Health and safety and the law: what we learned from legal expert at IOSH 2019

The Scales of Justice on top of the Old Bailey, London.

“How often have you had a contractor come to you and admit they have had a near miss?”

That was a question Tim Hill, a partner at Eversheds Sutherland LLP, posed to delegates at IOSH 2019.

“I would imagine it’s pretty rare,” he added. “Often when something happens, they will just say to themselves ‘that was close’ and move on.”

Tim reflected on key issues of safety and health management and how, by getting it right, they can prove to the courts they are a responsible employer if an accident happens.

Tim said that contractor management is a major concern for many organisations when it comes to safety and health. Key, he said, is being able to engage with people, to take the time to visit sites and work with them.

Speaking at a breakfast session on day two of the conference at ICC Birmingham, Tim went on to talk to delegates about how engagement can help to overcome a perception gap.

Managers, he said, often believe that things are being done safely when they are not. They will often be told procedures are being followed, however the reality can be very different.

He encouraged delegates to “interrogate stats”, to get behind them and find out what is really happening.

“It’s not good when someone turns up at a site, walks around, nods at a few people and then drives off,” said Tim.

He highlighted one client who knew the names of everyone on their site, despite their being hundreds of employees. “He took the time to walk around and engage with them,” said Tim.

Through engagement, people around sites can start to understand the importance of safety. Often this can lead to them challenging each other around unsafe behaviour.

“It’s time to have very different conversations,” said Tim. “Are people talking honestly on your site? Would they feel comfortable challenging someone about safety if they are not doing it right? If a manager came down to the site without PPE, would they challenge them?

“These little things are very important. You can have all the messages in the world around your business, but they start to become wallpaper as they don’t register.”

The safety process starts when someone joins the business, said Tim. He encourages staggered inductions, so new employees aren’t bombarded with information they are likely to forget.

Getting such systems in place can be crucial in the event of a safety and health incident.

“If you can show your systems are strong, you can be viewed by the courts to have low culpability, so would be likely to receive a much more modest sentence,” said Tim. “The more you can show that something is an isolated lapse and not a systemic issue, the lower a fine is likely to be.”

He closed highlighting three key points for delegates:

  • Dip testing: professionals need to take the time to visit sites and speak with people, to get a realistic view
  • Get involved in investigations: senior people need to be involved in an investigations from the start, asking questions
  • Have honest safety conversations: positive engagement leads to a deeper understanding. Big customers want to know this is happening.