafe.

The relationship between employer and worker, or in this case, trainer and apprentice was one which really shone through in my chats at Hampton Court; that it had to be one of mutual trust and understanding. One trainer explained: “My apprentices respond positively to suggestions and ways of working. The respect between trainer and trainee is very much two ways. I could say to my guy, ‘What about trying something this way?’ I’d explain it, go through it, and maybe even demonstrate it. He would have a go at that, but if it didn’t work for him, he’d speak up and we would explore something else. Working with these apprentices, they hang on your every word, so it’s important to have that dialogue.”

The apprentices themselves echoed this, and spoke openly about the health and safety issues in their respective lines of work and what they do to combat them. I was surprised by their acceptance of responsibility for their own health and safety. It’s a testament to their good training and education that these young workers take responsibility for health and safety and realise it is part of doing a good job.

“I wouldn’t work without my goggles or gloves.”

“I know when to stop using the mechanical tools.”

“You’ve got to be careful of your back, haven’t you?”

In the next issue of Safety Management, we feature more apprentices from Team UK who will be going for gold at World Skills London 2011 and talk to them about their training experiences and thoughts on health and safety in the workplace. Its future, after all, lies in their hands.

Camilla at A Stockman's Retreat with its creators

Back at Hampton Court, before I left I had one more task to do. The Stockman’s Retreat was hoping to win the People’s Choice Award, which is chosen by the public. I voted.

The result was as safe as houses – they won.