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  7. Health and Safety Relies Primarily Upon People

Health and Safety Relies Primarily Upon People

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In order to prevent accidents which can cause injuries, ill-health or even death to employees, a company/employer can introduce certain safety measures and safeguards which are designed to prevent such a circumstance from coming about. However, even with all of the safety measures, safeguards and precautions in the world, the health and safety of workers relies primarily upon the actions (or inactions) of people.

Safeguards should not be used in isolation to prevent incidents. Instead, the best form of defence against such a situation occurring is to have a well-trained workforce in health and safety matters and working safely. This can be either through accredited qualifications including the NEBOSH General Certificate or IOSH Managing Safely courses, or training on a specific topic, for example manual handling training or COSHH (hazardous substances) training. By having a workforce who can not only recognise the potential dangers that they could encounter in the workplace, but can also actively work towards making the place of work safer, the likelihood of an accident happening will be greatly reduced.

So just as people can be a company's greatest asset when it comes to achieving sales and providing good customer service, so too are they the foundation and primary reason for an accident occurring or not occurring in the workplace. They are the ones who can address the factors which may lead up to a situation taking place, and must take suitable precautions not only to safeguard their own health and safety but also the safety and welfare of those around them too.

Staff Responsibilities Towards Health and Safety

As a member of staff, it's vital that you and all other team members are kept abreast of the importance of health and safety, particularly moving forward. There is no excuse anymore for a lack of health and safety in the workplace and therefore it's the responsibility of everyone to come together and make this problem something that is consigned to the past.

Whilst the management team will lay out the protocol for risk management and other vital health and safety features, it's the job of every staff member to adhere to this plan every day. As is taught on the syllabus of the NEBOSH General Certificate course both managers and employees have health and safety responsibilities and expectations for creating a safe and healthy place in which to work.

Health and safety in work is no laughing matter; it has to be respected and used as a barometer of the success of any business. Whilst staff should expect a certain level of health and safety from the company they also need to contribute to this record themselves. To get this right, though, the level of learning and change that has to take place can be quite a challenge. The reward, though, is that you can get through your work on a daily basis and help get things managed and prepared.

Along with the legal and moral expectations of managers, workers always have a duty to take care of their own health and their own safety when onsite and this will never change. All staff must co-operate with the employer and their rulings about health of safety otherwise people - staff, management, customers - can be compromised and put in danger.

To get through this stage, attending an accredited health and safety course and passing an examination or assessment will not only teach employees a great deal of knowledge but their completion of the assessment(s) will prove that they have retained that knowledge. This and additional training on specific topics such as permit to work training will help ensure that safety protocols are better understood and more easy (and more likely) to be followed properly.

If you are unsure about the specific requirements of your business it would be best to actually speak with the employer or a management team member to learn these problems. It will make your life so much easier, and help you get things moving forward.

If you want to play a prominent role within a business in the future you need to play by the rules with regards to health and safety. Work with the senior members of staff and learn the importance of health and safety first. Then, you can start to promote this activity to others in the workplace. When you are part of a workforce or a team you all need to be working together and in harmony; this includes ensuring everyone knows their roles when it comes to staying healthy, safe and happy at work.

Health and Safety Worker Buy-in

In order to be believed and "bought into" by workers, the commitment to company health & safety and well-being of workers needs to be demonstrated high up at board room and director level. This could take the form of a board member being made responsible for promoting and integrating a proactive health and safety strategy throughout the company and its working practices.

Only through consistently applying the principles into all aspects of the workplace, making sure that all of the decisions made at board level have considered the effects on workers health and well-being, will workers begin to believe that the company is truly concerned with the safety and welfare of its employees, over and above the minimum requirements demanded by applicable health and safety legislation.

Creating this kind of working environment will serve to improve the morale of workers as they feel that they are valued by the organisation they work for and that they have their best interests at heart. In return, workers are more likely to not only give more effort in return whilst they are at work, but it should also lead to less staff absenteeism (and so fewer lost working days), along with a reduction in staff turnover levels as workers have less desire to leave and seek better conditions elsewhere. This helps to avoid the related costs of recruitment, but can be particularly advantageous if the employees work in a sensitive area, such as the research and development department of a firm, where their defection to a competitor could see them take their knowledge with them.

A number of health and safety courses are pitched at director level, specifically the IOSH Leading Safely course. These courses help directors and senior managers who wish to raise their awareness of health and safety legislation and their particular responsibilities with regards to health and safety and health and safety training of others within their organisation.

Health and Safety is More Effective When Workers are Involved

A common mistake in many organisations involves managers and directors deciding upon all aspects of health and safety within the business without any consultation with employees whatsoever. This usually comes about as a combination of management knowing that they have legal responsibilities for the health and safety of their employees, and the fact that they are so used to giving instructions with little or no discussion with workers.

Health and safety issues however are slightly different in that as the whole topic has the objective of keeping workers safe and free from harm whilst conducting their workplace duties, it will therefore be necessary for them to be consulted. Workers who spend all of their time on the shop floor where the majority of dangers exist will have a much greater understanding of the possible health risks and potential for accidents than managers who rarely venture down from a nice, comfortable office.

