Features: November 6th, 2009

By Judy Wakelin

With more than 130,000 workplace injuries every year, health and safety is high up the management agenda. Not only does a healthy and safe workplace promote productivity and reduce costs in absences and insurance, it also limits the risk of claims. The author draws on the experiences of councils and explains how developing a structure for managing health and safety responsibilities can deliver dividends.

Councils can reap a multitude of benefits by creating a health and safety programme. Providing a healthy and safe workplace maximises productivity and helps reduce cost in the following areas: sick days and absences, replacement training, and lower insurance premiums. In addition, an effective health and safety management system reduces fines for health and safety violations. Investing in sound health and safety practices saves the precious commodities of time and money, something that local authorities can simply not afford to lose.

With the LA Forum (a consultative body made up of representatives from HSE, local authority employer representatives and the trade unions), seeking to engender a change of approach in the way that LAs manage health and safety, and to influence and guide the factors that will bring about change, it’s clear that health and safety remains high on the government agenda. However changing legislation and strict regulation can be a mine field to navigate, so how can councils even begin to find their way safely through?
Many councils are now recognising the values in adopting occupational health and safety management system, such as OHSMS 18001, as part of their risk management strategy in order to address changing legislation and protect their workforce. Without such systems in place, health and safety issues can be difficult to manage and local authorities run the risk falling into the hands of many claimants if found to be in breach of health and safety regulations. Health and Safety failures currently cost Britain’s employers up to £6.5 billion every year.

Tackling health and safety head on

Bracknell Forrest Council experienced the consequences of not having a robust health and safety system in place, Peter Wright, Head of Leisure Facilities explains, “Back in 1999 one of our sites was hired out for an event. An outside contractor was brought in and they borrowed our scaffolding to do some wiring. It toppled over and a contractor broke his ankle. As a result we were taken to court and prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive. The result was a £5,000 fine. However that wasn’t the issue for us. The incident highlighted an imperative need to establish a structure for managing safety responsibilities and to ensure these responsibilities are efficiently integrated into overall operations. The business took the decision to embark upon a health and safety management system with BSI which has now been successfully introduced (BS OHSAS 18001) across six different leisure centres.”

The standard promotes a safe and healthy working environment by providing a framework that allows organisations to consistently identify and control its health and safety risks, reduce the potential for accidents, aid legislative compliance and improve overall performance.

Bracknell Forest Council is not the only council to have recognised the benefits of implementing BS OHSAS 18001. David Marshall, head of personnel services at Renfrewshire Council commented that, “Since implementing BS OHSAS 18001, Renfrewshire Council has seen a marked change in the culture of the organisation. Each of the eight services within the council is increasingly taking ownership of health and safety and ensuring employees are involved in improving standards for safe service provision. This has led to an increase in employees gaining further qualifications accredited by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). The council has also seen a 38 per cent decrease in the amount of sick days lost through industrial injury, resulting in significant cost savings.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s health and safety credentials have also been bolstered with the achievement of BS OHSAS 18001. Economy and Transport has become the first national government organisation in Wales to achieve this standard.

Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones, who leads the department, said: “It is essential that all those who work for us have confidence that we put their safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything we do. Our award winning system helps us identify risks and reduces the potential for accidents. Crucially, it also allows us to improve performance.

A structure for managing health and safety responsibilities

BS OHSAS 18001 is the internationally recognised assessment specification for occupational health and safety management systems. It was developed by a selection of leading trade bodies, international standards and certification bodies to address a gap where no third-party certifiable international standard exists. BS OHSAS 18001 has also been designed to be compatible with ISO 9001 (Quality) and ISO 14001 (Environmental), to help meet health and safety obligations in an efficient manner.

The following key areas are addressed by BS OHSAS 18001:
• Planning for hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control
• OHSAS management programme
• Structure and responsibility
• Training, awareness and competence
• Consultation and communication
• Operational control
• Emergency preparation and response
• Performance measuring, monitoring and improvement

This means local authorities would be able to clearly identify hazards and risks associated with activities across all services, and understand those health and safety laws relevant to each situation. Other benefits of being certified to the standard include:
• Potential reduction in the number of accidents
• Potential reduction in downtime and associated costs
• Demonstration of legal and regulatory compliance
• Demonstration to stakeholders of your commitment to health and safety
• Demonstration of an innovative and forward thinking approach
• Increased access to new customers and business partners
• Better management of health and safety risks, now and in the future
• Potential reduced public liability insurance costs

BS OHSAS 18001 can be adopted by any local authority wishing to implement a formal procedure to reduce the risks associated with health and safety in the working environment for employees, customers and the general public. For further information visit: www.bsigroup.com

Judy Wakelin is with the BSI group, a global independent business services organisation. E:judy.wakelin@bsigroup.com