Health & Safety ’“ who needs it?

Occupational health and safety is something that all companies and employees need to be aware of. Andrew Smith of Shen Milsom & Wilke explains why the lack of an adequate health and safety policy, can not only endanger your staff, but also you business.

Risk assessment, method statement, liability insurance, RIDDOR, COSHH and all the rest of it – who needs it? Errrr, well as an industry, we need it, as do almost all other industries.

During the course of their everyday installation activities, many AV contractors undertake work that could lead to severe injury or possibly death. Engineers at the tops of ladders with a hammer drill in hand, attaching a projector mount to a ceiling slab, working with live power, handling lamps which could burst or burn the technician carrying out what appears to be a simple task. It all looks easy and everyone always says “we’ll never have a site accident as we know what we’re doing.” But one day, even the most experienced and conscientious engineers will make a mistake. And that mistake could be fatal.

Building sites are one of the most dangerous places you will ever visit. Everyone is working as fast as possible, often with a compressed programme, to build what the client has asked for whilst keeping the costs under control. People start cutting corners, things get skimped on, site rules get broken and the end result is often that an accident occurs that was totally preventable.

250 years ago Health & Safety didn’t exist, we had Dickensian working practices with workers suffering horrendous injuries or even death, with no one held to account. Over time things have changed (thank goodness) and we today live in a much safer society. Employers have a duty of care not to expose their staff to unnecessary risks and each employee has an equal duty not to undertake dangerous practices or to place their colleagues in danger.

So how many AV companies actually place any form of importance on Health & Safety?

It’s not as many as you may think. The larger AV dealers/installers often have very comprehensive policies covering all aspects of risk assessment, method statements etc but it’s surprising how many companies have little, if any Health & Safety documentation. I’m also surprised at how many engineers don’t hold CSCS cards – an essential card to carry if working as a sub-contractor to one of the major construction companies.

When contractors contact Shen Milsom & Wilke, wanting to join our bid lists, we always ask for copies of the Health & Safety policies, engineer CSCS status and copies of insurance certificates before we even agree to meet. Less than 50% of those companies who contact us actually send in the documentation! Our assessment of contractors includes close scrutiny of their Health & Safety policies and any RIDDOR recorded events. We also like to see that a member of staff, preferably on the engineering team has a Health & Safety qualification. This further demonstrates that the company has a serious approach to Health & Safety. There are a number of qualifications available, the most popular in the UK are from the Institute of Occupational Safety & Health or the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

In the rest of Europe there are various national bodies with responsibility for, either accident prevention or occupational health & safety legislation and / or training. In the Netherlands the equivalent of the CSCS is the VCA certificate. This is obtained from a private body, but the government-run institute for occupational health and safety is ARBO. The French body, INRS answers to the ministries of both employment and social security. It is similar to its German counterpart in that it not only advises on safety issues but also provides insurance for employers and employees. The HVBG is the governing body representing 26 regional Berufsgenossenschaften (otherwise known as BGs). If you are in any doubt as to the correct body to consult or what qualifications or certification you or your employees might need in a particular country the International Labour Organisation (ILO) should be your first port of call. Another place worth visiting if you are working in Europe is the website of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work or OSHA.

Many companies view Health & Safety as a total pain and something that is completely unnecessary as ‘we don’t have accidents’. Don’t think that one of your employees won’t fall off a ladder or trip on loose flooring on a building site, because they will. Health & Safety is totally necessary and, if well managed, has a number of benefits for the business. A clean Health & Safety record demonstrates to those who you work for, that the company and the employees recognise their responsibilities. If you break the Health & Safety rules on a building site these days you can expect to be thrown off the project by the site manager: no ifs, no buts, quite simply summary termination of contract. And you probably won’t work for that main contractor or site manager again.

The big construction companies simply don’t want sub-contractors with a cavalier attitude to Health & Safety because when something goes wrong (not if, but when), it’s the main contractor who has to carry the can with the Health & Safety Inspectorate. Much easier not to bother employing those sub-contractors with questionable Health & Safety practices in the first place. Any accident also pushes up the insurance premiums that we all have to pay. If you don’t have the correct policies, the right risk assessments and the appropriate documentation in place, you may find that in the event of an accident that your insurance becomes invalid and doesn’t cover you - that’s a worrying thought. However, a good Health & Safety attitude will prevent accidents and keep your insurance premiums as low as possible.

Help is at hand when it comes to Health & Safety. The UK Government sponsors a free and confidential service called Work Place Health Connect. This service provides small companies (up to 250 employees) without access to specialist Health & Safety advice, free and confidential advice on all matters relating to Health & Safety. We can all gain much from having the correct policies and procedures in place. But probably the best thing we can gain is peace of mind, confident that the work you put in today stops the accident of tomorrow. And that someone’s wife doesn’t get the Police knocking on their door, telling them that their husband has been involved in an accident. A sobering thought.

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