An argument which some managers put forward is that consulting with all of the workers will take a lot of time and will likely result in meetings with lots of conflicting and contrasting points of view. Large meetings may descend into shouting matches where little if anything meaningful actually comes out of it. When there are lots of people needing guidance and instruction, sometimes it is better for management just to make the decision and inform workers what they expect to happen.

A much better idea though is for middle managers, supervisors and team leaders to conduct smaller-scale safety meetings just with those teams for which they are directly responsible for, and then convey the findings up the chain of command. These meetings with different sections of the workplace can all happen at the same time, and enables senior managers and directors to hear all of the most pressing concerns by receiving them from the middle managers in a much more organised manner than trying to listen to everybody in one gigantic meeting. Also if the same points are being made in each of the different meetings, management will know that it is a particular area of concern which needs attention.

This approach is frequently put to good use by large companies, with safety representatives elected to be the bridge between workers and managers when it comes to matters related to health and safety. Workers in these companies often have increased morale if they feel that management actually listens to their suggestions and that concerns are taken seriously. Just having safety representatives for workers to talk to will not be enough though; it will need to be backed up by positive action by management which increases safety levels within the businesses such as the timely rectification of issues which arise, e.g. the replacement of personal protective equipment (ppe) which is starting to get past its best.

Communication can also work the other way. When management decide to provide health and safety training courses like the NEBOSH General Certificate to workers many will wonder why they need to receive such training. Communicating this information down through middle managers and supervisors can convey this message, rather than just issuing a command from the top without explanation.

Health Surveillance of Workers

As part of their duty of care towards employees, managers need to ensure that they perform regular surveillance of their workers. This is to observe and identify health conditions which may be caused by and/or affect their ability to work safely, such as using machinery which has the potential to seriously injure themselves or those around them.

The Danger from Hazardous Substances

This possibility exists in just about every industry, but is a particular concern in those industries where workers will frequently encounter hazardous substances as they go about their duties, either through actively using the substances as part of their job, or encountering them as a by-product of the tasks they perform, e.g. dust from drilling or paint fumes.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations, or COSHH for short, have been put into place in order to ensure the health and safety of workers. These regulations make it mandatory for employers to take steps to prevent harm coming to their employees as a consequence of them coming into contact with substances which can be harmful to their health.

Even with such suitable precautions in place, it is still necessary for employers to monitor employees to identify any signs associated with illness caused by the substances involved. Not only will managers and supervisors need to be suitably trained themselves so that they know about the changes and signs that signal the beginnings of an illness related to the substances, but they also need to ensure that sufficient monitoring of workers takes place. Even with all suitable precautions taken, procedures put in place and safety controls enacted in the workplace, there is still always the potential for these measures not to be 100% effective, making it vitally important that consistent health monitoring takes place to notice any signs of illnesses related to the substances as soon as possible. Identifying illnesses early may make all the difference between a complete recovery and a life-shortening illness.

Not just COSHH

Hazardous substances are by no means the only risks to health and safety which need monitoring by managers and supervisors. The effects of other conditions such as workplace stress, psychological trauma (e.g. witnessing an accident to a colleague), alcohol and substance abuse, persistent loud noise etc all need to be looked out for as a worker who is suffering from such issues may not only have their own health and safety at risk, but might also put their fellow workers at risk if they were to cause an accident to take place. The dangers from hazardous substances and these other conditions are all covered on a NEBOSH General Certificate course such as is their importance. It is crucial that managers are aware of such risks, with health and safety training courses like the NEBOSH General Certificate being suitable for both managers and workers alike.

Supervision and Health & Safety Training

New workers present some of the most likely risks when it comes to health and safety; not only to themselves but also potentially to those nearby as their actions (or inactions if they fail to do something) can cause a significant incident such as an explosion or a fire which obviously endangers the health and wellbeing of those unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity at the time. As well as providing health and safety training to them before they start in the workplace along with regular refresher training courses, it can often be a good idea for them to receive supervision initially from a more experienced worker who will be able to intervene should the new employee look like making a mistake which can jeopardise the safety of people nearby or indeed their own.

It is necessary that the person doing the supervision not only has the experience but is also suitable for acting as a supervisor. If they themselves are easily distracted or are not thorough in their checking and supervision they may miss a mistake or error which could potentially have catastrophic consequences both financially and/or with regards to the health and safety of people. The supervisor also needs to be the type of person who adheres to and takes health and safety rules and regulations seriously, not to mention following procedures correctly, otherwise they may pass on these bad working habits to the person they are supervising, which could lead to them endangering themselves or others at a later date when they are no longer being supervised.

How Boredom and Human Error Affects Health and Safety

The motivation of employees can have an effect upon the levels of health and safety within an organisation. The extent to which a person is highly motivated or contrastingly not very motivated at all will have a significant impact upon their attitude not only to their work/productivity but also upon their commitment to complying with health and safety regulations and the particular policies of the company.

