Safety at work is part of the mandate of industrial nations

David Hadfield explains how workers and managers can be protected at the same time.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  June 19, 2004

Safety at work is part of the mandate of industrial nations|~|Collapse body.jpg|~|Building collapses can be disastrous|~|“At the onset of the 21st century a heavy human and economic toll is still exacted by unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.” So says the International Labour Organisation. The protection of workers against work-related sickness, disease and injury forms part of the historical mandate of any industrial nation. Disease and injury do not go with the job nor can poverty or discrimination of any type justify disregard for workers’ safety and health. The need for safe working conditions on construction sites can be traced back to 3000 BC in ancient Babylon where the ‘Code of Hammurabi’ punished ‘overseers of injuries’ if they did not perform their job. If a worker lost an arm due to a supervisor’s mistake or negligence, the overseer’s arm would be taken as well based on the ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ principle. Another Hammurabi code required, “that if a builder built a house for a man and does not make its construction firm, and the house he has built collapses and causes death of the owner of the house, that the builder shall be put to death.” A law that would no doubt send shivers down the spines of many construction supervisors if it were still implemented today. Safety management progressed after the Second World War and recognised that: The safety of workers is a management responsibility; safety management requires the active involvement of all; safe working means management and control of all risks and potential accidents that may result in harm and damage; accidents are preventable, at least the 95% that are down to human error; and that near misses, property damage and poor quality often have the same basic causes. Governments, employers and workers who are positive, forward looking and care for their workforce now recognise the positive impact of introducing occupational health and safety management systems at the organisational level, both on the reduction of hazards and risks and on productivity. The management of the organisation is accountable for and has a duty to organise occupational health and safety. The implementation of a health and safety management system is one useful approach to fulfilling this duty. The introduction of a health and safety management system definitely makes a difference and will be reflected in an increased efficiency for the company. The best health and safety management systems involve every level of an organisation, instilling a safety culture that reduces accidents for workers and improves the bottom line for managers. When safety and health are part of the organisation and a way of life, everyone wins. What are the health and safety payoffs and what return on investment can health and safety programmes provide? These may include but are not limited to the following: improved employee morale; decreased lost time; fewer workplace injuries and illnesses; lower insurance costs; and safety culture adoption When you integrate management and health and safety systems, health and safety become an important part of the way the business runs. The performance standards and health and safety standards can be combined; management should then not only ‘talk the talk’ but actually ‘walk the walk’. The management ‘top down’ support should be the driving force and ‘bottom up’ implementation of workers co-operation should be ensured. To confirm that you are achieving your goals a health and safety check up should be carried out. This will indicate where we’re getting weaker or stronger. Other methods involve statistical reports; opinion surveys; risk analysis; periodic inspections; and process improvement initiatives. We need to create change and decide what practices are best for assuring lasting success. We must also obtain management buy-in, build trust and conduct self-assessments to ensure we remain on track. It is essential to develop a site safety vision; to develop a system of accountability and measures; to implement recognition and rewards; to provide awareness training; to implement process changes; to continually measure; and communicate results and celebrate successes. A competent institution nominated to formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy for the establishment and promotion of health and safety management systems in organisations would improve the situation. This could be done in consultation with the most representative organisations of employers and workers and others as needed. Notwithstanding the above, occupational health and safety, including compliance with the health and safety requirements pursuant to national laws and regulations, are the responsibility and duty of the employer. The employer should show strong leadership and commitment to health and safety activities in the organisation, and make appropriate arrangements for the establishment of a health and safety management system. The system should contain the main elements of policy, organising, planning and implementation, evaluation and action for improvement. I will look more closely at these elements in future articles. A good starting point would be to contact your local certification service and instruct them to start the process for OHSAS 18001 certification. For those who are not aware of it, OHSAS 18001 is a ‘specification’ for the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Management System that was published in 1999. A number of the international third party certification bodies, including LRQA, national standards bodies from UK, Ireland, South Africa, Japan, Spain, Malaysia, Singapore, Mexico, and a number of other interested parties from around the world, including the UK Engineering Employers Federation, jointly developed it. It was developed to provide a model for OHS management systems and their internal or external assessment and/or certification in the absence of a suitable International (ISO) Standard. It is closely aligned with ISO 14001:1996, the model for environmental management. Unlike ISO 9001 and 14001, which are International Standards, OHSAS 18001 is still a ‘specification’ and not an ‘International Standard’. OHSAS 18002:2000 contains the guidelines for the implementation of OHSAS 18001 and was developed to help explain and ensure consistent interpretation of OHSAS 18001. This guide contains the entire requirement set out in OHSAS 18001, together with explanatory guidance on each section in turn. In particular, OHSAS 18002 provides guidance on how the various parts of the management system must interact with each other, with risk assessment forming the backbone of the management system, providing inputs to the other elements of the system. Any company’s primary goal should be to promote opportunities for all people to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Please note that the views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any company he may be associated with.||**||

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