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Health & Safety Consultancy
Q. Health and safety people are sometimes seen as knit-pickers, what would you say to that?
A. This can certainly be true. Some Health and Safety people do focus too much at times on the formal Safety Management System, i.e. the paperwork and not enough on the people involved and the actual activities under consideration. An S.M.S. is merely and additional tool to assist in keeping a safe workplace. It is not and should never be the total driving force for safety. I have attended on large sites over the years with great paperwork but extremely dangerous conditions on site for the employees.
Q. What was the worst health and safety breach you?ve ever come across?
A. Quite simply the use of a standard plasterboard sheet as a working platform 6 - 8 floors up in a service shaft in a building under construction. This was a site with a very successful S.M.S. in place but was providing only lip service to safety on site. Fortunately no accident occurred therefrom but that company had two deaths within a year on other sites for very simple violations of good practices.
Q. Do you think there is a good awareness of heath and safety regulations among the SMEs and large organisations in Ireland?
A. Awareness yes. Knowledge of best practice would be questionable and very varied across all industries
Q. What are some of the consequences of poor health and safety policies in a business or organisation?
A. Poor health and safety policies and procedures can lead to an increase in accidents (and injuries and possibly death) which will lead to increases in insurance costs and the development of a poor reputation in regard to safety. This can have a negative knock-on effect on the tendering process because of in-house increased costs
Q. What would you say to businesses who use a generic health and safety statement or are tempted to use an outdated one?
A. Many issues associated with health and safety can be based on a generic approach but to be effective and practical must take account of specific workplace issues e.g. the employees, the contractors, the site conditions, etc. as appropriate and be developed in a site-specific way as appropriate.
Q. Do you think the average Irish employee has become more litigious in recent years?
A. No. I think there is more awareness of the rights of individuals and as a result people are more likely to try to make a claim after an incident, large or small. Also the development of the Injuries Board and the public campaign by Insurance Industry in relation to claims fraud would, in my opinion, have balanced out matters significantly.
Q. The owner of a well-known Irish fast-food company recently remarked in a newspaper that he dreads checking the log book of one of his flagship restaurants for "accidents" that have occurred. Is there a compensation culture in Ireland? How does this influence your work?
A. There has been and probably still is because of our legal system, which is combative and requires a direct head-on battle between opposing sides.
A lot of the attitude in this regard arises as a result of the very flexible claims payment system run for many years by Insurance Companies, primarily on the basis that it is more costly to fight in court than make a settlement before then.
This has been changing somewhat over recent years with the introduction of the Injuries Board, the development of the ongoing public campaign by the Insurance Industry in relation to claims fraud, the economic conditions afflicting the insurance industry as well as everyone else, the ongoing loss of independent thought and application of the traditional insurance philosophies in relation to dealing with Insured and their claims, the diminution of ethics generally across the board, etc.
The problem is not that there are accidents but that there seems to be so many that are "questionable" in nature and occurrence.
It is necessary for me to keep aware as far as I can in relation to such occurrences and trends and advise my clients on the best way forward both before and after an incident / accident occurring. I also have to build such situations into the documentation and systems that I prepare for my clients.
Q. How does a manager/foreman develop a strong health and safety ethos among employees?
A. By personal; example, by good communication with employees and by monitoring and assessing conditions on an ongoing basis. Critically this involves a direct pro-active approach to all matters of health and safety.
Q. Can you give some examples where you helped organisations avoid costly legal cases?
A. I have reviewed legal documentation on various cases at the request of solicitors involved and identified "weaknesses" in systems, paperwork, etc. in relation to both sides which, if exposed in Court, could have serious ramifications in a number of cases over the years. This resulted in settlement talks commencing more quickly with reasoned settlements being made.
I reviewed work by one builder on behalf of that builder who was suing the client for outstanding monies. The standard of work by his sub-contractors was extremely poor and on receiving advices that he could not win in Court he accepted that and walked away.
Q. What do you wish everyone knew about health and safety?
A. That health and safety is not an add-on responsibility and duty, that it is inherent to our individual and mass survival. Also that the application of common sense is not eroded by good health and safety, it is in fact supplemented by it very significantly.
Q. What gives you the greatest satisfaction in this job?
A. Doing a good job and thereby resolving issues of concern for the client, whether or not he / she appreciates the amount of time effort and work involved.
When a client comes back to you for advice on a specific topic can also be very fulfilling.
Q. What are your top Health and Safety tips?
A. 1. Ensure that your actions do not increase risk to yourself or to anyone else who may be affected by your actions.
2. Continue to learn from any occurrences / mistakes and prevent them happening again.
3. Attend appropriate training on specific topics as much as possible and apply the principles and detail learned when back in the workplace.
4. Advise colleagues or if necessary report them if they are involved in situations where someone may get injured or die.
5. Report all defects or safety problems to the relevant supervisor / management as soon as practicable after noting them to enable immediate / early remediation measure to be taken.
6. Investigate all accidents / incidents properly and initiate appropriate remedial measures.