The practical aspects of health and safety (H&S) are undoubtedly important. Whether you operate a small-scale construction project or employ thousands of contractors, it's imperative you have strict compliance measures — such as liability insurance, mandatory welfare, and easy access to first aid facilities — firmly in place.
However, these are ultimately just individual cogs in a far more complicated machine. Effective H&S protocol requires visibility, awareness, and transparency too.
Factors such as these not only mitigate against potentially costly civil lawsuits, but also safeguard the physical and mental wellbeing of your contractors – the most important consideration for anyone in the built environment. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to implement them and improve your organisation's health and safety compliance.
1. Inspect Your Premises
Stage one is relatively straightforward: inspect your workplace.
High-risk environments such as building sites or large-scale construction projects that use heavy-duty machinery and potentially hazardous materials, require regular in-depth reviews. Approximately once every month in construction sites, or yearly in modern offices.
To get the most out of an inspection, you'll need to refer to past reports. This will show you what issues were raised in the past and how they were dealt with. Similarly, it can be helpful to invite individual employees to voice any concerns they might have about the current state of your organisation’s health and safety policy. This will help you identify joint solutions to problems that might only be obvious to those working on the frontlines.
Once specific issues have been identified, for example trip hazards or loose wires, address them as soon as possible. Although a wonky light fixture might not seem like a pressing concern in the grand scheme of things, it’s better to fix hazards before they become a serious issue.
2. Draft a Comprehensive Health and Safety Policy
Now that you’ve identified the hazards within your workplace, the next step is to draft a comprehensive health and safety policy.
This will typically be split into three sections:
- A statement of general policy, outlining your commitment to protecting the wellbeing of your employees and the overarching aims of your policy
- A list detailing the individuals responsible for specific procedures, such as fire drills, first aid, and coordinating inspections
- The practical measures put in place to help you achieve the goals laid out in section one
Remember, not all your sub-contractors or employees will memorise every clause in your organisation’s H&S policy. For this reason, it’s important to make your health and safety policy readily available to everyone.
3. Invest in Reliable Health and Safety Software
The easiest way to communicate vital information is via health and safety software. The modern replacement for an Excel spreadsheet or paper filing system, it essentially forms a central hub from which all pertinent information can be accessed.
From the project managers perspective, H&S software improves operational efficiency whilst establishing a clearly defined audit trail – which is crucial if you need to review months of documentation at a glance or provide proof of compliance in case of legal issues. While, for individual contractors, it simplifies the process of locating important documents, should they need to familiarise themselves with changes to existing policy, review personal records, or submit an enquiry regarding current H&S procedure.
H&S software can also automate previously manual tasks. For example, instead of relying on individual contractors to remember when a specific licence or certificate needs renewing, you can set up automatic reminders that inform them in advance. A relatively simple procedure that can save your organisation time and money.
4. Health and Safety Training
Regular training is crucial when it comes to maintaining a legally compliant operation in the built environment.
One of the key benefits of health and safety software is the ability to store and review the historical records of your entire workforce instantaneously. Naturally, this is especially important in labour intensive roles that use potentially dangerous heavy-duty equipment on a daily basis. Should one of your contractors sustain an injury whilst using a piece of equipment they haven't been trained to use, it's you who'll be liable.
Health and safety training has a place in the office, too. Although the average white-collar professional may not need a certificate in forklift operation to process an invoice or send out a client email, they must have a clear idea of the company’s standard safety procedures in case of emergency nevertheless.
5. Stay Up to Date
No matter how thorough your policy is or how organised your record database, one of the simplest ways to enhance your health and safety compliance is to monitor developments within your industry.
It’s easy to rest on your laurels, but things change all the time — technologically and legislatively. What might have been considered acceptable a year ago might put you in breach of new laws the next. In other words, it’s impossible to maintain a comprehensive risk policy if the information you’re working from is outdated or inaccurate.
At the top level, this involves following industry leaders and applicable government bodies on social media, in the news, and on their company websites in order to know when standards are changing. Individual contractors, on the other hand, who might not follow be quite as interested in the wider subject, should keep an eye on the relevant sections of their organisation’s health and safety dashboard. Although it can also be beneficial to hold regular meetings to discuss any advancements or changes that might change your processes.
Reaping the Rewards
The advantages to be gained from establishing a compliance-conscious workplace culture speak for themselves.
Notwithstanding the obvious environmental benefits of transitioning to a paperless workplace, a compliant culture can improve morale, productivity, and company image. More importantly, it helps to mitigate the cost of lawsuits and financial penalties, should a situation arise in which you or one of your employees’ breaches established safety protocols. Add to that the cost of shutting down the site itself during the investigation and the resulting increase in insurance premiums, and it’s easy to see how expending a bit more energy on your H&S policy in the short term can bring tangible benefits in the long.
To find out more, download our guide to promoting health and safety best practice using the link below.