As a WorkSafe Inspector, I was often told that health and safety is just common sense and employers shouldn’t be held responsible for other people doing stupid things that get themselves hurt. On the face of it, this seems a fair statement until you start to break it down to the basic requirements under our current health and safety legislation.
If we accept that people make mistakes, and we all do, then what extra steps do we need to take to ensure that they do not hurt themselves, or anyone else, when they stuff up?
Accidents happen when a series of events all line up at the same time. This is typically known as the “Swiss cheese model” and the more barriers we can put in place, the harder it is for all the holes to align and there is less likelihood of an accident occurring.
In this case, some of the barriers we are talking about include well-trained employees, appropriate risk identification and controls, the right tools for the job, well-planned work (removing excessive time pressures), supervision or monitoring, worker participation, well-defined policies and procedures for undertaking specific higher risk jobs and a process for review.
Compare this to what is actually happening on some worksites. Employees being shown how to operate a piece of plant or equipment with only five minutes instruction and then being told to “be careful” and get on and do the job. Often there is no monitoring or supervision to ensure that they are using the equipment correctly and safely.
If your employees are qualified tradesmen, the approach seems to be worse, as there is a misconception that once someone is qualified then they should know how to do the job safely. If we go back to the “it’s just common sense” statement, we are all aware that everyone has a different perception or approach to a job and what is common sense to one person is not necessarily common sense to another.
For me, common sense is a combination of training, competency and life skills. A piece of paper does not mean that you are good at your job, it just means that you should know how to do it.
A good example of this is driving – how many times do we see someone doing something stupid or dangerous while driving; yet these drivers have gone through the same driving test as everyone else. They have the piece of paper to say that they are trained and know what they are doing, but it is only with several years of experience that you could say that they might be competent drivers. Would you allow an employee to jump into an expensive work vehicle or machine without being confident in their driving ability?
Health and safety at work should be the same. Until you are confident in the competency and skills of any employee or contractor (documented, of course), then they need policies and procedures in place to provide clear direction and they also need to be monitored or supervised.
These are your “Swiss cheese” barriers and will help to ensure you have a safer workplace, which meets your obligations under the current Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
Richard Tattersfield, Senior Health & Safety Consultant, Progressive Consulting Ltd