Plant Safety In The UK

Plant Safety In The UK

13th August 2014

Most companies these days publish mission statements, adopting the position that “the health, safety and well-being of all of our employees is our number one priority” or words to that effect.  Companies promise to do whatever it takes (no matter what the cost) to ensure the safety of staff and protect them in the workplace from accidents and injuries.  So why are so many people here in the UK still suffering injuries sustained in the workplace?

If we’re going to be honest about it, most of those mission statements are just so much rhetoric designed to make the company sound good – people will think they are an ethical employer and maintain the same level of ethics when sourcing materials and manufacturing goods.
For all employers, the number one priority is always going to be getting the job done and making money from it.  Without the money coming in, there is no money to pay employees, let alone take adequate precautions to ensure their safety.  When an ethical company says “we will do whatever it takes”, what is really meant is that they will do whatever it takes within certain confines – time, budget, physical space and technology.  These compromises are what life is about but the real question when it comes to ethical employment is “what compromises are reasonable?”

While so many attributes of safety management are covered by legislation, such as the requirement to wear a hard hat on site, there are many more that are open to interpretation.  For example, while you are allowed to use a ladder, there must be a full risk assessment undertaken before doing so.  Assessing risks is a judgement call that is informed by developing custom and practice.  When it comes to using construction machinery, what is acceptable from a safety point of view and what is considered necessary is a constantly changing issue.

In days gone by, operators of construction machinery would “know” their machine and could feel what the safe limits of operation were.  Nowadays, however, construction machinery features roll over protection systems (ROPS) and falling object protection systems (FOPS) that have been added to make working with these behemoths as safe as possible.

The newer generation of work platforms are now sporting anti-entrapment devices, steel cages that should prevent the operator from being crushed against an overhead structure.  These developments in safety are usually the result of customer pressure.  It is a rare thing if a manufacturer develops a safety innovation and then fits it as standard on all their products.  In general, these safety features will be sold and fitted as an optional extra until the industry catches up and they become a mandatory requirement.

Machinery manufacturers cannot obliterate the risk of all accidents with cleverly designed safety features – it is also up to workers to take responsibility for their own safety in the workplace.  This means following correct procedures and not cutting corners because the safety features are inconvenient or difficult to use.