Q5. What are some of the obstacles to safety management?

A 2009 report from the UK's Risk and Regulation Advisory Council (RRAC) highlighted what many small business owners already know: time and money is being wasted in trying to manage their health and safety issues due to confusion about legislation (from mixed messages from Government, legal, commercial bodies and the media) and from a lack of resources. The report showed that many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were uncertain of their obligations and, therefore, wasted time and money in becoming either over-compliant, implementing inappropriate risk management arrangements or even doing nothing at all.

'Risk-mongers' spreading the wrong message

People who are motivated by self-interest or who are ignorant of health and safety can spread the wrong message. The report gives the example of some safety consultants who "can inflate the perception of a risk, leading to higher, unnecessary costs and further business for the consultant'.[1]The print media also, on numerous occasions, has published unfounded or poorly researched stories about supposed health and safety issues that were either inaccurate or non-existent. To counter this almost endemic problem of mis-information on health and safety issues, the UK Health and Safety Executive has sections of its website dedicated to the 'Safety Myth of the Month' and 'Putting the Record Straight'. These sections pick out a news headline or safety myth where a health and safety issue has been incorrectly reported and responds with the correct information.

Contradictory messages

SMEs have many sources to tap into for advice on health and safety, but some advice can come with an agenda, a particular point of view or perspective. Insurers, print and TV media, Government agencies, small business associations and safety consultants are all in the mix on this issue. The end result is confusing and inconsistent messages going out to businesses - the RRAC reported that "over 50% of the small organisations we questioned had received conflicting messages about health and safety".

Lack of SME resources

Health and safety legislation has been developed on the risk assessment model, which provides flexibility for SMEs to tailor risk management controls and solutions to match their specific requirements; however, this flexibility also can cause paralysis in some SMEs where the in-house competence or confidence to apply risk management practices properly is lacking. In reality, risk management is not a 'black art' and the principles are simple to understand and apply for the vast majority of companies.

Sometimes, it can be difficult for SMEs to see a clear path ahead when dealing with health and safety issues but it is important that some effort is put towards this goal, not just for legal compliance reasons but also for the financial benefits of reduced costs. There is no doubt that effective safety management is a sound investment for future business needs.

Q6. What are the most common hazards in the workplace?

Below is a list of common hazards, which can be low or high risk depending on the circumstances:

• Access and egress, alcohol abuse, biological agents, buildings and facilities, bullying, confined spaces, cash-in-transit activities, company vehicles.

• Display screen equipment, drug abuse, electrical equipment and systems, environment (lighting, etc.), explosive atmospheres, fire, food preparation.

• Hot work, hazardous substances.

• Lifting operations.

• Manual handling, occupational noise exposure.

• Pressurised systems, radiation (ionising and non-ionising).

• Slips, trips and falls.

• Vibration, working at height, workplace vehicles, workplace violence, work equipment.

Note that a hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm, such as a speeding car or a shotgun, while risk is a combination of severity (how severe will be the effects in an incident) and likelihood (the probability of an incident happening). So, on a busy shopping street, a speeding car presents a high risk of an incident (severe effects, high likelihood), while on a race track, it presents a lower risk (less severe effects, lower likelihood). Similarly, a shotgun in the hands of a bank robber is definitely high risk but, in the hands of a professional skeet shooter, the risk of an incident is lower.

A policy statement is a corporate plan of action that serves to illustrate management's commitment to achieving an objective, such as a safe place of work for a safety policy, zero emissions for an environmental policy, etc. It should state how your organisation plans to go about its activities, what the expectations of senior management are and how, in general terms, you plan to achieve these goals. Remember that policy statements should be specific to your workplace, not a cut-and-paste exercise from another organisation.

When developing policy statements for your organisation, consider:

• Legal requirements to be met.

• Specific requirements of your own organisation.

• Industry standards and best practice requirements that may apply and can be integrated into your policy statement.

• Whether resources are available to ensure that requirements set out in the policy statement can be fulfilled.

Policy statements also should be:

• Concise, well-written, dated and signed by the most senior accountable person(s) in the organisation.

• Communicated to the workforce and be readily accessible.

• Reviewed periodically to ensure that they remain current.

What policy statements are required for your organisation depends on:

• Legal requirements.

• The size and complexity of your organisation's work activities.

• What your organisation is trying to achieve.

An occupational safety and health (OSH) policy statement should be a starting position, although you may need to develop additional policy statements that reflect your organisation's other activities and obligations. For example, since environmental issues are closely tied to OSH and are clearly defined within legislation, if you are dealing with environmental issues, you should develop a policy statement to show that you recognise your obligations and can show how these are managed. Additional policy statements can be developed for other OSH issues such as:

• Quality.

• Environment.

• Waste management.

• Drug and alcohol abuse.

• Anti-bullying.

• No-smoking.

• Right to stop work.

  • [1] Risk and Regulation Advisory Council (2009). Health and safety in small organisations - Reducing uncertainty, building confidence, improving outcomes
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