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Conference report

IOSH 2018

Post-Grenfell regulatory reform, ISO 45001 lessons, Formula One racing safety and managing accident investigations were among the highlights of this year’s conference. 

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Pictures: Steve Burden

Leadership has been the dominant motif of IOSH’s annual gatherings for the past three years. While it remained an important strand at IOSH 2018, which brought 700 delegates to Birmingham’s International Convention Centre on 17 and 18 September, this year’s conference was subtitled “Shape a new world of work”.

The conference’s 34 sessions were threaded through with presentations on issues such as technological and demographic change and refinements in risk control to underpin that new world theme.

Fire prevention was the focal point of several sessions, reflecting the deep shadow last year’s Grenfell Tower fire has cast across the safety and health community.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who conducted the government-sponsored review of the UK’s fire regulatory system prompted by the disaster, explained to the conference her recommendation of a safety case regime, like that used in high-hazard industries such as oil and gas, for the construction and management of high-rise multi-occupancy buildings. She warned delegates that the new regime would have an impact beyond the construction sector on anyone managing and maintaining these properties.

IOSH-2018-Dame-Judith-HackittHackitt responded to criticism voiced at the launch of her report that she failed to advocate a ban on combustible building cladding. “If we only fix the cladding issue, we could only guarantee there would not be another fire caused by cladding,” she said. “Unless we fix the system we have no way of guaranteeing we couldn’t have another catastrophic high-rise fire caused by something else.”

“We have to get to a point where those who commission and build buildings feel as responsible for the people who occupy them as they do for those who construct them,” she said.

Hackitt added the time when a developer could break ground with only a basic design, then “make it up as you go along” was past. The safety case system will require detailed designs for high-rise buildings, signed off by a new competent authority made up of the Health and Safety Executive, local authority building control and fire services. Any revisions to the design will have to be carefully recorded and the project as-built approved again by the competent authority before occupation.

Hackitt said that once the government responds formally to her report in the coming months she will be convening a panel of experts, including representatives from the oil and gas and aviation sectors, to ensuree the construction industry complies with those of her recommendations that are accepted.

See also

45001 lessons

At the end of IOSH 2018’s first day, delegates heard about some experiences of the early adopters of the new ISO 45001 OSH management systems standard.

IOSH’s former head of research, Kate Field, who is now global product champion for certification body BSI, revealed the common non-conformances that auditors are finding among those trying for accreditation. The requirement to consult all workers was one of these. “We are seeing organisations missing that,” said Field. She said consultation arrangements sometimes stretch no lower than supervisory level and even when they do, they miss engaging employees in issues such as forming new policies or objectives.

Another shortcoming auditors flagged was organisations not seeking fundamental causes of safety failings. “ISO 45001 is very specific about identifying root causes,” warned Field.

Susan Penty, vice president of quality, health, safety and environment at under-sea seismic survey company Magseis, gained certification to the new standard for her firm as soon as it was launched in May. She said accreditation “gave me confidence in the management system, because I had started with a blank sheet.” She added that the discipline of having an audit scheduled focuses people’s minds: “Once you have the date in the calendar, the organisation will jump,” she said.

Session chair Cathy Newman asked Hackitt if there were areas other than construction that would benefit from an investigation into the state of their regulation and management. The EEF chief executive nominated the UK’s National Health Service. “Someone should have a similar look-see,” she said, “because I suspect it is as complicated.”

In a panel discussion after her presentation, Hackitt was asked who she believed should pay for measures to remedy the fire safety problems that surveys since Grenfell have revealed in many high-rise blocks, which will amount to millions of pounds per building in some cases. Hackitt had no answer but lawyer Anne Davies of Gunnercooke suggested the time limit on claims against developers could be removed.

In answer to a question about the way that the safety regime for high-rise residences was allowed to atrophy, national health and safety officer for the GMB union Daniel Shears blamed a “failure of imagination” on the part of dutyholders. Davies cited an “obsession with KPIs [key performance indicators]” in business that prompted managers to focus only on what they are measured on. She said organisations should learn from the oil and gas sector, which maintains “a culture of constant unease”.

In a later session, chair of IOSH’s fire group, David Gold, said a relaxed attitude among staff asked to evacuate a building was “the biggest killer”. A complacent reaction to fire alarms led to occupants looking for their friends, belongings and even waiting for confirmation there was a real emergency, wasting the critical three minutes that it takes for a fire to take hold and the temperature to rise, and eroding their chances of a safe escape. The IOSH group plans to survey members about the issue of complacency in fire arrangements.

Smell of success

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Racing uncertainty

Mark Gallagher, chief executive of Performance Insights, led a plenary session on how the death of sporting icon Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix triggered a reappraisal of safety in Formula One motor racing, the lessons from which have been cascaded through motor sport and its supply chain. 

