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The importance of risk and hazard education: Professor Löfstedt and the British Safety Council contribute to the debate

21 Oct

The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford, with the support of the British Safety Council, convened a workshop in October to examine a number of key issues concerning our knowledge and thinking on hazard and risk and how our policy, law makers and educators approach these issues. The panellists included Professor Ragnar Löfstedt of Kings College, Mark Tyler the leading health and safety lawyer and partner at Shook Hardy & Bacon, Lynda Armstrong, chair of the trustees of the British Safety Council and David Bench, HSE director with responsibility for science and chemical regulation.

Professor Löfstedt’s presentation focused on a paper he had published earlier this year, Risk versus Hazard – How to Regulate in the 21st Century, in which he explored the history of the risk versus hazard debate, focusing in particular on the regulatory approaches adopted by different EU member states in relation to two hazardous substances. Professor Löfstedt argued that there was no clear consensus across EU countries as to when risk or hazard considerations should be the basis of regulatory decision making.

In the recommendations set out in the paper Professor Löfstedt argues: “If European regulators are to be successful in increasingly basing health and environmental regulations on risk assessments then there is a need for the public and stakeholders to actually understand what risk assessment is, something that is clearly not the case at the present time. One way around this would be to push for the introduction of risk assessment as part of the science curriculum, in the final years at school as well as encouraging European universities to teach risk assessment as part of the undergraduate and graduate curriculums …”

Lynda Armstrong, in her panel contribution, agreed with the importance of risk education: “We believe it is time for a sea change in our approach to competence building around risk with a focus on instilling the necessary knowledge and behaviours in people at an early age. The British Safety Council will continue its work of helping young people develop an understanding of health and safety risks and appreciate the behaviours they should adopt in readiness for when they go to work. The benefits are twofold: firstly a better understanding of working safely will discourage inappropriate risk aversion; and second, these young people, the future workforce, will be our champions and will be key to ensuring we build our knowledge and use it wisely concerning hazard and risk.” Lynda also made clear where the British Safety Council stood concerning the effectiveness of our current regulatory framework: “We subscribe strongly to the view that our legislative approach to health and safety, carefully balancing the regulation of hazards and risks, is broadly the correct one and working effectively.”

Professor Löfstedt also gave an indication that the report of the independent panel he is leading on the review of our health and safety regulatory framework is likely to be published at the end of November.

Just three weeks until the best health and safety expo and conference in Scotland – register now for your free place and build your CPD points

18 Aug

Health and Safety ’11 Scotland taking place on 7-8 September at the Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh, is a must attend health and safety event. More than 50 major providers and suppliers of health and safety products and services will be attending and ready to answer your questions concerning how better to manage the risk of injury and ill health in your organisation.

Increasingly health and safety practitioners, working across a range of professions and occupations, are seeing the health and safety exhibitions as an essential part of building their knowledge, developing their competence and keeping abreast of fast changing health and safety policy and law.

The speaker line up for the eight education seminars taking place over the two days is impressive. Dr Paul Stollard, HSE’s director for Scotland, Laura Cameron, one of the country’s leading health and safety lawyers and partner at McGrigors LLP and Ian Tasker from the Scottish TUC are just three of the speakers.

The British Safety Council is honoured to be partnering the seminar programme once again.  I look forward to seeing you in Edinburgh.

Register now at http://www.eventdata.co.uk/Forms/Default.aspx?FormRef=Hea91Visitor

Pendennis and their health and safety Olympics

12 Aug

At the end of last week I took the rather long journey to the beautiful south coast of Cornwall to pay a visit to a company who were holding an event that was, I think, unprecedented: a day of safety games, or, as I like to think of it, the Health and Safety Olympics.

The company was Pendennis Worldclass Superyachts. Now, some of the yachts they build are absolutely amazing. The night before I arrived they launched the world’s largest luxury sailing catamaran, Hemisphere. And building and refitting yachts carries with it a wide range of hazards.  

Each of the games followed the core topics of the British Safety Council’s level 1 award, which is very broad, so everything from chemicals to PPE; manual handling to workforce consultation. Each of the games was developed by one of the managers or supervisors who had lately taken a level 2 qualification with the consultancy Risk and Safety Plus, who helped coordinate much of the day’s action.

Around 200 members of staff who work for the company took part in the day’s events. The employees worked their way around each of the game. They included an inventive take on snakes and ladders to help understand the legal aspects of health and safety; target practice on the fire extinguisher firing range; darts to aid comprehension of COSHH; even a home-made dummy to practice what to do should the worst happen and someone have a serious accident.

The response from the supervisors and employees was great; no one had a bad word to say about it; the feedback was fantastic. Marga, who works in administration, said to me: “It’s very well set out, well thought of; it’s excellent and fun. I’ve learnt an awful lot.”

Now, I had a great day, probably partly due to the fact that being from Derby – which is about as far away from the sea as you can get in this country– I’ve never been to a working dock before. The scale alone is staggering. But more than this it was fantastic to see a company taking an innovative approach to teaching everyone about health and safety.

The premise was simple, and on the surface may seem slightly trivial, but the result was powerful. It opened up the lines of communication about health and safety between each supervisor and the workers in their teams. Health and safety became something that everyone participated in at all levels of the business; that everyone had something to contribute to and began to own, rather than it owning them, so to speak. In short, they took control and were empowered. And had fun along the way.

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.

Changing landscape, exchanging ideas

8 Jul

On Wednesaday the British Safety Council held a conference entitled The changing health and safety landscape which heard from a variety of speakers on the reforms currently underway; their likely impact; law updates; and current health and safety challenges in different sectors.

It immediately struck me as an event which was far-reaching and all encompassing; the only shame was that there was so much to say and listen to and not enough time for it all.

