Health and safety critical for employees and customers
Health and safety is vital to ensuring businesses run smoothly and to make sure employees as well as customers are protected from unlawful practices that can cause injury or even death.
It can be costly for businesses if they don’t follow health and safety practices. Business owners have been jailed and fined if companies have breached these rules and accidents occurred. In May, a restaurant owner, Mohammed Zaman, was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for six years after a customer with a peanut allergy died after eating a meal containing peanut powder.
The owner put profit before safety and risked customers’ lives after he substituted almond powder with a cheaper ground nut mix, which contained peanuts. The court found Zaman did not train his employees properly, did not warn customers, and failed to take any action following a previous serious allergic reaction.
“That particular case is one of a kind,” says David Cant, managing director of health and safety consultancy Veritas Consulting. “It sets a precedent in the food industry. My advice to anyone in that industry is not to ignore what it says on the tin, and do not cut corners.
“It is important to be very careful of the choice of stock and its content and understand that certain products can affect a person’s condition – take the necessary precautions.
“An employer must adequately train staff in the correct method of preparing and cooking food, with a strong emphasis on different dietary requirements. They need to be aware of that and cook accordingly.”
In other sectors such as construction, employees are at serious risk of developing mesothelioma – a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust, which can lead to asbestosis – or pneumoconiosis, a lung disease triggered by dust inhalation, if health and safety rules are not followed.
According to HSE statistics in 2013, there were 2,538 deaths due to mesothelioma and 217 deaths where asbestosis was recorded as the underlying cause. There were 170 pneumoconiosis deaths, mostly due to coal dust and to a lesser extent silica, the fine dust generated from cutting rocks, stone and concrete.
Cant explains the big challenge is getting employees to buy into health and safety practices – to get them involved in the conversation and engage them rather than talking down to them about what to do. He says: “Someone with a yardstick approach of simply reading the rule book will not cut the mustard with some employees. It is not just talking to them and saying this needs to be done, but asking them their opinions and saying how they feel things should be done.
It is about getting them involved, talking and putting their tasks together so they feel part of what you are trying to achieve.”
Cant explains it is also important to address any communication and language barriers that may stop health and safety messages getting through. For example, some employees might need an interpreter, or mixed-language signs might need to be displayed. Employee handbooks in the native language of the employees have also become more popular with business.
By making a company more health and safety focused it also improves the
efficiency of the business. Says Cant: “Employers are beginning to recognise efficiency, quality and safety are all related, and each of them contributes to productivity costs. Companies have adopted workplace programmes with an emphasis on improving productivity and quality, but also to improve the safety side as well. It plays an integral part of being a good business.”
Health and safety practices can also be improved and be more cost effective if companies use new technologies instead of people to do dangerous jobs. Cant says: “In the construction industry in some cases using drones can rule out the need for scaffolding or height equipment, which in turn can save a considerable amount of time and manpower. Camera-equipped drones can be used on site to survey quickly and easily, instead of sending guys up ladders or cranes to do visual checks.”
Businesses face risks and costs without adequate health and safety practices. Using new technologies can help reduce some of these risks, but to get the most out of these policies staff must feel engaged and be empowered to do their job safely so they are not putting themselves or others at risk.