Checks and Monitoring for Health and Safety
A significant element of all health and safety training courses and health and safety in general is (rightly so) concerned with identifying hazards and making them safe before a person is adversely affected. Prevention is far more preferable than reacting to an accident, as often the consequences of such an incident will stay with the person for the rest of their lives in the form of either the physical scars or loss of limbs, or psychological trauma after experiencing or witnessing a bad accident. Even so, checks and monitoring after such precautions have been put into place are still a critical requirement for effective health and safety in the workplace.
Why are Checks and Monitoring so Important?
With the need to spend so much time and effort beforehand in doing as much as is reasonably practical to prevent harm from coming to employees, site visitors and members of the public nearby, it would be understandable to think that the job is then done and that no more attention needs to be paid to the topic of safety and health. The truth is though that checks and monitoring are just as important as the initial preventative steps.
The Importance of Supervision for Health and Safety
A large number of incidents and accidents in the workplace come about through a lack of knowledge regarding the potential dangers which exist whilst performing a certain task or working in a particular location. Often this will be due to a lack of suitable health and safety training being provided to them which comprehensively explains these potential risks, and teaches the correct methods of working safely so as to avoid getting into a situation which could be potentially damaging to their health and safety or that of others nearby.
A group of workers which is particularly at risk are young people who have had very little experience of working in a particular industry. Older individuals who have been working in the industry for many years are likely to have picked up useful advice and information for staying safe and avoiding coming to/avoiding causing harm, although this is by no means an alternative for providing health and safety training as this information they have picked up themselves from their experience may be incorrect or incomplete.
When young workers or those who have spent their career in a completely different industry and have no experience of working in this particular type of business are involved, not only is health and safety training an absolute must but so is an appropriate level of supervision.
What is an Appropriate Level of Supervision?
The amount of supervision which will be required to ensure a suitable level of safety will depend greatly upon a number of different factors including:
- The particular dangers present in the workplace
- The potential scope and scale which an incident could cause, in terms of both the danger to health and the likely radius and area size affected
- The experience level of the individual as well as how much safety training they have had in the past
- The personal attitude and characteristics of the person. For instance, are they sensible and willing to do things by the book, or do they have a reputation for showing off and being reckless?
A manager will need to determine the level of supervision required, if any, based on these factors. They also need to recognise that competency only comes through a combination of aspects such as suitable training, experience in that particular job role and industry, and the person's attitude towards safety and the task itself. Whilst assigning another worker to supervise a colleague when they perform an undertaking will stop that person from producing anything, it can often be necessary in order to prevent a serious accident whilst the individual they are supervising gets up to speed and increases their competency at the task, and hopefully to a level of ability which soon allows them to perform the task on their own in the future without the need for supervision.
Refinement is Usually Required
For starters, there is no guarantee (and it is probably quite unlikely) that the initial safety policies, precautions and procedures are absolutely and completely as effective as they could be. There will usually be at least one issue which needs amending slightly, which would not be done if things were given no more attention after the initial introduction. The safest places of work are those where processes and safety features are continually evaluated and refined in order to improve them.
Health and safety in the workplace is always an on-going process, and can never be declared as finished. Even after completing all necessary steps like performing risk assessments, writing health and safety policies, providing health and safety training to members of staff etc it is still of critical importance that effective monitoring systems are put into place not only to ensure that the controls that have been introduced are doing what they should be in terms of keeping people safe and preventing accidents, but also to ensure that any changes in the workplace have not made any existing safety controls redundant and introduced new risks which were not previously dealt with by the original measures.
Another reason for monitoring to take place as a person does a job is because some problems and issues only become apparent after a certain amount of time has elapsed. The most obvious example of this is manual handling issues where the operator may feel perfectly fine when they first start a task but after a little time start to become uncomfortable and experience pain. It will then be necessary for the task, load or workstation to be altered and adapted in some way.
A job will also need to be monitored carefully whenever a new starter begins, as the safety measures which were in place to suit one person may not be suitable for another, e.g. the protective equipment may have been tailored to the specifications of the previous employee and do not fit the new person. If this is the case it may not provide the protection that is required or expected.
A Changed Workplace Needs Updated Safety Information
Secondly, the fact that workplaces are constantly changing means that health and safety features need to change with them. Not only will new layouts and new machinery facilitate the need for health and safety training in order to make workers aware of the dangers associated with these changed conditions, but there also exists the possibility that out-of-date information which is no longer relevant actually places workers in danger. For example, previous training which informed workers to go to one location to assemble in the event of an emergency evacuation could place themselves or others in danger if this has moved somewhere else. Not only can it cause damage to the health of people, but it could also lead to destruction of the surrounding environment also.
Machinery and Safety Equipment Need to be Monitored
A large percentage of workplace accidents are caused by damaged or defective equipment and machinery. Frequent checks and monitoring of such equipment needs to be made to discover evidence of deterioration before it compromises the effectiveness of the protection or causes the machine to injure or kill anybody in the vicinity. It may be necessary in some circumstances to replace certain equipment at regular intervals even if it shows little or no sign of breaking anytime soon in order to ensure that it will not malfunction unexpectedly.
In today's technologically-advanced times many businesses rely on sensors linked to computers to monitor machinery and equipment for problems. These sensors can detect abnormalities with regards to many different criteria such as temperature or pressure levels for example, and can either alert personnel to the potential danger or can initiate an automatic shutdown or corrective measures to prevent the situation deteriorating further into a fully-blown accident or incident which poses a danger to the health and safety of everyone nearby. This includes both direct employees of the company as well as anybody who happens to be in the surrounding area if it is a particularly major incident such as a large explosion.
