STEP Safely with SSG Part 2: The Holy Grail of Safety Management

STEP Safely with SSG Part 2: The Holy Grail of Safety Management

  • Date: Saturday 1st December 2007

So, how far do we go to meet safety standards and avoid prosecution for safety offences and corporate manslaughter? UK Law states that ‘It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable (SFARP), the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees’; but what does this actually mean?

In the event of an accident, courts will only find in the employers favour if the cost of implementing safer systems was grossly disproportionate to the likelihood of an accident occurring and the gravity of the injuries suffered. The ‘SFARP’ proviso was recently challenged by the European Commission in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), as it was alleged to result in lower safety standards being required in the UK than in other member states. The challenge was dismissed by the ECJ, although it was agreed that the clause must be strictly interpreted.

In future, prosecuting authorities will undoubtedly request that courts take a vigorous approach to a defendant\'s ‘SFARP’ submission. All due care must be demonstrated by the defendant and the breach must have resulted from an exceptional event or be due to unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the employers’ control.

All of the above basically translates into the following message: Companies with inadequate safety management systems are at a greater risk of prosecution in the event of an accident. So what is an effective safety management system? Let us start by breaking safety management down into its most fundamental steps.

Step 1: Start at the Top The first step is management commitment to an effective process of risk assessment and safety planning. The key to deriving maximum benefit from investment is to focus on significant risks. In addition, management must demonstrate their commitment by practicing what they preach. Otherwise the whole process is undermined.

Step 2: Identify the Risks Risk assessment is at the heart of safety management but is not a solution on its own. Many companies fall down at this stage due to over-emphasis on documented risk assessment. Any employee who has completed his 100th risk assessment of the year for changing a light bulb will vouch for this.

Step 3: Provide the Right Tools for the Job Many people state that management of safety is common sense, but common sense varies according to age, experience, training, perception of risk and personal attitude to both life and the job.

Common sense or not, people make mistakes and human error is a contributory factor in many accidents. This can be reduced by providing people with the right tools for the job: • Training and competence. • Appropriate and correctly maintained equipment and materials. • Fundamental rules, which may include policy, work procedures, risk assessments, workplace monitoring, etc.

Now many of you at this point will be saying; “but we already do this”. Great, but if you are reading this article then you are still having problems and are still searching for solutions. As many health and safety professionals know, to be the lone champion of a cause can be frustrating. The critical factor is having everyone on board working towards a common goal. This can only be achieved by the development of a positive safety culture. Is this then the elusive holy grail of safety management?

This article was written by Dr. Michael Cash PhD (Cantab) CMIOSH AIEMA, Development Director with SSG Training and Consultancy.

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