Don’t misunderstand me, I know full well why H&S guidelines and legislation exists, and I respect that.
What gets me is the stymied and stagnated, close-minded yet sanctimonious approach to health and safety we see in today’s industry, where safety in actual fact comes second to making sure that I, the person responsible, have covered my back with bureaucracy and red tape.
Practicality goes out the window common sense evaporates so long as I, the responsible person, can prove that I did my job and ticked all the boxes, then that’s all that matters.
Now I realise that’s a bit harsh, and I mean no disrespect to the genuine H&S guys out there who have an incredibly difficult job to do, even on a good day, but let me give you an example of what I mean…
Every week or so I pull in to my local BP garage unchecked by any security, hop out the car, and without any form of risk assessment. I pull an unguarded filling nozzle from a pump which releases one of the most highly flammable liquids available on earth and start transferring it into my car. No PPE. The thin plastic gloves provided in a nearby dispenser are no match for this explosive chemical anyway, my hands still smell of the fuel because it’s only a matter of seconds before it has penetrated through them and into my skin.
But that’s OK, I’ve been doing it for ages now.
No RPE. The highly volatile vapour wafts gently up through my clothes, my pocket where my mobile phone is and into my lungs and would presumably blow me apart if it ignited.
But that’s OK, petrol has a curiously pleasant smell to it so I’m not too worried.
Occasionally I overfill and some of the liquid bomb drips down the side of the car, over the tyres and on to the floor and apart from a bucket of sand (which I’ve never seen anyone use, ever) there is no particular measures to mop this up. Leave it to mother nature to sort out.
Not once in my entire driving history have I ever had any form of training or induction into the use of fuel pumps, apart from when I was a kid and my dad let me out the car to do it!
No particular procedures in place, other than the obvious, no supervisors to ask apart from the lady behind the desk, yet anyone with no discrimination can drive in and use these fuel pumps, even under the influence of alcohol and drugs, or just plain crazy (and there’s a few of them about).
Now I realise that this is a little exaggerated for the benefit of my post, but just how exaggerated is it?
Put yourself now in an industrial environment where you have been asked to transfer some highly flammable liquid from one container into another…
There is not the time nor the space on this post to start explaining the policies and procedures and risk assessments and training and inductions, followed by the correct specification of PPE/RPE etc. etc. You know what I’m talking about, the HSE has a 55 page document on the safe use and handling of flammable liquids (HSG140) and rightly so, because the potential risks are devastating.
My point is simply this, that there are so many things we do on a day to day basis and at weekends that if we applied today’s H&S policies to we would probably end up in jail.
I’m not for one minute knocking what H&S stands for and why we need it to be in place, but please don’t forget the ingredients of common sense and communication with the people you’re dealing with. It’s the difference between getting stuff done safely and stifling out productivity with bureaucracy and red tape.
We need to move away from this stifling culture and start engaging in a meaningful way with the people we are trying to keep safe, get them involved, get their perspective, support their points of view, and work through their processes with them if necessary, to gain an understanding of what they do. Empower them with the responsibility of their own health and safety and that of their colleagues.
Good leadership breeds good leadership.