The rapid recovery of Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond after his high-speed crash has amazed the public and medical experts. Filming of the BBC series resumed without him just two weeks after the incident.
Hammond’s accident is just one example of how simply doing your job can prove perilous or even fatal. Danger comes with the territory in a range of roles, whether news reporting in war zones, engineering on oil rigs or fire-fighting.
Managing these risks is a challenge for HR. “Getting the selection processes right is absolutely key as the starting point,” says James Dalgleish, London Fire Brigade’s head of HR.
“We focus on making sure people meet specific physical fitness standards, but equally important is identifying general attitudes, responsiveness to others and certain situations, and team-working skills.”
Those who are successful – around 300 a year out of more than 6,000 applicants – are put through 16 weeks of intensive training. Then there is an 18-month to three-year development phase, when the new recruits learn from competent, experienced employees.
Once staff are trained, there is a massive emphasis on both practical and emotional support. “People assume that minimising danger is an issue for the health and safety department,” says Dalgleish. “But the buck of risk assessment doesn’t stop there. HR’s role has become increasingly significant.”
Hazards can even crop up in regular office jobs, particularly in today’s global marketplace, says Cathy Monaghan, head of HR consulting at the Bristol-based employment consultancy PES. She has found that in some parts of the world staff can get embroiled in police scams where they’re targeted for money.
With this in mind, HR needs to get more closely involved in communicating risks about individual situations as well as more general policy, says Tony Eckersley, senior health and safety consultant at employment law and health and safety experts TP People.
In organisations where the risk of health and safety is deemed low enough not to warrant a dedicated expert, HR should get to grips with the growing mass of legislation and regulations around risk assessment, he adds. HR should also remember people’s right to exercise their statutory right to refuse to work in dangerous situations.
Darren Smith, partner at law firm Reed Smith, says that even if someone is self-employed, the organisation still needs to cover its tracks both practically and legally.
Finally, don’t assume that outsourcing your health and safety requirements will absolve you of your responsibilities to your workers.
Mark Wheeler, a spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive, reports that in some parts of the chemical and nuclear sectors, organisations have been banned from outsourcing health and safety because “the essential expertise on the ground was missing”. Without that expertise, you risk the health of your staff and your reputation as an employer.
Reducing the risks
If your organisation operates in a dangerous place, or you expect staff to undertake risky work, make sure you incorporate health and safety checks into the following:
Training and post-training development
And remember to:
Communicate policies and one-off risks
Become familiar with the law, particularly where there is no dedicated health and safety expert
Outsource with care.