A near-miss is “an event that, while not causing harm, has the potential to cause injury or ill health”, according to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/hsg245.pdf). Some near-misses – such as those involving pressure vessels, lifting equipment and explosives that fall under the Reporting of Incidents, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) – must be reported to the HSE, but the regulator encourages internal recording of and investigation into “non-reportable near-misses”.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) tells us that “the way you lead your team on health and safety can determine how safe your site is to work on”. This is backed up by research, as summarised by Sharon Clarke of Manchester Business School (bit.ly/2fgBvue) and by accident investigations. In the inquiry report into the rail crash at Ladbroke Grove in 1999, Lord Cullen supported the belief that “the first priority for a successful safety culture is leadership”.
The UK Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulations say someone is competent if they have “sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities” to assist with the measures needed to comply with relevant health, safety and fire legislation, and to respond in cases of “serious and imminent danger”.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), when carrying out a risk assessment, step 1 is to identify the hazards. The HSE guide on risk assessment (www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg163.pdf) suggests: “A good starting point is to walk around your workplace and think about any hazards.” This “I spy” approach will inevitably miss some hazards, such as those created by routine work, maintenance or emergency procedures.
For a term so widely used, you might think there would be a legal definition. Unhelpfully, the UK’s Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) provide the circular explanation that a reportable incident is “an incident giving rise to a notification or reporting requirement under these regulations”.
Consider a typical risk assessment template, such as that on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website (bit.ly/29YMpqw). The first column asks the assessor to answer the question “What are the hazards?”. The HSE defines a hazard as “anything that may cause harm”, while IOSH and the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) refer to “something with the potential to cause harm”.
At the start of the alphabet, we looked at ALARP – the idea that risks should be reduced as low as reasonably practicable. Foreseeability plays a key role in determining what is reasonably practicable. It is not reasonably practicable, for example, to establish controls to prevent an invasion of your UK work site by locusts, since this is not a foreseeable event. As the judge in a 1932 civil case put it, there is no need to protect against “fantastic possibilities”, such as Mr Harcourt-Rivington’s normally docile terrier smashing the window of a car, sending a shard of glass into the eye of a passer-by.
Ask the average office worker what an ergonomist does, and they will probably tell you they adjust chair heights and computer screens. In the nuclear industry I heard ergonomists described as “knobologists” because the perception was that their main job was to decide on the position of knobs, buttons and lights in a control room. These examples suggest that ergonomics is not as well understood as it should be.
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