Is ‘Health & Safety’ Such A Dirty Word?

  Is ‘Health and Safety’ such a dirty word?

What do you think when I say the words ‘Health and Safety’?  If you’re anything like the people who come on our health and safety courses, often under duress, you cringe. But why?! Health and     Safety has been in the workplace for all my working life and I’m sure for most of yours, particularly after the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974.

I always ask my course attendees what they think health and safety is what they think about it. The answers usually contain a lot of expletives and are too rude to publish but the general perception  is that health and safety actually prevents people from doing their job and is overly restrictive. In a lot of cases and professions that can be true but that is not the intention of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act and its associated regulations. The act is actually quite open to interpretation and allows employers and employees to make their own health and safety judgements in the workplace.

So what is the problem with health and safety?

Employers, and some so-called health and safety “professionals”, are the main reason why health and safety gets such bad press. Health and safety is often used as an excuse not to do something, or is blamed for restrictions in the workplace. So, an employer may say that a new toaster can’t be installed in the canteen because of health and safety restrictions, or an employee refuses to carry out a task because it would breach health and safety regulations.

The real reason is a resistance to change. When the employee campaigning for the new toaster is told that it’s not possible due to health and safety regulations, they believe it because that’s what their health and safety manager is telling them. Why wouldn’t you believe that? However, the health and safety manager is telling them that because that’s what they think will cover them and keep them out of court, rather than fully understanding health and safety legislation and making a decision based on that, rather than what will cover their backs.

Almost all employers will tell you that health and safety is a “top priority” and that they take it “very seriously”. The reality in a lot of cases is very different. Let’s take the security industry as an example. Most security employers would describe themselves as health and safety conscious and yet the majority of security companies I have dealt with don’t understand why their security officers need manual handling training.

Why would they need manual handling training? Because as soon as a security officer deals with a trespasser or troublemaker and has to physically remove them from their premises, they are doing manual handling! Manual handling actually covers “loads including that of a person”. Now you may think that is daft, but is it? If you worked in a warehouse and you injured your back lifting a heavy box, you’d look to your employer, blame them for the lack of training you’ve had, and then pursue a compensation claim. So why not if you injure yourself on a Saturday night, removing a person from your night club?

Despite what people might say, it’s not “part of the job”. It is a foreseeable risk and therefore employers are duty bound to provide information, instruction and training to protect you.

How does your employer fair in the health and safety stakes?

One of the most common health and safety breaches that I come across working with security operatives is when they tell me that they want stab resistant vests but they are not issued by their employer, who tells them that if they want one, they must provide their own. That is a breach of section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which says that employees cannot be expected to pay for or contribute towards items that they need to protect themselves at work.

It is also open to a number of other potential breaches including section 2 of the 1974 act, because the employer is not providing a safe place of work and then, if they haven’t done any risk assessments, a breach of section 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. How many of you have paid for, or been asked to contribute towards your own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

Employers MUST do an assessment of risk in the workplace. Any significant risk assessment findings should be made available to employees. How can you prepare for risk if you don’t know what has been recorded?

As a company we are privy to monthly health and safety court circulars. Most of the companies that end up in court are there because they are in breach of section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. So they didn’t take the health and safety of their employees too seriously did they?

Is it all just Mumbo Jumbo?

I’m not trying to baffle you with legislation and sections and regulations. I want you to have a safe working environment. That’s not a lot to ask of your employer. SPP Solutions Ltd provides the widely sought after Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Managing Safely course and all our students who have attended have found it a real eye opener. The message we want to get across is that health and safety is there to protect everyone but when it’s not taken seriously or not properly understood, it’s normally the workers who end up suffering in the short term and the employer in the long term, when they have been caught and end up in court.

The punishment for health and safety failure

Over the past few years there have been some significant legislative changes in the UK with regards to health and safety. Firstly in January 2009 a piece of legislation was introduced called the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008. What this has done is increased the powers of the magistrates courts when dealing with health and safety failure, and allowed them to increase penalty fines. Before this act the maximum fine that could be imposed in the magistrate’s court was £5,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment. Now the maximum fine that can be awarded is £20,000 and/or 1 year imprisonment.

The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 sets out to:

(a) raise the maximum fine which may be imposed in the lower courts to £20,000 for most health and safety offences;

(b) make imprisonment an option for more health and safety offences in both the lower and higher courts;

(c) make certain offences, which are currently triable only in the lower courts, triable in either the lower or higher courts.

The other piece of significant legislation is the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. This was introduced because of the monumental management failing that led to accidents like the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster, the Clapham rail crash and the Potters Bar rail crash, to name but a few. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 is a landmark in law. For the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures, resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

Anthony Scrivenor QC, said in an address to businessmen in June of 2000

“They are out to get you and that is the clear message you should take back with you from this meeting to your boardroom. If you ignore the trend then you do so at your peril.” 

Health and safety is in place to protect everyone and ensure we can do our jobs safely. If you have any Health and safety queries then please call us. We’re happy to answer your questions and look at your Health and Safety training needs.



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