‘….cleared the Company of manslaughter, but found it guilty of a breach of health and safety law.’

All too often you see this conclusion in newspaper, trade-press or Court reports. Someone has been killed, work colleagues are distraught and the employer has suddenly found that making money isn’t all that matters.

www.collinsdictionery.com definition of ‘Accident’

1. an unforeseen event or one without an apparent cause

2. anything that occurs unintentionally or by chance

3. a misfortune or mishap, especially one causing injury or death

It is your responsibility as an employer to manage risks so that accidents are avoided. It’s not always easy to identify the greatest areas of risk – and that is where the specialists come in. We work with clients to assess the various risks that workers, contractors, site visitors and others face. In addition to making sure that machinery is safe to use, we examine the working environment and practices to ensure they’re free from hazards and the communication with employees about health and safety, to ensure they’re robust and effective. Employees have responsibilities – and they need to understand them, and to be committed to protecting themselves and their colleagues from harm.

When accidents take place, and lawyers have reviewed the evidence they apportion blame. They will have gone through company procedures with a fine toothcomb in order to establish cause and find fault. No stone will have been left unturned in looking for issues with machinery, plant, vehicles, storage, signage and safety briefings. The more they find lacking, the more severe the punishments. Some seemingly small measure that a manager, through pressure of work, had not got round to taking, may become the very thing around which a colossal fine – or even a prison sentence – hangs.

What would have happened if the management team had sat around the table to discuss their operations purely in the context of risk? What would have happened if they had been round the site over and over again noting the hazards and taking mitigating actions? What would have happened if they had inculcated into the workforce a culture of health safety awareness, with training, coaching and regular briefings? Not only would an accident be significantly less likely, but, in the extremely unfortunate event of one happening, the Courts wouldn’t be looking to take such a harsh view and employees wouldn’t be looking blame senior management.

When assessing how ‘work’ is going to be completed:

• Go through each department thoroughly, involving all members of the team in assessing the risks

• For project work or new operations, again, it’s vital to get all those involved participating in identifying the risks

• Ensure that the managers or supervisors (those who are likely to be on site most of the time) have a major input into the assessment, buy into the plans and are committed to ensure compliance with the rules minute-by-minute

• Spend time on site

o How are you going to minimise each and every risk factor?

o How are you going to keep your workers separated from or protected from the hazards? What might happen to increase hazards – deliveries, contractor operations, use of chemicals, etc – and how are you going to mitigate those risks?

• Create instructions that are clearly understood and are practical to follow

• Make sure signage reflects what you have agreed – and that relevant instructions are visible in appropriate places

• Oversee the training and communications, ensuring that employees sign their agreement to following the practices your teams have agreed

The majority of the British population have to go to work to earn a living. We do this to support families, fulfil dreams and to maybe even enjoy ourselves. Work to make sure that you and your colleagues get home fit and healthy without experiencing an accident – or the emotional and legal consequences of one…