We've all been there, well maybe just health and safety professionals - you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming about the most outlandish, worst case scenario situation that could happen to you or someone else in your day-to-day work life duties. Nobody likes to wake up to this but sometimes you have to face your fears to ensure that these nightmares don't come through.
These are some of those spine-tingling nightmare health and safety scenarios:
1. Loss of critical equipment
What is the most critical piece of equipment in your business? Manufacturing, construction and logistics are heavily dependent on machines and vehicles that produce, process or deliver products, but even service industries are dependent on technology, utilities and transport. How long could a call centre stay open if there was no water?
Measures that target safety will often help to prevent loss of critical equipment and services. Routine checks on gas boilers are an obvious example where safety and availability go hand-in-hand. Heineken’s Hereford Cider Mill factory had previously suffered as many as 350 forklift truck impacts each week – most did not result in serious injury, but any impact could have done. A programme of measures led to a reduction in the number of impacts to fewer than 20 a week – and they experienced a 95% fall in the cost of forklift damage and a measurable reduction is maintenance costs.
2. Resignation of a critical person
Managers frequently say there is no need to have documented safe systems of work or method statements for the work their staff do regularly. The electrician knows how to make changes to the lighting system, the boiler service engineer has been tinkering with the same boiler for twenty years and the maintenance staff just know what to do from their “trade skills”.
Gaps in the maintenance records then appear when someone is on holiday or on sick leave. And what happens if the person with the knowledge of the lighting system, boiler or other maintenance requirements wins the lottery, or decides to take another job? Knowledge is lost, mistakes are made, equipment becomes unrepairable – and accidents happen.
Having a reliable, accessible and trackable means of documenting your safe systems of work is essential to avoid the resignation of one person becoming a crisis.
3. HSE enforcement notice
Sections 21 and 22 of the Health and Safety at Work Act allow the HSE to serve notices on organisations. The improvement notice is bad; the prohibition notice is worse. An improvement notice requires an organisation to remedy a situation that the HSE believe is in contravention of health and safety legislation within a stated period of time.
If you can identify problems before the HSE, you have time to consider the best way of fixing them; once the HSE have served a notice you have to act quickly, and won’t have the luxury of finding the most cost-effective solution. A prohibition notice is more drastic in that it can result in a requirement to stop an activity immediately. This could refer to one part of your operation – eg a passenger lift must be put out of action – or it could apply to an entire site.
Both types of notice appear on the HSE website and can therefore be found by potential customers checking your safety record.
4. Bad publicity surrounding a health & safety event
We have all been discouraged from making apologies by the concern that “sorry” is the same as admitting liability, and whilst caution is needed after an accident, being too defensive will make the situation worse.
Consider how Thomas Cook handled the deaths of two children from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2006. Chief executives initially refused to meet the family or to provide legal support for the inquest, and stated they had “nothing to apologise for”, blaming the hotel employees in Greece. They even tried to stop the inquest. Nine years after the deaths, a new chief executive agreed to meet them and to provide support. After nine years, the family finally received an apology, although even this was handled badly.
Compare this with how Alton Towers handled the aftermath of the “Smiler” ride accident, in which two young women lost a leg. Merlin Entertainments, who run Alton Towers apologised to the people affected and have pledged to provide ongoing help and support to all those injured in the accident. PR Week magazine praised the CEO of Merlin for his “heartfelt statement” and “sensitive response.”
Thomas Cook arranged for a detailed review of their crisis management plan following the bad publicity they received and found significant shortcomings. Although we must do our best to avoid accidents, all businesses need a crisis management plan for when the worst happens.
5. Death in the workplace
The ultimate nightmare is hearing that a member of staff, a customer or visitor has died as a result of your business operations. As a consequence, directors can be disqualified, individuals can be fined or imprisoned, and financial penalties can be high enough to lead organisations to make redundancies, and in some cases to go out of business altogether.
For most of us, the haunting thought that we had failed to do something that could have prevented a death would be a life-sentence on its own.
To make sure you the employee or business owner gets a good nights sleep, ensure these nightmare scenarios don't become a reality!