As a new car driver I remember the first time that I drove in thick fog at night. It was the late 1970s, and the road between Stansted to Ugley was a particulary unfriendly place to be, with deep ditches either side of a windy road and no cats-eyes. When I turned the headlights onto full-beam I was confronted by a wall of fog.

After many years of working in line management and now advising on practical health & safety solutions, the ‘fog’ conundrum is one that I frequently get asked to resolve by directors, as they try to understand how to comply with the law and provide a sufficient duty of care to their employees and others

Once asked to assist in developing a company’s health & safety policy by the respective business owner or director, I, like all competent advisors, will undertake a through audit; the output  providing a list of priorities and action points. The key then is to make sure the respective issues are resolved and the company steps forward towards a safer future for all concerned

The ongoing debate as reported in the press, discussed in Parliament, legal advisors and health & safety advisors is what responsibilities and obligations will the next year and indeed years place on industry. Some of these principles are well established and will remain the same

  • Provide a safe environment place for employees and others to work in
  • Make sure that all stakeholders are aware of the risks they face at work and what safe working practices they should follow
  • Make sure that any machinery, vehicles and tools needed to complete tasks are kept in safe condition and not used if unsafe
  • Ensure that the appropriate level of supervision is provided at all times with supervisors who ‘get ‘health & safety’
  • Provide ways in which health & safety observations can be passed to you and feedback can be passed back to the observer

A number of high level projects sponsored by the government, including Lord Young’s ‘Common Sense; Common Safety’ and The Loftstedt’s Review made key recommendations some of which have been fully implemented,

  • The reporting of injuries under RIDDOR being extended from three to seven days
  • Easier to read legislation
  • Guidance based on common sense and proportionality

The momentum that has been gained to improve clarity, remove red-tape and de-mystify legislation will continue during 2013; however inevitable virtual roundabouts will be and have been placed enroute for businesses to manoeuvre around with a current issue being the HSE cost recovery scheme, FFI which came into force on the 1st of October 2012. Similar to the scheme which was introduced under EU directives for functions undertaken by HSE under the EU Directive for the Control of Major Accident Hazards in onshore installations (COMAH).

If, during an investigation, the HSE find a contravention, then a chargeable rate of £124 per hour commences. The charges will include the time it takes the inspector for writing and sending you an email or letter, and the time it takes to deal with documenting the contravention. Added to the stress a company goes through when a serious accident is recorded, a subsequent HSE investigation over the equivalent of four days would amount to approximately £4,000; a full investigation generating unwanted costs of  tens of thousands of pounds.

Companies should not allow FFI to detract from the need to raise the profile of Health & Safety within their respective organisations. Take steps to ensure that the company’s H&S policy is fully understood by all staff and driven by the top of the business; regularly review procedures and risk assessments and involve every employee in proactive ways of preventing accidents for occuring. 2013 could be the year where individuals start to ‘get’ health & safety. To get through difficult times, family members who are earning a consistent income are essential; remaining healthy and safe at work protects this essential income stream – give employees a stake in their own safety and incorporate them in safety initiatives such as a dynamic and effective observation scheme.

Information about how to manage Health & Safety has never been easier to obtain over the last few years and this trend will continue. A wide range of training resources have become available including cost effective on-line solutions. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM) provide managers and external advisors with access to advice as well as the opportunity to pursue continuing professional development.

Whatever is intended by government, the HSE and attitudes of companies to Health & Safety the future must see a reduction in the annual numbers killed or hurt. 170 people are killed on average every year and 100,000 serious injuries incurred. Understand how to navigate through the fog sometimes created by others and proactively work to make life safer in whatever organisation you work within.