A person who is not very motivated or stimulated by their work is likely to suffer greatly from boredom, which subsequently creates the potential for lapses in health and safety as the worker will probably not be concentrating fully on the task in hand or machinery and giving it their full attention. This lack of vigilance and awareness provides the perfect environment for mistakes to be made or procedures not followed to cause an incident which poses a risk to the health, safety and welfare of either themselves or of those around them.

Human error is linked to boredom as the two often go hand in hand for the reasons described in the above paragraph. However mistakes and human error can happen at anytime even to the most stimulated and dedicated of workers, so is certainly by no means only attributable to those who are bored at work, but it is a fact that mistakes are more likely to be made by those who are not fully committed and focusing on the job in hand.

Whilst some courses focus specifically on how to do certain tasks safely, some health and safety training courses and qualifications such as the NEBOSH General Certificate look at the psychological and human factors that can contribute to levels of health and safety within an organisation. Please click here to read more information regarding the NEBOSH General Certificate and to see scheduled open course dates.

Health and Safety Dangers Not Just Caused by Employees

When considering the potential dangers which may face employees, i.e. when performing a risk assessment, many managers will focus on the processes and activities of the company and how they may cause injury or illness to a person. After all, these are the actions which they will be performing day-in, day-out as they go about their workplace duties, and so it is important that they are safe whilst undertaking them. This is achieved through health and safety training to ensure that they have a suitable level of knowledge to operate the machinery and/or carry out their task safely without endangering themselves or others, along with introducing safety procedures and guards which are well-maintained.

The Need to Consider Unlikely But Possible Health and Safety Dangers

Whilst it is imperative to pay a lot of attention to these tasks as they are probably the most likely to cause an injury or illness to a person as these are the ones which they will be performing every day, it is also crucial that health and safety managers do not focus solely on "the normal" and contemplate potential dangers from unlikely but potential events such as a fire or massive power failure for example. Although every single possible eventuality cannot conceivably be considered and prepared for, managers should try and plan for as many as possible, making sure that not only do they have all reasonably practical measures in place to maintain the health and wellbeing of their employees and anyone else who may be affected by the incident and the influence it can have on an element of the company's operations or situation (e.g. damage to dangerous equipment, interactions of hazardous substances which are normally well segregated), but also that suitable emergency and contingency plans have been made in anticipation of an incident. This will help in limiting the damage done to the health and safety of people, of property, and of the surrounding environment.

It is Not Just Employees Who Can Affect Health and Safety

As alluded to in the paragraphs above, health and safety focus should not be trained solely on the normal operations of the company. Nor should it only be considered with regards to what those working on the premises all the time are involved with. Good health and safety planning should also take into account the activities of other people aside from employees who may have an effect and influence regarding the safety (or lack of) everyone around. The most notable examples of these types of people are site visitors and other members of the public who should not be there, i.e. trespassers.

Everybody who enters the site can negatively influence the safety of others through their actions or presence. Some examples include:

i) Visitors who are walking around the place of work, such as a construction site, without wearing the required high-visibility jackets. This can make them difficult for site vehicle drivers to see until they are close up to them, by which time it may be necessary to take avoiding action by swerving. Not only does it put the lives of the visitors and the driver of the vehicle at risk, but can also cause a large-scale incident if the vehicle was carrying hazardous/combustible items. Visitors need to be made aware of the health and safety procedures and requirements of the place they are visiting, but also need to be supervised to make sure that they do not wander off to an area where they should not be or touch something which they shouldn't.

ii) Delivery drivers often bring large quantities of potentially dangerous material onto site, with the potential for an accident which affects a large number of people. See the article "Health and Safety Dangers During Deliveries" for more on this.

iii) Trespassers on the site can not only cause damage but are highly likely to put themselves in danger of harm by messing with equipment. It can also endanger workers who may come back the following morning and not realise that a machine has been tampered with and the safety guard compromised for example. Children and young people are the most likely culprits for trespassing on the site, and it is important that secure perimeter fencing and gates are in place, not to mention parents and schools education children on the dangers of trespassing on a site.

How to Reduce the Chances of Human Error Risking Health and Safety

No humans are infallible, with everybody having the potential to make mistakes. These human errors can cause either minor or major accidents and incidents which pose a danger to either the person themselves and/or everybody around them. Although the chances of a mistake happening can never to totally reduced to zero, there are many steps which can be taken that can greatly reduce the potential for mistakes to be made and the subsequent negative consequences that follow.

First off, providing health and safety training to employees will vastly increase their knowledge and awareness of the risks that are present whilst they perform their job, enabling them to avoid these. Training on how to perform specific actions or operate particular pieces of machinery or equipment will also significantly reduce the chances of them making an error whilst using it.

Secondly, risk assessments can be performed which should identify the potential for errors to occur. Once these have been determined, steps can be taken and new measures introduced with the intention of reducing the chances of these errors happening.

Companies need to look at factors such as the design of the workplace, the equipment used, the working environment such as the amount of noise or lighting levels, and company policies such as the number of hours worked by employees. If possible, complicated procedures should be simplified to reduce the potential for a mistake to be make somewhere in the sequence, as well as providing adequate supervision for new or inexperienced workers who are doing a task which has the potential to cause extensive damage or harm if something goes wrong.

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