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  7. Health and Safety Risks from Other Nearby Premises

Health and Safety Risks from Other Nearby Premises

An aerial view of an oil refinery and factory

The overwhelming majority of health and safety training courses, literature and general thinking revolves around the actions of the company's employees and what they have done or failed to do which has then led to an accident. This is obviously understandable, as the vast majority of incidents which affect the health, safety and well-being of employees in a company are actually caused by a person working for that company. However it should also be remembered that health and safety risks can also be created by other companies situated nearby, and provisions for this eventuality need to be made accordingly.

Businesses in similar industries tend to locate next to each other, often to share infrastructure such as railway lines and water sources for instance. This means that a company which has large quantities of hazardous substances on-site like gas or oil will often be surrounded by other companies which also have similar quantities of this material too. As such, any fire or explosion which happens to take place at one of these companies can produce a chain reaction which causes further explosions and fire as the substances stored on the other locations ignite.

In this case, not only do managers and employees have responsibility for the health and safety of themselves and their fellow colleagues within their own organisation, but their actions can also have a bearing on everybody working or visiting the other companies located next to them. Whilst health and safety training will be the primary weapon in tackling the potential for disastrous incidents to occur, other precautions which can be taken include the introduction of safety controls which close automatically and prevent any further flow or release of hazardous liquids or gases.

Site Collaboration

Another highly advisable initiative is for managers of all the companies in the location to get together every so often to have a discussion about how they can make the whole area safer. The way this is done will depend greatly upon the type of industry in question and substances present, but can include suggestions such as joint funding of new infrastructure such as emergency access roads, better segregation between neighbouring premises to limit the possible spread of fire, and possible sharing of ideas and safety features in order to make each individual premises safer and ultimately less likely to cause an incident which ends up affecting all of the others located next to it. It is in everyone's interest to avoid an accident on the site, which is why collaboration and co-operation regarding health and safety measures is so highly recommended and encouraged.

Are Staff Prepared for Health and Safety Risks From Nearby Sites?

Health and Safety Dangers Can Come From Other Sites Too

We saw above how there are dangers to the health and safety of employees not only from the activities conducted in their own workplace, but also that of organisations situated in the nearby vicinity such as the same business park.

The Need For Training on What Neighbouring Business Do and the Substances Used

In order to be suitably prepared for health and safety risks from nearby sites, employees need to be suitably trained and taught what the other businesses do, what substances are present on their sites, and the possible hazards associated with them. Following on from this, they will also need to know what to do should an incident occur at one of these premises which subsequently has the possibility to endanger their health and safety.

Staff members will only be aware of this if they are specifically informed of the hazards present on the other sites, and taught the correct procedures for keeping them out of harm such as certain measures like lockdowns or evacuation. Providing general health and safety training and letting staff work out the dangers for themselves will not be sufficient. Even worse, simply hoping that an incident will not happen and not providing any sort of information or training in the correct course of action will similarly put lives and well-being at unnecessary risk.

Collaboration to Improve Health and Safety

Also mentioned above is the need for, and benefits of, collaboration between owners and managers of the different organisations located in the same area. They can then cooperate on putting in place shared safety measures which contribute to the overall safety level of the entire area. Some facilities or safety features can only be constructed if all the owners agree and each provide money for its implementation, such as a night time security patrol of the entire site for instance to prevent trespass and interference with machinery.

Cooperation and improved communication can also significantly decrease the amount of time needed to alert neighbouring premises about an emergency situation and begin any evacuation or other measures which may need to be initiated in order to try and safeguard the health, safety and well-being of everybody in the premises nearby. The more time that is taken to alert others to the dangers present, the less time they will have to react, which will consequently increase the likelihood of some form of harm coming to them.

The Possible Need to Alert Other Properties

Accidents can cause serious injuries or death from the immediate outset, with the energy released in an explosion having the ability to kill instantly if it is large enough. In addition to this immediate risk though is the possibility for harm caused by the disbursement of harmful toxins in the air. This often spreads out over an extremely wide area, carried over large distances by the wind, and can in fact end up causing harm to a far larger number of people than were affected by the initial explosion itself.

Of course, the potential for harm in this manner will depend greatly upon the type of substances involved, as the more toxic the gaseous substances the more harm that will be done, as well as the quantities which are released into the air.

In such a circumstance, speed will be of the essence, as an evacuation of the surrounding area is highly likely to be necessary. Often it will be the emergency services who commence and co-ordinate an evacuation of the area, asking residents to vacate their houses and workers to evacuate their buildings. However, it may be the case that rather than waiting for the emergency services to arrive, assess the situation and carry out the evacuation themselves, the company could be proactive about warning nearby properties about the risks, so long as they do not put themselves in danger. As time can often be of the essence, being proactive about alerting neighbouring properties can end up preventing a lot of harm befalling those living and working nearby. It may be overcautious some of the time, but it is far more preferable to be too cautious rather than not taking action and hoping things do not turn out badly.

Many serious accidents and health and safety incidents have taken place throughout history as a result of people not taking an action and simply assuming or hoping that nothing will go wrong. In order to safeguard the health and safety of everyone, it is essential not only to take suitable precautions, but to proactively take steps to prevent harm coming to anyone. Passivity, apathy and assumptions such as "someone else will do it" are all significant contributors to accidents which bring about injury and ill-health to both workers and members of the public.

