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Recession Could Be Your Health And Safety Opportunity

A personal view by Roy Bush, HSE HM Inspector of Quarries

This is not a perfect world, as you may have noticed. But if it were, how would you approach the economic downturn in the quarrying industry? Whichever way you look at it, output is significantly down. The trouble is, as with any recession, we have no idea with any certainty how deep it will go and for how long it will last. In a perfect world, however, (forgetting that there would not be a recession in a perfect world) we would know.

The quarrying industry has been at the forefront of improvements in health and safety performance over the past eight years or so, ever since many companies signed up to the ‘Hard Target’ initiative in 2000. You achieved the pledge that you gave, to reduce accidents by 50% over a five-year period (to 2005), and have gone on to continued improvements in the three years since. Indeed, many of the original signees gave a further pledge to reduce accidents by an additional 50% by 2010 and to achieve zero RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995) reportable incidents by 2015.

This was all very well when trading conditions were relatively buoyant, but things have changed, dramatically.

So, in this perfect world, how would you approach a recession? Well, you would probably start by saying that health and safety remains the absolute priority for the business and that it will continue to do so whatever the trading conditions. Very laudable indeed, and I am quite sure that if this is what is being said (and I suspect it is), it is very much meant. Perhaps, in this perfect world, you would use this downturn as an opportunity to consolidate everything that you have been doing over the past eight years. You might wish to give time for people to complete whatever route it is that you have chosen in order to demonstrate their competence. You might also carry out an audit to make sure that nobody has slipped through your net. You could invest in ensuring that all plant maintenance (including housekeeping) is up to date and that all of the quarry is fit and ready for any forthcoming upturn in economic conditions. You might even choose now to make capital investments that can be properly evaluated prior to the market upturn, so that all of the teething problems can be ironed out. The economic advantages of such an approach are fairly obvious, but what have they to do with health and safety? Quite a lot, actually.

A properly maintained plant is an efficient plant. This means that it is also as safe as it is capable of being. A fully competent workforce at all levels (including senior management) can only be beneficial to the business as well as to health and safety.

The big flaw in the above is, of course, that this is not a perfect world. So, which bits of the above are realistic and which are not? What you cannot afford to do at all is throw away all of the extraordinarily good work that has been done over recent years so that the industry ends up back where it was in 2000. From a health and safety perspective, this would be a disaster – back to killing up to six people a year and injuring nearly 650 (Hard Target baseline figures). Contrast this with the last year for which statistics are available (2007/08), when there were two deaths and 259 injuries. Then contrast this with the next phase, Target Zero, to achieve zero RIDDOR accidents.

So, what can you do within the constraints of the current economic climate to prevent going backwards? How much will it cost to complete the training/assessment process that will achieve full competence assurance? Can you afford not to carry out the essential maintenance and housekeeping on plant that will see it fit and ready to hit the floor running when economic conditions improve, which they will. About the only thing that might suffer is capital investment; if you do not have the money available and financial institutions are not lending, then you have no choice other than to mothball such projects. You can still do all of the major things that will continue to contribute to improved health and safety performance as well as keep the business in good health. Adopt the ethos that all plant should be maintained at optimum levels of availability, output should be controlled by the number of hours worked, not by deterioration in the capability of the plant. Deterioration, such as this, is one factor that could lead to poorer performance in health and safety.

The rate of improvement in health and safety has slowed over the last three years, such that it is unlikely that the 2010 interim figure of a further 50% improvement over the 2005 figure will be achieved. However, Target Zero does remain both realistic and achievable. Indeed, some companies have already achieved it (for direct employees) over discreet periods of more than one year.

Use this recession as your opportunity to put into place the measures that will not only reinvigorate your health and safety performance and propel you towards Target Zero, but will also ensure the future viability of your business.

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