What do we mean by Workplace Health and Safety?
Workplaces can be dangerous places. Workplace Health and Safety should be taken seriously and approached in a professional and pragmatic manner. While related it is important to make the distinction between workplace 'health' and 'safety'.
Health – It is possible for illness to be caused or worsened by our occupation. Between 4-5% of workers suffer from work related ill health at any one time. Common work-related health conditions include;
- Anxiety and depression – can be brought on or exacerbated by chronic work stress.
- Hearth and lung disease – can be brough on by inactivity or particulate exposure (e.g. asbestos).
- Musculoskeletal disorders – can be brought on by poor posture and ineffective equipment.
Safety – workplaces can be dangerous places and injuries can happen. Around 2% of workers suffer workplace injuries each year. Common work-related injuries include;
- Slips, trips and falls
- Handling, lifting and carrying
- Struck by moving object
- Acts of violence
While we all accept that people get ill and accidents happen there is a duty on all organisations to control and minimise risks to the health and safety of people engaged in work based activity.
What makes workplaces unsafe?
Some workplaces are more dangerous than others as a result of the activity which takes place or the environment in which it takes place. Some of the most dangerous professions for example take place in relatively dangerous work in relatively uncontrolled environments;
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing (SIC A)
- Construction (SIC F)
- Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply (SIC D)
- Manufacturing (SIC C)
Another significant risk factor is workplace stress. Some occupations carry increased levels of stress and carry high rates of workplace illness;
- Public administration/defence (SIC O) (including Police and Fire services)
- Human health/social work (SIC Q)
- Education (SIC P)
Regardless of the work related activity or environment steps can and should be taken to minimise the risk to worker health and safety.
How do I identify poor health and safety culture?
Health and safety activity will vary by occupation due to the differing risk profiles of the workplace activity and environment. There are however some common foundations which should be in place with every employer;
- Risk assessments – for work based activity and environment
- Controls – policies, processes and practices to minimise risk
- Responsibility – clear responsibility for workplace risks
- Training – appropriate training to manage risks
- First-aid – suitable first-aid facilities.
- Incident Reporting – a method of reporting incidents (and near misses)
- Employers Liability Insurance – insurance covering health and safety incidents
All of these measures work together to minimise the risk to employees, if any one area is neglected illness and injury become more likely.
Even with all of the above in place accidents still happen. The extent to which Controls are followed is key to minimising risk, as is effective Incident Reporting, allowing any gaps in the remaining areas to be identified and closed quickly to minimise the risks.
How do I create a strong health and safety culture?
There is a balance to be struck with promoting a healthy, safe working environment, a proportionate risk based approach is key. Too much focus on low risk activity or too little focus on high risk activity may lead to complacency when dealing with high risk activity.
Putting in place reliable and effective processes to ensure the foundational activity described above is in place and well supported is a vital first step. In addition efforts must be made to continually assess and mitigate risks. Near misses must be recorded, analysed and acted upon – lightening most certainly does strike twice.
Finally effort must be made to discover and address breaches of established health and safety practices. If identified and address early standards can more easily be maintained. If unaddressed risk taking often increases both within the individual and their colleagues representing increasing risk over time.
How can Safecall help?
While not a replacement for appropriate training, policies and management an independent whistleblowing service provides confidence that should issues of this nature occur you have a much higher chance to discover and resolve them.
Discovery of poor health and safety practices is vital to reducing related risk. Safecall provide the means for individuals to raise concerns regarding potentially unsafe behaviour in the knowledge their concerns will be taken seriously, pertinent details taken and information passed to an appropriate party for investigation. The individual is able to do so free from fear of stigmatisation and retaliation.
In order to deliver positive change you need to know where to focus your efforts. Poor health and safety practices result in increased absence, lost productivity and often poor morale and higher attrition. We must work hard to protect colleagues and cultures in order to create safe, positive and productive workplaces.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.