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So who does it happen to?

You think it won’t happen to you, but it happens to someone, somewhere. What makes you so special?

What are we talking about?

In 2015/16, there were 144 Workers killed, 621,000 non fatal injuries occurred and 30.4 Million Working Days were lost.
But it happens to someone else, right? It happens to the big employer, not the little guy.

Wrong. 99% of Private Sector Employers are Small Businesses, providing 60% of Private Sector employment.

So the odds are heavily stacked that most of the ill-health, injuries and deaths are going to be borne by the Smaller Business, the people who very often are least prepared for, or able to survive, an incident, however serious it is.

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Accident waiting to happen…

Many small firms are an ‘accident waiting to happen’, because they don’t realise what their situation is. It’s an old adage that ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’, but it’s particularly relevant in this case.

 

All too often, small business owners don’t recognise the problem, based primarily on the self assurance that nobody has been hurt so far so it must all be OK. Even if somebody is hurt, they just put it down to ‘One of those things’ and don’t grasp the seriousness of the situation.

If a small business does anything about their health & safety, it can quite often be by way of a scatter-gun approach. They hear about something on the news, or read about it going wrong somewhere and next thing they’re off. They’ll buy some fire extinguishers or a couple of first aid kits, they’ll perhaps send somebody on a course; what they won’t do is have a plan behind all this activity.

 

There won’t be a health & safety policy, nor a full list of all the activities they undertake, in order to establish what needs a risk assessment completed. There won’t be ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments, because they won’t understand what they should be looking for.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) claim on their website that it is ‘Simple as ABC’; does that help, or does it downplay the seriousness to an extent that they reinforce the perception that it will happen to the ‘other guy’?

Eventually something will happen. It might not be this month, nor next. It might not result in sufficient injury to attract the attention of the authorities; but the business will suffer nonetheless. Eventually, if the business continues to operate, something significant will undoubtedly occur.

 

Using poor materials in your publicity…

There is a particular business in the UK which like many, has a facebook page. On that page they proudly show off some videos of their staff working, in order to really make them seem like a happy family business.

They have perhaps not had many accidents in recent years, but looking at their video selection, it’s not long before the trained eye will notice that their ‘experienced staff’ are :

industry-319580_1920Using reciprocating jigsaws without guarding

Using bench circular saw with the guard set about 4 inches too high

Using glue spreading rollers without finger guarding

Reaching above head height to swing the weighted arm of a press

Now their argument will most likely be that “we’ve always done it that way” or perhaps even “nobodies been hurt yet”.

What they perhaps don’t realise is that there doesn’t have to be anyone hurt, there doesn’t have to be any one injured or killed for the employer to be in breach of the law, and their video is excellent evident for the HSE to present in Court.

In April 2017, two Roofing companies in Oldham, Lancs were prosecuted  for allowing their workers onto a Mill roof without fall protection of any kind.

MKM Fabrications and Clad-It Limited both pled guilty at Manchester Magistrates’ Court to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and each company was fined £66,000 with £3938.38 costs.

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HSE inspector Matt Greenly said after the case: “MKM and Clad-It failed in their duties to protect the roof workers and anyone working below them in the mill from a foreseeable risk of serious harm.

“The risks to workers here were obvious, and neither company thought it necessary to manage the work at height risks properly.”

Meanwhile, the vast majority of small businesses will carry on, confident in their own bubble of infallibility, that nothing is wrong in their workplace, that it will happen to the ‘other guy’.

That’s why there were 660 prosecutions by or on behalf of the HSE in the UK during 2015/16, resulting in some £38M in fines, not including costs. These figures do not include prosecutions by Local Authorities where they are the responsible agency.

The most cost effective way for a smaller employer to keep their business safe is to have competent advice from a person qualified to help. Don’t just wing it on the assumption that it’s been OK so far….

 

Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.