But Gallagher warned that the 20 years without a fatality in Formula One which those lessons made possible, ended with the death of Jules Bianchi in 2015. 

“It wasn’t because we were lucky,” he said reflecting on the safety record up until that point. “We put safety centre stage because culturally [Senna’s death] was a game changer. But the problem with those 20 years where we didn’t have a further driver fatality was that with each passing year we were faced with the c-word: complacency.”

“People leave the industry,” he added. “New people come into the industry and question why you do the things you do because they haven’t been to the funeral that we’ve been to.”

Gallagher told delegates that safety planning extended beyond Formula One races to cover travel to and from each location. He said that about 3,000 staff from the 10 competing teams attend each race, undertaking short and long-haul travel, and using all forms of transport.

“It may surprise you to know that one of the highest risk factors for our employees is road traffic accidents,” he said.

On road safety in general, Gallagher said the industry had been a trailblazer by helping to improve vehicle manufacturing standards. He pointed to the motor racing regulator FIA’s decision to bring in mandatory crash testing for all Formula One cars which led to the European Union introducing the European New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP).

“That’s why, starting in the mid-1990s, cars started to achieve a safety rating, including front wheel crash structures, side impact protection [and] airbags. All those technologies that we take for granted 20 years later, [all] that came in through the Euro NCAP programme, which was developed in the wake of the Senna accident.”

Looking to the future, Gallagher welcomed the advent of autonomous vehicles.

“It amuses us that people are worried about computers making decisions,” he said. “Computers won’t take drugs, they won’t speed, and they won’t update Facebook while they are driving.”

He added that part of Formula One’s future role would be to pioneer elements of autonomous vehicle technology for its wider application on the public highway while keeping the sport manual.

“It’ll be a bit like horse racing, which is a big industry today,” he explained.

“I assume you didn’t come on a horse today, so in 50 years’ time you won’t drive. Your car will take you to your destination and we will watch Formula One because the very notion of people manually driving a vehicle at 320 kph will just be mind blowing.”

Harnessing leaders to promote safety and health improvement is a perennial challenge for many OSH professionals. John Pares, head of environment, health and safety (EHS) field organisation at Givaudan, laid out a scheme that has produced good results for the Swiss fragrance and flavouring manufacturer.

Givaudan’s EHS excellence model started with independent consultant Andriana Naidoo interviewing staff at the company’s safest plants in the UK and Mexico and honing statements about OSH culture under 12 headings that included mindset and behaviour, culture and values, training and development, reporting and teamwork. The statements ranged from safety-specific ones to the more generalised, such as, “We are an employer of choice for the local population”.

The model was spread through the organisation via half-day senior management workshops where the leaders could compare their plants with the model statements. Pares said the discussions revealed contrasts in safety standards. Faced with a statement about treating contractors as though they were Givaudan employees, managers at some sites admitted that non-employees were banned from their company events.

Regional EHS professionals were trained to lead the workshops with a light touch, said Pares. “Leadership teams responded well to being listened to, not just being told what to do,” he said.

“Leaders need your help to know what to do,” added Naidoo, “because this is not an area they know how to swim in.”

The 27 Givaudan workshops to date have involved 300 leaders at plants round the world and generated hundreds of improvement actions, leading to easier recruitment and retention and increased productivity as well as lower accidents, Pares reported.

Under investigation

Managing workplace accident investigations was the subject of three presentations on the second day.

Helen Devery, head of regulatory practice at law firm BLM, advised senior managers how to handle police and regulatory investigations in the wake of a workplace fatality. “The initial steps that you take during an investigation can be very influential on the outcome of the prosecution,” Devery said.

Establishing a single point of contact to deal directly with the regulatory authority is an important first step, she said, as is being open and transparent, up to a point. It is also vital to make records of all interactions with the regulator throughout the investigation.

IOSH-2018-audience-HSE inspectors and local authority environmental health officers have extensive powers, allowing them to enter premises and seize documents. Devery touched on past cases that showed how obstructive and truculent behaviour by dutyholders had led to a breakdown in the relationship between an organisation and inspectors. The importance of cooperation as a mitigating factor is clearly stated in the Sentencing Council’s penalty guidelines for safety and health offences and corporate manslaughter.

“Be helpful,” Devery said, “but don’t be overly helpful and only respond to what they’re requesting from you because you’re opening yourself up to scrutiny.” Borrowing a slogan from the second world war, she added: “Loose lips sink ships.” 

Devery warned delegates against “blindly accepting” a prohibition notice because “it could be evidence of acceptance of liability” and said careful consideration was needed before someone from the organisation attends a formal interview, after which the HSE or local authority will decide whether they are going to prosecute. “You have options whether you attend, provide a written statement or answer written questions under caution,” she noted.

Matter of record

Earlier that morning, OSH practitioners who attended the popular presentation by Ian Hynes, CEO of training provider Intersol Global, on investigative interviewing received tools to help them elicit reliable, detailed information for an accident report.

