Legislative and social pressures mean employers must monitor health and
safety training. Sarah-Jane North highlights the areas for action
The British economy has changed beyond recognition in the past two decades.
Our days as a large-scale innovator and manufacturer are all but over, and the
new era sees us handling, warehousing, shipping and servicing a multitude of
different industry sectors worldwide.
With the majority of UK workers now employed in the softer, service
industries, the requirement to be up to speed on safe manual handling, for
example – although still crucial in many sectors – is less crucial than a
multitude of other requirements.
At Flex Learning Media, a provider of training materials in the safety
arena, managing director David Willetts has seen a change in training
"We don’t make products here but we import them and put them into store
and distribute them, which means there’s a big demand for lift-truck
training," says Willetts.
He also highlights a growth in demand for induction training and ergonomics,
as well as the more overt safety issues, such as risk assessment and fire and
As Willetts’ list partially illustrates, the field of health and safety
(H&S) has been expanding inexorably to now cover all of the above as well
as stress, driver safety, security, violence and bullying. However, there is
some doubt that employers are keeping pace with this constant change by
briefing and training workers and managers in their new duties and
As Training Magazine went to press, leaders of the country’s main health and
safety organisations – Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA),
the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the British Safety
Council (BSC) – were meeting the minister for work and pensions Nick Brown and
representatives from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to discuss the
potential for a major review of H&S provision.
"Health and safety management is becoming a core part of the
responsibilities at senior management level. But training-wise, there isn’t
much out there that is meaningful, and certainly nothing useful has been added
to MBA courses," says Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser.
"We also need to improve the health content of most training provision
and raise awareness among middle and line managers of the health needs and
status of staff, particularly those returning to work following injury, illness
RoSPA, IOSH and BSC want any review to identify what factors influence some
organisations to invest in training and not others, and to examine the quantity
and quality of current training provision, to assess whether it meets the
growing needs of employers.
"If we are going to revitalise health and safety, we cannot do it
without training," says Bibbings.
The construction industry – slated in the past for its record on health and
safety – is finally getting its act together on training.
The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) recently announced a £9m
joint-venture learning initiative with the Learning and Skills Council to train
and assess more than 10,000 workers. As well as providing essential skills, the
scheme is seen as a way of improving the industry’s health and safety record –
in 2001, the sector accounted for 79 of the 249 workplace fatalities.
"What is really required is a culture change in the industry, and
legislation may be needed to achieve it," concludes Sharon Copland-Jones,
director of Shepherd Construction. "Other industries where there has been
legislation – for instance, offshore and petrochemicals – have significantly
improved their H&S performance as a result."
Although legislation may be resisted by many, the Major Contractors Group, a
consortium of the industry’s biggest players, is trying to bring H&S
standards within procurement and contracting terms by specifying minimum levels
To communicate the need to change some traditional on-site working
practices, Shepherd is employing actors to observe workers and then re-enact
scenarios which make it easy for them to identify where a practice may be
considered unsafe. The firm is also working with equipment suppliers to teach
workers how to use tools and machinery safely.
A new corporate killing law is tabled to make it easier to prosecute
individual managers and directors if it can be proven that their negligence
contributed to a death.
Current law makes this extremely difficult in all cases except those
involving small companies, where the chain of command is more obvious.
However, in a coup for corporate responsibility campaigners, the directors
of defunct rail operator Railtrack and maintenance contractor Balfour Beatty
are being prosecuted over the Hatfield rail crash, in which four people died
and many more were seriously injured.
The new corporate manslaughter law (a draft Bill will be made public this
autumn) could introduce unlimited fines in addition to prison sentences for
Although implementation remains some way off, the implications are already
clear. Employers are being urged to address the issue now, by paying close
attention to internal controls and to the social auditing and reporting skills
that will be increasingly required of top managers.
But it is not only corporate negligence that is under the microscope.
Employers are also being scrutinised over the ways they are involved with the
local community, the products and processes they provide and the type of
employee relations they practice. This all comes under the much-used phrase of
the moment, ‘corporate social responsibility’.
In July 2002, fire safety minister Chris Leslie published a consultation document
aimed at simplifying, rationalising and consolidating fire safety law.
Although fire authorities will continue to inspect premises and ensure that
fire precautions are adequate, it will become the employer’s responsibility to
carry out a fire-risk assessment and to take steps towards reducing or removing
James Parker, director of fire safety advisers Wormald, doubts there are
currently sufficient numbers of staff with the appropriate skills to carry out
these detailed risk assessments.
"Companies won’t be able to pass the buck to a consultant or a service
provider. The organisation itself will be responsible, and I don’t believe
there are enough people out there with the necessary skills to do those
assessments," says Parker.
