Saving a life v. sticking to the rules

Last month a woman died after being trapped and suffering injuries at the bottom of a disused mine shaft in Strathclyde.  Despite fire and rescue teams being in attendance, the decision was made not to rescue her because of the health and safety policies being followed to the letter.

The inquiry identified a lack of proper risk assessment and inadequate training and planning, not to mention a frightening lack of knowledge of rescue resources available.

The issue of regulations and health and safety legislation saying ‘don’t take these risks’ and the so-called ‘rescue’ services being hobbled from doing what they’re paid for, is always going to cause debate.  There have been a number of cases where rescue personnel have been prosecuted for going outside the regulations – however, equally there have been cases brought against personnel where a lack of action has resulted in a fatality.

Of course, if, whilst rescuing someone, a fire fighter loses their life or the person being rescued suffers long term injuries, there will be an inquiry about what should and shouldn’t have happened.  However, the lack of skills and knowledge cannot be ignored.  Why is it that firefighters in Strathclyde have not been trained in line and rope rescue?  This used to be a part of the recruit course and regularly practised on fire stations.

This situation demonstrates a severe lack of care and professionalism on the part of the officers who made the decisions.  Isn’t it time that all emergency services officers took responsibility for their decisions and did the job they’re paid to do?

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Stealth and safety; Highway robbery

Last December the HSE announced that they were launching a consultancy ‘service’. This allows them to offer Health and Safety advice to organisations in much the same way as the Health and Safety practitioners that they police.

This makes them not only the enforcers, but also the support for those on the receiving end of enforcement notices. We thought that this was a conflict of interest and said so – and got positive support from the British Safety Council.

The latest chapter in this story has taken it to a whole new – and not very ethical – level.

The proposal that has just gone out for public consultation (very quietly) is that the law will be changed and new regulations established. What they are proposing is dressed up as ‘cost recovery’, but it isn’t.

An example of cost recovery is when, in order to provide a license for an organisation to operate in a particular area, such as nuclear sites or major hazard sites (e.g. petro-chem sites), research and information gathering are required. A charge is made to the licensee to cover this work. The HSE already have the ability to do this and that is perfectly above board and reasonable.

What the HSE is now proposing is that, if they visit a premises and feel that advice to the owner is necessary (not necessarily an enforcement order, it can simply be a letter of advice), a minimum charge of £750 will be made. This is NOT cost recovery. It’s extortion.

Far from being cost recovery, it’s revenue generation, pure and simple, and covers services that the tax payer already pays for.

This is akin to being stopped by the police for speeding, receiving a fixed penalty fine – and an invoice for the police officer’s time in carrying out the enforcement. If that happened a lot more people would be howling about ethics, morality and justice.

The TUC have recently been very vocal in attacking the HSEs proposed cost cutting exercise. The HSE claim to be aiming for 35% when every other government body is targeting 20% at the most. It’s no wonder that HSE can be that ambitious when they’ll be raking in revenue from the already hard hit small business owner.

On the other hand, they’re reducing enforcement in lower risk industries and with smaller employers. That doesn’t make any sense either, that’s where most accidents happen!

Part of the consultation document asks some ridiculous questions. For instance, asking local authorities if they would like to be able to act in a similar way. With the current cost cutting environment, they’d be crazy not to jump on the bandwagon; with the government’s backing. However, that doesn’t make it right. It will, however, ensure that there is plenty of support for this totally immoral proposal.

Whilst we know there are situations where enforcement is necessary to stop cowboys getting away with unsafe practices, but this will hit businesses that are doing their best in a difficult economic climate.

This whole strategy is extremely dodgy – and will put the credibility and integrity of the HSE in a very shaky position. It must be stopped or it will give the government a licence to rob businesses of their livelihood.

Health and safety bureaucracy at work

There is so much legislation relating to health and safety that most businesses feel that every move they make must be recorded – the paper mountain gets bigger every day. Here are some thoughts about keeping the bureaucracy where it belongs.

– A piece of paper has never stopped an accident; keep paperwork to a minimum.

– All documents should be as short as possible and as long as necessary. In other words don’t write for the sake of writing.

– Understand that guidance is not the law, it’s there as a suggestion. Be practical and pragmatic at all times.

– A checklist only tells you what hazards to look for; if a hazard isn’t on the list it may be overlooked.

– Ticking a box doesn’t assess risk. Yes, we have a fire alarm system, but is it right for us, does it work, etc? There’s more to risk assessment than ticking a box.

– Don’t get bogged down in trivia – there’s no need to risk assess staff tea-making!

– Make sure your health and safety advice is not based on paper, but on reality.

Don’t let health and safety bureaucracy hinder your operation; just be sensible!