Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs) published by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are described in textbooks as having a “quasi-legal status”. The HSE never uses this term, instead explaining that each ACoP has “special legal status. If you are prosecuted for breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that you have not followed the relevant provisions of the code, a court will find you at fault unless you can show that you have complied with the law in some other way.”
Are you a safety and health expert? If you Google “expert health and safety advice” thousands of results will appear on your screen. But the UK legislation and the Health and Safety Executive never refer to experts or expertise; they commonly use the term “competence”, stretching as far in one HSE document (INDG 420, bit.ly/2i0ULTM), as “specialist help”.
One requirement of the draft international standard ISO 45001 (DIS2, 2017) is for top management to ensure “the organisation establishes and implements a process for consultation and participation of workers” in the OSH management system. The previous draft (DIS1, 2016) expected management to show that they were “ensuring [my italics] active participation of workers and, where they exist, workers’ representatives”. Perhaps the change reflects that, as with horses and water, workers can be invited to the table, but cannot be made to participate.
Vicarious – adjective: taking place of another as a substitute. In G is for Guilt (bit.ly/2xYegzQ) we noted that Burglar Bill knows immediately that he is guilty of breaking into a property but an employer will be unsure of the guilt of the organisation in failing to prevent an injury until the facts have been considered in more detail.
The terms “unsafe acts” and “unsafe (mechanical or physical) conditions” appear in HW Heinrich’s book Industrial Accident Prevention as the central domino in his accident causation sequence. Between the 1941 and 1959 editions, the list of unsafe conditions grew, so that each list had nine items (summarised in the table below).
With Safety I (traditional thinking) we define safety as the condition where nothing goes wrong – there is no loss of life, no injuries, no damage. The focus of safety practitioners is on hazards, horrors and harm – the opposite of this. To improve standards, we look at where there is a lack of safety, itself evidenced by accidents, and work from there. This negative approach has been applied to occupational health too. Health surveillance looks for signs of harm, and investigations determine why someone has hearing loss or dermatitis.
If we could assign a precise value for likelihood, such as one in 100 years or one in 10,000 events, and we could quantify the severity of all harmful outcomes on a single measure, such as loss of quality-adjusted life years (for an explanation of these see www.nice.org.uk), or a monetary value, we would not need a risk matrix. The risk associated with each hazard could be calculated and compared with set values, and we could determine that it was a trivial, manageable or unacceptable risk.
The terms qualitative and quantitative risk assessments can confuse even the best. Perusing a LinkedIn conversation recently reinforced that impression as an expert attempted to explain the quantitative method to a sector newbie. According to the correspondent, a quantitative assessment assigned numbers to risk likelihood and severity, on a scale of, say, one to three or one to five. The numbers were then multiplied, and the result was the quantitative assessment.
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