The morning was kicked off by British Safety Council chair of trustees Lynda Armstrong, where she spoke of the timely nature of the event and the extent of the breadth and depth of the changes underway. She talked about our upcoming meeting with Professor Löfstedt, where she, new chief executive Alex Botha and Neal Stone will contribute to the review with findings from consultation with our members. Lynda said that we must not lose sight of the benefits that come from good health and safety management while trying to relieve the burden on small businesses, which is where some issues remain to be addressed.

Dan Shears, national HS&E research and policy officer at the GMB union, and Steve Pointer, head of health and safety policy at EEF assessed the impact of the government’s reforms in their own ways. Their views generated some interesting questions from the audience as they discussed the ‘compensation culture’; the government’s Red Tape Challenge; the process of claims and HSE’s efficiency.

Neal was adamant that we shouldn’t just look to HSE for solutions in reaching compliance; that the challenge was for the British Safety Council and the wider health and safety community to be more persuasive, with more publicity and education finding its way to the right people.

Listening to these people talk, one thing was clear: each of these changes, no matter how big or small, will affect someone: that people are important; workers are important and employers need to share in the responsibility for being part of the changes, whether putting forward concerns and ideas or in how they implement them.

Presentations by two lawyers followed. Mark Tyler, partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, spoke of the “evolving scene” of health and safety claims, fines and punishment and how public concern can affect courts’ decisions. In his jovial way, he got a serious subject across to the audience, yet there was an underlying level of uncertainty as well. It seemed for every example one way there was another to prove the opposite. Lawyers in health and safety must be having an interesting time of it at the moment.

Alex took to the stage for his first speech as chief executive. His overriding message was one that our role should be to “inform, not hinder” in these processes of change. He then introduced Gordon MacDonald, HSE programme director and a big draw for attendees as he talked about the fee for intervention proposal. He was direct, clear and honest and tried to cover the concerns the delegates had. Some accepted the cost recovery proposals while others had worries related to smaller business or union reps. Questions to him spilled over into lunch and he readily accepted the bombardment.

I chaired the afternoon session which was given over to discussions related to current health and safety challenges in participants’ sectors. Speaking from the stage and sharing their issues and practices were Ros Seal from the ODA; Paul Haxell from Bovis Homes; Chris Craggs from McFarlane Telfer; and Zerxes Ginwalla from Searcy’s.

So many interesting points were made and experiences shared here that it was a pity there was little time for more discussion. However, I made a huge list of notes and exploratory questions that I am not going to simply cast aside.

This conference was about discussing changes and their likely impact; but more importantly than that, it was about sharing what people already do to make workplaces safer and healthier. From Ros talking about motivation to Chris noting the impact of positive feeling; form Paul explaining their ‘show don’t tell’ policy to Zerxes revealing the challenges of training a multicultural workforce – they all had messages of helping, bettering, evolving.

And that’s what I have taken away with me from Wednesday: that those delegates, whether they agree with everything said and debated or not, are there to make positive changes in people’s work lives; that throughout changes and ups and downs, they work to make sure that workers go home safe and healthy at the end of the day.

We shall remember them

27 Apr

Although the key aim of good health and safety management is preventing people from being killed or injured in the first place, it is an inescapable fact that every day across the world scores of people die in workplace accidents and many thousands more are seriously injured or made ill – often as a direct result of their employer’s negligence.

It is vitally important that these people – and the terrible fates that have befallen them – are remembered, not just because we should always commemorate the dead in some way, but also because the very act of commemorating people who have been killed at work provides a sharp reminder to us all to strive to make every workplace – and every job – safer and healthier.

Tomorrow provides a chance for everyone – from employers to shop floor workers – to do just that since Thursday 28th April is International Workers’ Memorial Day. The day, which is marked around the world, commemorates the many thousands of people who have died, been injured or made ill by their work, and will see bereaved families, workers, trade unions and employers in most countries organising events, demonstrations and vigils to “remember the dead – but fight for the living”.

In the UK, there will be rallies and wreath-laying events in many major towns and cities, and for those of us nearby and able to attend, these provide a chance to pay our respects and perhaps reflect on what else can be done to protect both ourselves and others who could find themselves in danger at work. However, the easiest and most common way for people to mark the day is hold a minute’s silence at work – ideally at 12pm, or if not, at an appropriate time.

So if you – or your boss – has forgotten about the significance of 28th April – the date chosen for Workers’ Memorial Day each year – there is still time to pay your respects to the fallen, in the simplest possible way.

For more details on Workers’ Memorial Day, including a full list of planned events, go to:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_196896

“The changing health and safety landscape”

13 Apr

The British Safety Council is putting the final touches to the programme for its conference, “The changing health and safety landscape”, taking place in London on 6 July. The conference will explore three main themes : the likely impact of the government’s plans for health and safety reform; an update of developments concerning health and safety law including implications of those developments for directors and senior managers, and; the likely implications for our member organisations of HSE budget reductions and the planned changes in HSE’s and local authority inspection priorities.

The conference, which will be held at the CBI’s Centre Point offices, will be structured to ensure that those attending have the opportunity to pose questions, concerns and share their experiences surrounding the challenges the management of health and safety poses for their respective organisations.  We have invited Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, who is leading the government’s review of our health and safety regulatory framework, to deliver the keynote presentation.  Confirmed speakers include : Steve Pointer, Director of Health and Safety EEF, Dan Shears, Health & Safety Adviser GMB union, Mark Tyler, Partner & Solicitor Shook, Hardy & Bacon ILLP, Louis Wustemann, Editor Health and Safety at Work and Lynda Armstrong, Chairman of the British Safety Council.  A number of our 2011 International Safety Award distinction winners will be contributing to the round table discussions.

Full programme and registration arrangements will appear on the Events pages of the British Safety Council website shortly.