Within the UK construction industry health and safety has become a top priority and is driven by a strict set of policies and procedures covering almost every task. But what can happen when plans veer away from routine. David Cant of Veritas Consulting considers some options.

The biggest problem is not in the everyday operation or use of tools or machinery, no matter how dangerous they may be. It’s not the plant machinery, the saws, the blades, the knives and metal presses. It’s not the laser beams, circular saws or drills. It’s nothing to do with the day-to-day use of this sort of equipment at all. It’s when plans veer away from the day-to-day routine – that’s the biggest problem.

You know how it is, I’m sure. One day a machine gets blocked and needs sorting out, or a piece of machinery fails and so a backup piece of equipment that’s been in storage is wheeled out. It’s when the normal routine is changed, for whatever reason, that health and safety faces a huge challenge, and it’s at precisely these times that the majority of injuries in the workplace occur.

A recent case in serious hand injury

A Dorset brewery was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs by Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court after one of the brewery’s workers lost two fingers.

The cause of the accident? A piece of machinery which had been in storage had been moved to a new location in the main building for employees to use. Being older, it was liable to clog up now and then.

Their employees were expected to sort out the blockages themselves for the time being, and it was during this process that one worker lost two fingers. Reaching into the machine to clear the blockage his fingers were severed by the blades which were still moving, and which were unguarded.

The problem in so many workplaces is that health and safety inspections are carried out in a very blinkered way. At Veritas Consulting we’ve seen this happen time and time again. Apparently wonderful and comprehensive health and safety reports, policies and documentation are beautifully printed and duplicated, bound and displayed, but they’re worth almost nothing in terms of actually offering employees safe working conditions.

Health and safety inspections ignore ‘what if’ for ‘now’

The reason is that these health and safety inspections have only looked at what’s going on NOW, what equipment is being used NOW and how it is being used NOW. These policies often overlook the ‘what if’ questions.

What if this piece of equipment failed and had to be replaced, what if the equipment developed a fault, what if there was a blockage, what if a member of staff was away and their role had to be taken on by someone else, what if there was a power cut… and so on.

In fact there are a huge number of ‘what if’ questions, and it’s these which need identifying and answering. Only when these questions have been addressed can employees be truly protected.

After all, most car accidents occur not when people are doing the ordinary day-to-day manoeuvres but when something unexpected happens, such as an animal running out into the road, a tyre bursting, a car pulling out unexpectedly into their path, and so on.

With health and safety it’s important to focus not on the obvious and apparent risks but to go much further than that and consider the less obvious, the less likely, but the still possible, because this is where more injuries and workplace accidents come from.

If you’d like to have a more thorough health and safety inspection carried out, or want to verify that your existing policies and procedures are comprehensive enough, get in touch with one of our health and safety advisors and they’ll be happy to discuss your concerns and requirements with you.


David Cant

Veritas Consulting