The same can be said of failing to alert nearby properties, either believing that the risk probably does not warrant it or assuming that somebody else will do it. Health and safety relies on proactive actions which err on the side of caution. So long as it does not delay the safe evacuation of the incident site and does not put anyone at risk, alerting nearby members of the public to the danger can help to minimise the numbers affected.

How Health and Safety is Important to Local Communities

All around the country there are examples of towns (and even cities) where one company has been the main employer of that location's inhabitants. It is much less common these days compared to a few decades ago when it was quite normal for one business to employ over half the population, especially the men of the town, sometimes with different generations of the same family working together at the same premises.

Even today, whilst there is much more diversity in the labour market, and improvements in transportation infrastructure and internet connections means that people can work further afield or even at home, there will still be many towns where one company is the principal employer for large numbers of workers. This means that what happens at this business can have a significant effect on the local community; either positive or negative, depending upon what happens.

One issue which has always been of tremendous importance to the community is that of health and safety. Even if a person is not injured or made ill themselves, they are likely to feel a greater sense of compassion when it is a tight-knit workforce from the same place where most will know each other out of work or through a friend of a friend. Of course, whilst any accident in the workplace is likely to result in some form of complaint and drop in morale from other workers who will start to worry if the same could happen again but to them this time, these feelings can be heightened when there is a feeling of community versus a single or group of managers. In some cases it can even result in outright protests and strike action.

What it does mean however is that it is sometimes easier to negotiate and discuss matters relating to health and safety when there is a general desire for it amongst the entire workforce. Health and safety training and the implementation of a health and safety culture is so much easier when staff members are amenable to it rather than resistant to any form of change or interference to their way of working from management. Rather than fighting any changes, a workforce which understands the importance of health and safety and openly desires such improvements will be able to work with management and rapidly adopt changes which significantly minimise the likelihood of accidents and illnesses occurring as a result of workplace activities.

An Expanding Business Needs Health and Safety Reviews and Updates


It is already well-known that a business needs to safeguard the health and safety of their employees by providing health and safety training and performing such tasks as risk assessments. Safety training will increase the knowledge of workers with regards to their awareness of risks and dangers which may adversely impact their well-being, and can reduce the likelihood of them bringing about a situation or initiating a sequence of events which causes an incident such as a fire or explosion.

A failure to provide training in health and safety matters, or to conduct reviews and risk assessments of the current state of the business, will leave it vulnerable to a situation which results in injury, ill-health or death to one or more persons which could have been avoided. Even if nobody were to die or even be adversely affected in any way, the incident could still cause harm to the environment in the form of pollutants and destruction of habitat for creatures living nearby. It may also be the precursor to a much larger incident which would in fact have a significant impact upon all forms of life that happened to be in the vicinity at the time.

Many Risk Assessments Only Look at the Current Hazards and Dangers

One of the drawbacks to many risk assessments and safety reviews is that, even if they are conducted on a regular basis, they will usually still only focus upon the current risks and hazards that have the possibility to impact health, safety and wellbeing. Although the pace will vary amongst different organisations and industries, a workplace is a changing environment where different processes, materials and numbers of people are just some of the factors which are frequently changing as the company alters output, adjusts to changing market conditions etc.

Many businesses may only perform a risk assessment at certain times such as once a year for example, no matter what major changes and alterations have taken place throughout the year. This is a mistake as significant changes can create and bring about new risks which were not otherwise an issue beforehand.

Expanding Businesses Need Frequent Risk Assessments

One particular occurrence and a prime case in point is an expanding businesses which makes substantial modifications and adjustments to the working environment throughout the year, but does not perform additional risk assessments that incorporate the additional dangers or potential situations which are brought about as a result of these changes. Just some of the innumerable risks and issues to take into consideration include:

  • A large increase in employee numbers may mean existing emergency assembly areas are too small to accommodate this larger body of people. Some workers may therefore have to assemble too close to the building, putting them in danger should a fire or explosion take place and they are not at a safe distance.
  • Training budgets will need to be raised to ensure that all of the additional employees receive appropriate health and safety training. The type of training will be a decision for the managers to make; whether workers need a NEBOSH General Certificate qualification, or specialise in a fire or construction safety course, or just undertake a short health and safety course which just lasts one day or even half a day and provides a basic overview of health and safety issues.
  • Evacuation times may be slower, and additional exits and escapes may need to be installed in order to facilitate larger numbers of people who are required to evacuate the premises in the event of an incident. Corridors may also need to be widened in order to support a larger amount of foot traffic.
  • Welfare facilities will need to be improved and additional facilities such as toilets and drinking water amenities installed. Health and safety is not just concerned with preventing accidents and injuries; it also incorporates the provision of welfare facilities to employees.
  • An increased amount of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will need to be bought and paid for if there are a greater number of people performing a task.
  • A large workforce that is producing a greater output and consuming more input materials and substances will mean that greater quantities of these materials and substances need to be stored on site. Typically the greater the quantity, the higher the risk level in terms of the amount of damage which can be done to the environment and to the health, safety and well-being of people (both workers and members of the public). Risk assessments and provisions need to be conducted and measures put in place to store hazardous substance safely and securely, not only preventing an incident such as an explosion or leak, but also to contain any potentially dangerous situation should such an incident take place (e.g. creating blast-proof walls around the storage area to contain any explosion which may take place).

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