Sometimes ridiculed, sometimes completely ignored, often misunderstood. Yet health and safety is a vital everyday issue that needs to be managed. Because when it is properly managed, it isn’t complicated; and unless you are faced with some particularly high-risk hazards, it does not require specialist equipment and highly involved procedures.
So why do some people carry on as if there is an all-seeing safety police watching their every move, prompting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to have a complete section on their website debunking safety myths? But equally, why do some employers ignore safe working conditions, taking risks with their employees and the public’s health and well-being? Indeed, that some 1.4 million people are suffering from a work-related illness, and that 144 workers were killed in the year 2017-18, suggests that we still have a long way to go before every UK workplace is safe.
The fact remains that health and safety at work warrants serious, but mostly common-sense attention. For small charities and voluntary groups, this means understanding your legal duties towards staff, volunteers and the general public; and making health and safety an everyday management function. Put another way, if all you do is tick boxes just to secure funding, then sooner or later something will be missed; and someone could perhaps get hurt.
So you need to know what the criminal and civil law requires of you, and what management steps are needed. Of particular importance is identifying potential hazards and then assessing risk. So regular communication with those who deliver and receive your services is very important, seeking views and information from any staff you employ, your volunteers, and also your beneficiaries.
This will help you to gather information about real-time processes and activities; and ensure that you don’t miss any of the perhaps less visible hazards like lone working, work-related stress and possibly violence to staff, volunteers or beneficiaries. Another easy step is regular inspection of the premises that you use. This will not only help you assess risk, but also identify maintenance issues and any environmental problems that need attention.
Of course, embedding all this in a properly implemented safety policy is good practice (and a legal requirement if you employ staff). But as I’ve already stated, health and safety needn’t be complicated. Identifying a competent person to help you, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and consulting those affected does not need any special qualification. What’s more, there are plenty of resources available. The HSE website is the go-to place for detailed safety information. The NCVO Knowhow pages provide specific guides on safety policy, while organisations such as Green Pepper can provide training and consultancy. Also, many local voluntary sector infrastructure organisations offer resources that can help.
In summary, ensuring health and safety doesn’t mean being zealous, any more than it means being blasé or careless. It just needs effective management.