Law in practice: health and safety: Spotlight on safety

Roisin Woolnough finds out what it takes to win the race to compliant health and safety.

Health and safety is a key concern for TNT Express Services UK & Ireland. It has to be, given the nature of the business. “We have to make sure that we have a safe working environment, with safe equipment,” says Hilary Hodgson, safety and environment manager at the express delivery company. “We don’t want to be known as somewhere that is unsafe to work.”

Health and safety is something all organisations must regularly review. It is also an area under the spotlight at the moment as the new Corporate Manslaughter Bill comes into force this month. Hodgson says that following briefing sessions, she is confident that TNT is already compliant. “We are prepared for it and have across-the-board compliance already,” she says.

According to Hodgson, good health and safety compliance comes when the issue is taken seriously by senior management. “You must have commitment from the top.”

Audits

Organisations need good, robust policies and procedures and should regularly monitor and review these to ensure they are still working and up to date. TNT Express Services UK has regular internal and external audits of its systems. External auditors, including Lloyds Register Quality Assurance, annually review all the systems, policies and procedures, and ensure the organisation is following legislation.

The company carries out internal health and safety risk assessments across the board every three years. On top of this, it also does a more detailed audit of a sample of locations across the business each year. And when there are any changes in the business, such as extending a warehouse or putting in a new conveyor belt, there are further risk assessments.

But there is no point in organisations having good policies in place if they don’t ensure those policies are understood and adhered to by staff on a daily basis. Staff have a certain level of personal responsibility for their own and others’ wellbeing, so they have to know what good health and safety practice is, and why.

Therefore, training and communication are important. Staff need to be trained properly in how they are supposed to do their jobs, the correct handling of equipment, good manual lifting and so on.

“It all comes down to people at the end of the day,” says Hodgson. “Communication and staff briefing sessions are really important. You have to inform people of any issues. And if staff have any concerns, they must report them to their line manager.”

The company holds health and safety meetings and has representatives at each location. Regional health and safety and environment managers regularly visit depots to check all is well and talk through any issues.

Site inspections

Site managers are also required to carry out their own site safety assessments, such as monthly fire safety inspections, inspecting warehouses and so on.

But, Hodgson admits, accidents will and do occur, the same as in any workplace. The important thing is to minimise the frequency and severity of those accidents and have systems in place to ensure any problems are flagged up early – such as a high accident rate in a particular location or with a particular piece of machinery.

Upholding reputations

At TNT Express Delivery Services UK & Ireland, all accidents are reported and reviewed. That way, the company knows if a particular area of the business needs attention to improve its accident rates.

After all, it’s not just about compliance with legislation. Serious and regular accidents will damage an organisation’s reputation, both internally and externally. Any organisation found to have insufficient health and safety standards runs the risk of prosecution and financial repercussions.

Hodgson says a good health and safety record also generates more business for her organisation. “We work for a lot of big companies and get a lot of tenders. Organisations always ask about our accident statistics and whether we have ever been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive. We can honestly say, no, we have not been prosecuted.”

If the company had a high accident rate and had been prosecuted, Hodgson says, it would have a very negative effect on the amount of business it would draw in.

As well as the financial risk of having a poor health and safety track record, there is also the potential risk of an unhappy, demotivated workforce should they feel their health and safety at work was compromised. Such a perception would damage an organisation’s credibility and attractiveness as an employer. It comes back to Hodgson’s earlier comment of not wanting to be seen as an unsafe place to work.

In 5 steps

  1. Write down what you are doing to manage health and safety and how things operate in the company.
  2. Try to stick as closely to how people work at the moment or they will revert to type. It is hard to sustain a policy or procedure that is very different from what people were doing in the past.
  3. Health and safety is a process, not a project. If there needs to be cultural change, it will not happen overnight.
  4. Training and awareness of health and safety issues is important. People need to understand the reasons why things have been implemented.
  5. Involve people directly. Tell managers what they need to know. Remind them they have to be approachable to staff.

Lesley Cox, health and safety manager at motor sport venue, Silverstone

The legislation

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill became law on 6 April 2008. It creates the new statutory offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland of “corporate manslaughter”, and in Scotland of “corporate homicide”. Companies and government bodies will be guilty of this new offence if the way in which their activities are managed or organised by senior management are found to be a gross breach of the duty of care owed to employees or the public. The Bill means the courts can consider whether or not a collective corporate behaviour is at fault and caused a person’s death, rather than only being able to hold individuals to task.

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