In the past few years, the UK steel industry has been prone to making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The 2015/16 industry crisis was played out against a backdrop of serious accidents with high-profile court cases and fines to match.
Furthermore, since the publication of ‘new’ health and safety sentencing guidelines in February 2016, there has been a marked increase in the levels of penalties levied against companies, resulting in 12 fines within the £1.5m-£3m+ range, compared with three such fines handed out in 2015, and none at all in 2014.
A fine of any size can prove dangerous for small businesses, but larger institutions are now being fined proportionally depending on their annual turnover.
Tata Steel were notoriously fined nearly £2 million (reduced on appeal by 25%) after 2 workers suffered serious hand injuries in machinery incidents in 2014 and 2015.
As steel prices have risen again there is now renewed optimism in the sector however failing to consider safety as an important part of the wider business strategy in the metal stockholding sector has further commercial implications.
The true cost of failing to manage risk
It goes without saying that an accident can have serious human and material costs to an employer. But this goes much further than court cases and fines. There is lost working time through injury and ill-health to consider, as well as the disruption associated with an investigation. Equipment and buildings may need to be repaired or replaced, new staff have to be recruited and trained and hidden expenses, such as insurance premiums, may well rise.
Then there is the cost of dealing with the accident itself, such as HSE fees for intervention (FFI’s) and loss of production if HSE prohibition notices are served. There may also be further losses in the form of reputational damage and cancelled contracts.
Ensuring health and safety is central to the company's risk management strategy can help to limit these costs and leads to a safer, healthier and more
productive workforce – and ultimately a more competitive organisation.
Taking a holistic approach
It’s now generally recognised that health and safety management should embrace – in a holistic way – the interactions between the working environment, equipment, systems and procedures, and the people in the organization. Effective risk management is influenced by the behaviour of individuals in an organisation. The root cause of accidents can often be traced back to unsafe behaviours.
Put simply, it’s not enough to provide safe equipment, systems and procedures if the culture doesn’t encourage healthy and safe working.
Developing a safety culture
The challenge is how to develop a positive safety culture. Culture develops slowly over time and requires 3 key elements:
- Implementing working practices and rules for effectively controlling hazards
- Management leading by example with a positive attitude towards risk management and compliance the capacity to learn from accidents, near misses and safety performance indicators and bring about continual improvement.
- Remember - by acting safely workers can start to think safely.
Measuring health and safety performance
Measuring performance is essentially the Check part of the Plan, Do, Check, Act approach to strategic planning.
There are a wide range of possible metrics for measuring health and safety performance. It is advisable to use a variety to create a good overall picture of existing health and safety processes and identify patterns of good and bad behaviour. For example:
- Injury, ill-health and near-miss statistics – these statistics provide you with a picture of where safety mistakes are being made.
- Audits and inspections – routine proactive audits should be undertaken to spot and remove a safety ‘threat’ to the business.
- Training – a core element of risk management that helps to create a safety culture
- The policy itself – assess the efficacy of the health and safety planning, implementation and monitoring process
Southalls, Safety Cloud, health and safety management software provides key metrics and KPI’s for measuring health and safety performance.
Accidents are a sign that change is required
Investigating accidents and near misses internally is an important part of a risk management strategy because it highlights a failing in the process. But most important of all, it can be a catalyst for change. For instance, if an accident is the result of human error a systematic investigation should reveal whether issues such as time pressures or a poor safety culture were involved. These can be dealt with through an action plan and so help to prevent similar situations in the future.
Identifying and remove safety threats
Processes and equipment change, people come and go, regulations get updated – so it is important that even the most robust safety management regime is audited regularly. A proactive audit can also highlight weaknesses in the current system and where improvements could be made.
An audit can be conducted by a competent – that is, suitably trained – employee or a qualified health and safety professional with expert knowledge of the UK metal industry. Findings should be reviewed by affected managers as well as the senior management team so appropriate action can be taken.
Not forgetting Occupational Heath
While many business owners focus their efforts on managing the hazards that pose physical safety risks to their staff, the occupational health risks can be easily missed. The main occupational health risk associated with the metal stock holding sector is noise induced hearing loss.
Noise levels and the duration of exposure contribute to hearing damage but there are many practical, cost effective measures to prevent this, including machinery noise reduction measures, adequate hearing protection and health surveillance.
Metal working fluid (also known as ‘coolant’ or ‘cutting fluid’) is used at the tool-metal interface to cool and lubricate when metal machining, cutting or grinding. Aerosol inhalation can increase the risk of asthma and skin contact can cause dermatitis.
Where substitution of the coolant to one less irritant isn’t an option, health surveillance via questionnaire and visible skin examination, in addition to staff training, provision of protective clothing / gloves and hygienic welfare facilities can all help to reduce the risk.
A lot can be learnt from sharing Health and safety ‘do’s and don’ts’ within the metal stockholding sector. Keeping informed of latest Industry safe working practice through trade bodies, trade press and attending sector specific safety talks in addition to learning from prosecutions in the metal stockholding sector is essential. Health and safety law limits an employer’s risk management responsibility to what is ‘reasonably practicable’. Therefore, employers need to be aware of all technically possible measures to protect staff with the only caveat being that the cost of implementing the measures is not grossly disproportionate to the risk.