BT has been fined half a million pounds, along with nearly £100,000 in costs for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Under the sentencing guidelines that came into effect on 1 February 2016 an organisation the size of BT could have faced fines over £4 million.
Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act requires all employers to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of his employees.” There is a similar requirement in Section 3(1) to protect “persons not in his employment.” The sentencing guidelines make it clear that “the offence is in creating a risk of harm” and that there could be a prosecution without actual harm occurring. However, if there is an accident the prosecution will have easy evidence that there was a risk, leaving the defence to prove that either the risk was not foreseeable or that they had done everything reasonably practicable to manage that risk.
If you don’t have an MOT on your five-year old car you know that you are breaking the law. If you drive that car over the speed limit, it is easy to demonstrate that you have not done everything practicable to ensure the safety of other road users.
But in the workplace, how do you know that you have ensured, “so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare” of employees and others?
In relation to the BT case, when a mobile worker such as a telephone engineer goes to a domestic property they will have an address and an idea of the job. A specific risk assessment for that property will not have been carried out. Therefore they are trained to carry out an on-the-job risk assessment. In this case, the engineer decided to work alone in the roof void of a block of flats. When he fell part-way through the fragile ceiling there was no one to help him and after several minutes he fell further, landing on a concrete stair well and breaking his back.
Can an employer “ensure” health and safety in situations where you can’t have a supervisor watching each worker? The HSE gave some pointers in the BT case: “There were a number of failures of health and safety management by BT which related to planning the work, supervision, and checking it was being carried out safely.”
Planning work is difficult when it so varied, but with most jobs there are some hazards that can be predicted - for example, work at height, proximity to electricity and access to confined spaces. Risk assessments can be carried out for the types of risks expected, with controls that make it clear when lone working is not permitted, when additional equipment needs to be obtained or when a job should be referred back to a supervisor. Staff need to be trained to understand how these controls should be applied and given positive reinforcement when they delay a job in order to do it safely. Even where constant supervision is not possible, spot checks can be made to reinforce good practice and to identify where training needs to be provided.
Remember: you can be prosecuted if there is sufficient evidence that a risk of harm exists – so don’t wait for an accident before you start assembling the evidence you would need to provide to show you are ensuring health and safety (so far as is reasonably practicable).
Effective Software’s Risk module allows you to identify potential risks and establish risk reduction plans that are essential tasks for efficient health and safety management. The module was created to ensure full control of the risk assessment lifecycle and allows your staff to create, share and manage risk assessment tasks, data and reports. It automatically shares risk assessment tasks and reports with staff and management to give you all the information you need at your fingertips and allows you to track risk training across your entire organisation using a simple matrix.
To find out more about our Risk module or advice as to how safety software can help create a zero harm safety culture in your organisation, why not contact our friendly product experts to arrange a demo.