Unfortunately this reliance upon technology is not totally foolproof. Whilst there is no denying that advances in technology, sensors, computers and its associated detection methods has been a tremendous asset in the fight against accidents and has prevented countless disasters, any technologically has the potential to malfunction or fail, and it is for this reason that there is no substitute for human checks and inspections. By doing this, potential problems caused by damage or other such issues which may not have been detected by the sensors can be identified. It may be the case that the sensors have been damaged in a separate or related incident.
Just as technology cannot be relied upon totally, so too should human checks not be the sole source of detecting issues. Relying on one approach opens the door for things to be missed, whereas making use of technology in conjunction with manual, human inspections provides a far greater chance of issues being identified and rectified before they have chance to bring about a devastating accident which can jeopardise the health, safety and wellbeing of everybody in the vicinity.
So whether it is refining and improving upon health and safety measures, maintaining the safety of machines, ensuring that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) does what it should, or providing employees with up-to-date knowledge and information, it is vital that checks and monitoring take place continuously in order to keep workers, the public and the environment safe from harm.
Personal Factors Affecting Health and Safety
Personal factors are those which relate to a particular individual and can have an effect on how they act and behave. This obviously has repercussions for overall health and safety as factors such as their attitude, motivation and ability to do the task will all influence the way they work and how.
Whilst some personal factors may be ingrained into the person's character and be extremely difficult or even impossible to change, there will be others which can be influenced. For example their knowledge of how to safely operate a piece of machinery can be changed and improved by providing them with health and safety training or attending courses to gain a qualification like the NEBOSH General Certificate, IOSH Managing Safely or SMSTS course. Similarly their motivation can be positively or negatively affected by a multitude of company-specific influences and policies, many of which can often be fairly trivial but have a cumulative effect on motivation and morale, such as the amount of breaks or policies such as no eating on the premises. Whilst the effect of these things on health and safety may not be immediately obvious, a more highly motivated workforce is likely to pay much more attention to what is going on around them and take the time to report issues such as broken personal protective equipment to management rather than just simply ignoring it because they cannot be bothered. This leads to a good health and safety culture within the business and subsequently a reduced chance of an accident occurring.
Health and Safety of Pregnant Workers
You're about to wrap-up a normal workday when an employee formally notifies you that she is expecting. At first, naturally you congratulate her and extend the normal formalities. After she leaves, however, you panic. You perform regular risk assessments and feel like you know what you're doing when it comes to employee health and safety but somehow protecting pregnant mothers slipped through your radar. Fortunately, if you did your last risk assessment correctly, you've already prepared for the situation, but if not, here are the basics.
Protecting pregnant workers begins before the pregnancy. During your risk assessments, you should be identifying anything in the workplace that can affect fertility or that poses a particular risk to workers of childbearing age so you can properly notify workers in advance and take appropriate action. You should already have identified any potential risks in your last assessment but if this isn't already part of your risk assessment process, it is worth adding it so you are prepared when you need to be and can merely review your assessment instead of starting from the beginning.
Avoid general hazards. In general long hours, night work, stress, noise, toxic substances, radiation, manual handling, and vibration all post a risk to pregnant employees in particular and should be carefully considered while reevaluating your risk assessment. If you see any of these hazards in your workplace you are required by law to either give the employee alternative work which removes this hazard or give her time-off from work with full-pay.
Avoid specific hazards. Hospitals have different hazards than battery factories and are going to require different workplace precautions. In the same way, different women have different needs during their pregnancies that will need to be taken into consideration. If your employee is suffering from morning sickness, it might be in the best interest of both of you to arrange for her to come into work later or agree not to schedule meetings first thing in the morning. Dialoguing with your employee from the very beginning of her pregnancy is important to make sure that you are creating a workplace health and safety plan that will work well for both of you.
Don't forget a rest area. Pregnant workers should be provided with a rest space, preferably near the restrooms, for breaks. Additionally, you should be expecting these breaks to occur more often as well. The rest area is part of dealing with the requirement to minimise stress on your pregnant worker which is one of the biggest health risks in the workplace (for those who are pregnant as well as for those who are not!).
Dealing with doctors. It is required you give your workers paid leave to receive care leading up to the birth so be prepared to adjust your workweek when necessary. You have the right to proof of the appointments but your employee isn't required to submit it unless asked. Doctors and midwifes may provide notes relating to the needs of specific employees which you will have to adhere to so be prepared to adjust your plan to accommodate those needs. Once again, if you can't follow the doctor's orders, you'll need to give your employees paid leave so you don't violate their health and safety rights.
Although pregnancy can be disruptive, women in the modern era have repeatedly proven that it doesn't have to be. Whether you look at actress Amy Poehler who worked the day she delivered or tech executive Sheryl Sandberg who pumped breast milk during business calls, women today seem to be interested in finding ways to work with their employers to create an environment that works during and after pregnancy. Being prepared for pregnant workers isn't a matter of creating a whole new plan but merely a matter of caring for the health and safety of your pregnant employees the same way you would care for any other employee. If you are aware of the specific hazards of your workplace environment then knowing how to accommodate for the safety of pregnant workers should be a fairly simple procedure. If you can stay flexible and minimise the stress risks in your workplace, you can go a long way toward helping your employee have the best possible pregnancy she can have.