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OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY SUPPORT. - IS IT NECESSARY?

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Occupational H & S professionals strive to help businesses to be independent of the need for support and to be around when they are needed. The difficulties for businesses in this process is being able to recognise when they are fine to be independent of support and when they absolutely must have the right input. If they get it wrong on either side, it can cost dearly by way of un-necessary spending on skills and tasks they can deal with themselves or financial or reputitional damage due to harm, illnesses or being seen as less than perfect employers (or organisers).

Over the years, I have seen or read about the many reasons why people don’t think of health, safety, welfare and environmental matters as a priority. Here are some of the main ones:

Top of the list of reasons is, “it won’t make money for us, so I will only do what I have to do”. At first glance, this might seem quite harsh and stupid but it can also be quite understandable, especially where new or struggling businesses are concerned. Even with established organisations, significant overheads and time consuming activities such as this can be the difference between profit and loss. Then there is the matter of quoting or tendering for work. The bidder with the lowest overheads might be seen to be in the strongest position to get the contract. The solution to this is possibly to engage the services of an advisory or support organisation which will allow costs to be spread over an extended period.

The next reason is often, “So-and-so in X department did a course and they look after all our requirements”. This is often quoted to us when we are provided with documentation by contractors or sometimes by new/short term clients. The poor soul who is ‘shouldering’ this quote might have attended a course of 1 to 4 days but is then found not to have any time to practice their learning to make it a competence, or they might have insufficient learning for what might be required of them in reality. The tell-tale signs are out of date (and largely irrelevant plagiarised) policies, generic risk assessments and lack of suitable and sufficient safe systems of work. Having people within your workplace to help and assist with legal and moral requirements, with support from Management and the Workforce is really is one of the best ways to address them. Such staff should be valued as they are best placed to recognise issues, advise and assist with the creation of safe systems of work and know when to ask for help from time to time. Therefore ‘up-skilling’ and providing facilities for these appointed people is the way forward.

The third is sometimes paraphrased by ‘what are the chances of being caught’? This group will probably be relatively ‘low on the horizon’ of enforcement officers and in reality will probably ‘get away with it’ for the most part. Their difficulties arise when they are asked to produce paperwork or if there is an incident of harm. It is at this point that they do appear on the ‘horizon’ of enforcement officers. Sometimes they will lose contracts due to lack of workplace H S competence or perhaps they might frantically try to get the necessary paperwork together (often paying a premium for only part of their overall needs). If there has been an incident, they will probably also be looking for a good lawyer as well as trying to minimise the damage to their reputation. All of which are too little, too late. This last group are probably the most difficult to assist as there is also a need for full commitment from the top downwards, a major shift of work-place culture, as well as developing/implementing new systems into well established work practices. 

If there is a common ‘thread’ running through this blog it is probably, please don’t ignore occupational health, safety and welfare issues. They do require time, energy and finance, all of which need to be planned and provided for. However, with the right support, by competent people from within or outside any organisation this is entirely achievable.