Kirklees firms have been urged to take health and safety seriously – and disregard the myths surrounding “elf’n’safety”.
Shaun Imrie, of Huddersfield-based EP Risk Consultancy, said health and safety was often mocked as encouraging a nanny state - and routinely blamed when things go wrong.
When the Sheffield half-marathon turned into a fiasco, organisers used health and safety as an excuse. When teachers ban conkers from the playground, elf’n’safety is cited, he said.
But Mr Imrie said statistics showed what happened when workplace safety was neglected.
“Sadly, the numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “Nearly 150 employees were killed at work last year and 78,000 suffered injuries.
*In January this year, a Holmfirth firm was fined £7,000 after a worker fractured an ankle in a ladder fall. In March, a Dewsbury textile company was fined £5,000 after a Huddersfield woman’s fingers were crushed in a machine. In April, a Huddersfield builder was prosecuted after a garden wall collapsed, badly injuring a woman.
“The Health and Safety Executive believes that workplace-related injuries and ill-health cost society £13.8bn a year, but with common sense and forethought many of these incidents could be prevented.”
Said Mr Imrie: “In training, I stress that there are three main reasons – moral, legal and financial – why any employer should implement good health and safety.
“Unfortunately, it is often the first of these that gets lost in a fog of bad press and exaggeration. Businesses have a legal duty of care to ensure employees go home safely, but too often this doesn’t happen.
“When health and safety is used as an excuse it is instantly given a bad name. Similarly when impracticable advice is given from incompetent sources, firms become wary of implementing what they see as a costly system.”
Mr Imrie, who graduated from university and served as a Royal Engineer before qualifying as a chartered health and safety consultant, said that UK legislation was very clear. It often uses the term “reasonably practicable” in consideration of the balance between risk and cost, he said.
“The law is sensible, it is the Chinese whispers, myths and expensive competency schemes which make a mountain out of a molehill. Often the simple, low cost and practical solution will be the one that saves lives.
“Unfortunately, health and safety has been hijacked to develop a claims culture so that some companies spend time and money protecting themselves with red tape rather than protecting employees with practical measures.
“If we are to allow businesses to implement practical and sensible solutions then we must examine ways to prevent individuals making false or petty claims against employers. This can be done in two ways, the first of which has already begun.
“The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places specific responsibilities on employees and the Health and Safety Executive has the power to issue enforcement notices to workers who fail to comply when their employers have done all that is possible.
“Secondly, employers need to enforce discipline against those who act unsafely and put themselves or others at risk. Enforcement is used in high risk industries such as civil engineering and the oil and gas industries but needs to be applied more widely.
“Much of the time, health and safety systems which are put in place are ineffective. Risk assessments and other safety documents are written but never seen by the worker.
“If businesses go to the trouble to produce these documents then the workforce needs to be involved and understand what is written.”
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