Hynes wrote the regulators’ interview strategy for Lion Steel Equipment, which was fined £480,000 in 2012 for the corporate manslaughter of one of its employees. His first piece of advice was for practitioners to focus on identifying the main issues relevant to an accident during the planning and preparation phase, rather than writing lists of questions, because: “I guarantee that you won’t listen; you’ll be thinking of the next question and you’ll also be missing responses that are so key, which, in your world, would be risky.”

Dominic Wigley, global health, safety and security director at Merlin EntertainmentsWorking with a co-interviewer or recording the conversation relieves the lead investigator of note taking, which Hynes referred to as their “Achilles’ heel” because it can lead to inaccuracies.

“Work with your lawyers and insurers,” advised Dominic Wigley, global health, safety and security director at Merlin Entertainments, in a later session, “but don’t be led by them”. Wigley’s tips for responding to a major workplace incident were based on his steering Merlin through the aftermath of the Smiler rollercoaster ride accident at the Alton Towers theme park in 2015. Wigley rehearsed Merlin’s structural changes to safety management after the accident that he described in IOSH Magazine last year (bit.ly/2rK4pt2). He counselled leaders caught in a post-incident storm to “always overreact to events” because not responding adequately posed greater risks to the organisation. “Lean into the crisis and take ownership”, he added, because if you don’t assume control, other parties will, including journalists and social media.

The small stuff

John Richardson, operations manager at training and risk management services provider Matrix Risk Control, advised delegates on making marginal gains through small, incremental improvements in safety.

Richardson cited Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center in the US, which had reduced its insurance premiums by 74% over a six-year period by encouraging hospital staff to report mistakes across a range of hospital services. By promising that staff would not be reprimanded for highlighting the errors, he said that management had received between 800 and 1,000 safety observations each month.

But in the question-and-answer session, regular IOSH Magazine contributor (see p 28), Bridget Leathley, consultant, trainer and writer at the Safer Choice, warned that OSH managers could be overwhelmed by the volume of reports and that employees needed help to distinguish between observations that are essential to safety and less important ones that could be dealt with by others such as facilities managers.

Picking up on this point, a delegate from the Co-operative Group noted that filtering observations could sometimes involve a “fine line”. However, she said the first step should be to encourage a proactive culture of reporting and then for managers to sort through the reports later.

Another delegate agreed, arguing near-miss reporting should never be discouraged. It was essential that line managers provided employees with feedback on the actions they would take in response to reports, he added.

Nearly there

IOSH-2018-NEC-BirminghamLeathley returned to suggest practitioners looking for immersive realistic experiences to bolster training should know the difference between 360-degree video, which uses visors to place users in a scene but strictly as spectators, and virtual reality (VR), which gives them a level of interaction that makes it more like “being there”.

VR offers users a chance to fail or succeed in executing a procedure or dealing with a hazard. She suggested testing VR training offerings with the questions, “Do I have any control over what I am seeing?”, “Is there interaction?”, “Can I pick anything up?”, “Is there data collection?” and “Is it trackable?”

VR director Lewis Young added the way to brief a  producer for a training aid was not to say, “We want to try some VR”, but to tell them about a problem you want to solve. He showed delegates an example of a problem solved: a safety testing and maintenance task on a man-riding winch which VR allowed a client’s employees to practise in city hotel rooms, right down to checking the integrity of the welds.

In a session on macro trends in technology, Dr Nicola Millard, futurologist at British Telecommunications (BT), tilted at some common predictions for mid-21st century workplace trends. Forecasts of the end of the office were exaggerated, she said. Though large minorities of office-based workers in many countries – 39% in the UK, 44% in Germany, falling to 20% in Singapore – say that they are no longer encouraged to come into their nominal workplaces, there would always be a need for people to meet face-to-face.

Noting that BT had 10,000 workers based at home at the start of the century, Millard said many had been reclassified as mobile staff, since isolation had proved a problem for some. “I think permanent homeworking can be as damaging to productivity as permanent office working,” she added. She suggested the future office would be designed for team activities rather than crammed with individual desks.

The impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on unemployment rates was another of Millard’s targets. “I profoundly disagree with that study,” she said of the widely-reported Oxford Martin School research paper that said 47% of jobs could be replaced by automation. Other studies by consultants McKinsey and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development put the proportion of jobs at risk between 5% and 14%. Automation would replace the “dull and dirty” parts of many roles, she said, but few whole jobs.

Keeley Downey is assistant editor of IOSH Magazine

Nick Warburton is deputy editor of IOSH Magazine 

Louis Wustemann is editor, IOSH Magazine. He was previously editor of Health and Safety at Work magazine and Environment in Business. He has written, edited and consulted on health and safety, environmental and employment matters for more than 25 years.

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