Wormald is anticipating a rise in demand for training in risk assessment
skills. It has already included a section covering this area on its online
learning facilities, whose users currently include betting chain Ladbrokes and
high street retailer Dixons.
But it is the insurance giants, rather than the Government, who are pressing
for minimum levels of fire safety training.
Insurance firm Zurich instructed WTL International, a leading processor of
organic materials, as to how many workers needed to be trained to avoid risking
a premiums rise.
WTL’s industrial-scale grinding and milling factory in Cheshire represents a
particular fire hazard because of the vast quantities of wood flour and other
powdered materials it produces. A fire in 2000 is believed to have been caused
by a tiny spark which ignited this highly-flammable product.
All WTL staff have undergone Wormald’s ‘Smart’ fire awareness training – an
interactive web-based programme, providing advice and awareness, and an online
exam to test their knowledge. A certificate is provided electronically for
those who pass.
Endorsed by the Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE) and the UK Fire Protection
Association (FPA), the training programme features sections on fire procedures,
types of fire, good housekeeping practices, hand extinguisher and hose reel
firefighting equipment, and how to use it safely.
Stress has overtaken back pain as the biggest cause of complaint and absence
The number of days taken off as a result of stress has doubled since 1996,
to 13.5 million in 2001.
The HSE is currently piloting its first management standards on stress
prevention, with a second phase planned for 2005.
And although the HSE has stressed the standards are "for advice and
guidance only", they may well be followed by an approved code of practice,
which courts could take into account when deciding whether an employer has
discharged its health and safety duties towards staff.
The HSE has identified seven stressors on which it is basing its standards:
– Lack of control
– Too many demands
– Lack of appropriate support (training, recognition of individual factors)
– Role uncertainty
– Poor relationships (including bullying, harassment, etc)
– Poor change management
– Poor management culture
Employers have a legal duty to prevent risks to employees’ health from
stress under the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974. The standards will give
health and safety inspectors clear benchmarks against which to measure whether
an organisation is meeting its legal duties.
The HSE is also said to be to stepping up training for its enforcers in
stress-related risk this year.
Other employers are following this lead. Staff at City insurance firm Markel
are being given stress awareness training to help them recognise the symptoms
of the condition and prevent it affecting their work and home lives. The
company has made the web-based training available to all employees to try and
raise awareness of stress in the traditionally ‘macho’ financial world.
At work driving
The 1,000 people killed every year while driving for work are the UK’s
‘hidden workplace deaths’, say safety campaigners.
The Government’s Work-related Road Safety Task Group has proposed that employers
do more to assess risks and take proportionate action to reduce them. Where
they fail, appropriate action should be taken.
Terrorist incidents close to home and the war in Iraq have continued to
focus minds on security since September 11. Handling security threats and
ensuring the safety and security of staff has also increased responsibilities
The security industry itself faces major change later this year, when the
Security Industry Authority (SIA) comes into being, with a new system of
regulating and licensing security providers.
The SIA’s remit will include checking the training level of job applicants,
which will be another condition for the award of a licence.
Violence at work
In addition to security threats, employers are having to train workers in
how to tackle threats from customers, clients and patients.
London’s bus drivers are to receive additional safety training in how to
deal with unhappy or angry passengers. The plans were announced by the Mayor of
London, Ken Livingstone, following a rise in complaints from drivers about the
abuse and violence they have to face during the course of their work.
The GMB says all NHS workers need training and protection in the face of
violence. More than 95,500 incidents of violence and aggression were reported
by NHS staff working in acute, mental health and ambulance trusts, a rise of 13
per cent over the past two years.
Shopworkers face the same dangers, and on 17 September, the sector’s union
Usdaw will stage its first National Respect Day for shopworkers as part of its
Freedom From Fear campaign.
Information adds value
Accountancy giant Ernst & Young (E&Y) won an award in last year’s
European Week for Health & Safety for its stress initiative.
The Well@Work scheme, designed by health and safety consultants
System Concepts, involved not only the HR team, but the company’s restaurant
services and fitness provider too. The scheme covered E&Y’s 10 London
offices, which houses almost 4,200 employees, 54 per cent of its total UK
Presentation methods included use of the firm’s intranet,
electronic ‘Quick News’, posters, static displays, plasma screens with rolling
educational programmes and promotions, and organised walks and drop-in
sessions. Excellent feedback was received from workers and contractors and
plans are already in hand for another health and safety initiative focusing on
back care in manual handling and display screen equipment use.
"The Well@Work initiative is a broad-brush approach. It’s
information rather than training," explains Louise Bisdee, one of the
System Concepts consultants permanently based at E&Y. "We would not
claim to have trained people to manage stress, but we have raised awareness of
the issue without implying there was a problem."