Many Groups Have Health and Safety Responsibilities when Changes are Made
Risks to worker safety and health will be present at all times, although these risks will be minimised to varying degrees depending upon a number of factors such as the quality of health and safety training provided to them or the attitude of management in terms of how seriously they take worker safety. We have already seen in articles like "Why a Health and Safety Policy is Likely to Soon Need Changes" that a workplace is a constantly changing environment and that policies and procedures need to be continuously updated as a result. Without such updates these safety features not only run the risk of being obsolete and effectively useless, but can in fact have the polar opposite of their intention and actually increase the potential for incidents due to the out-of-date information. If for example an emergency assembly area has been moved, workers who are not aware of the change could assemble at the original site, where they may be in harm's way.
When changes are made to the layout of the workspace or the introduction of new machinery for example, a number of different groups/people will have responsibilities for ensuring that there is as little danger posed by it as is reasonably practical to do so.
The first group will be the designers. Whether it is a new piece of equipment, a modification of the site design or an alteration to the layout of employee's individual workspaces, the first opportunity for eliminating and reducing potential hazards comes in the design phase. When being designed, possible dangers can be identified and dealt with before they ever become a reality. The introduction of Computer Aided Design (CAD) has greatly increased the ability of designers and architects to test and identify potential flaws and dangers at the concept stage.
Quality Materials and Machinery
Once designed, the materials will need to be sourced or the equipment itself will need to be purchased. The quality of these respective items will play a big part in the avoidance and prevention of an accident. Purchased machinery, particularly second-hand equipment which has been poorly maintained, is defective, or is simply not suitable for the tasks intended for it will significantly increase the risks to those using it and possibly to others nearby as well. Similarly, machinery which is being constructed or is being fixed into place will require strong enough materials and fixings to prevent a risk to health from instability.
After installation the next phase will be a thorough testing of the new apparatus. This will ensure that not only does it work correctly and as anticipated, but more importantly that there are no unforeseen risks to health, safety and wellbeing which were not picked up during the design and planning stage and have only become apparent now that it is actually in place and operating in a test environment. Obviously the health and safety of the testers also needs to be considered and provisioned for.
When all the checks and testing has been successfully completed and the machinery or equipment is ready to begin normal operation, those authorised to operate it will need to have been trained in how to use it correctly and safely, and what to do in the event of an emergency situation. This training needs to be performed and completed before the machinery is used, i.e. it should not be half complete when it is first operated as an emergency could arise at any time, and may be quite high for brand new equipment which has had very little running time. To avoid delays, the company should train future operatives whilst the machinery is being constructed or installed so that their training is complete when it is ready to run.
Monitoring is an often underappreciated but essential element of health and safety in the workplace. Comprehensive monitoring and regular checks can identify problems before they create an accident which causes ill-health or injury to a person or the surrounding environment. It is imperative therefore that enough resources are allocated for this function.
Performing regular maintenance on machinery and equipment not only prolongs its life and maintains its efficiency, but also reduces the probability of a malfunction which endangers health and safety (when this maintenance is performed by a suitably qualified technician of course).
Unfortunately some potential hazards may only become apparent after machinery has been operating for some time. For example, low-level but constant noise or vibrations may be causing health and wellbeing issues for staff members. There may also be slight amendments which can be enacted to further improve and refine efficiency. All of this makes evaluation a critical part of the change process.