Health & Safety: The Basics
Health and Safety is a critical component of an organisation’s structure and how it cares for its employees. In HQs, health and safety is normally governed by legislation and oversight bodies. This means that its day-to-day functioning is delegated to human resources or building maintenance. However, in other countries where health and safety laws don’t exist, or aren’t widely enforced, health and safety can be ‘tacked on’ to the responsibilities of the security manager. While both security practice and health and safety focus on the prevention and response to threats which can harm individuals associated with the organisation health and safety practice is a broad topic that incorporates a vast number of actions and responsibilities.
This article is written for a security manager who has been handed responsibility for health and safety but has no background or resources readily available. It is meant to be an introduction to the topic rather than an exhaustive review of all that could, or should be done. For security managers looking for more tools, we recommend the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Toolkit. Not all of the tools in this kit will be applicable in every country but it is a good place for someone new to health and safety to start.
Each organisation will have different types of offices and accommodation both in urban and rural settings. While the buildings they occupy can range in size and shape – from a small hut or shelter in a field location, to a warehouse, to an office building - each organisation should strive to ensure that each workplace is free from hazards so that staff can work safely. This is the core of health and safety practice.
Hazards also come in various shapes and sizes and can be things like unsafe working conditions (poor lighting or ventilation, unsafe storage), hazardous use of machines or equipment, or workplace fatigue and injury. Employees have a right to work in a workplace that is free from these safety hazards and also an obligation to follow safety advice and protocols. Employees should be able to report health and safety issues to senior managers without fear of reprisal.
Senior managers should view health and safety in the workplace as a priority as it reduces the amount of time that employees are out sick and therefore improves the productivity of the organisation and the health and well-being of employees.
Health and Safety in Each Country
Most countries have some laws related to occupational health and safety even if they are not well known or enforced. It’s always best to find out if your country has these and get a copy. The International Labor Organisation maintains a list of all these regulations and you can view those here. It is also likely there are other laws or regulations which relate to safe building or construction practice but these are not always followed and there is no guarantee that a building occupied by an organisation has safe heating, plumbing, or electricity. It is rare that this would be guaranteed by a landlord.
Thus the onus is on the organisation to assess and provide for their own health and safety in a comprehensive manner. The organisation must figure out what their main hazards are in each location, the risks associated with those, how to reduce the effects of those hazards, and how to respond to them should accidents occur. Hazards will be things like car accidents, health issues (such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, flu, dengue, stomach bugs), slips / falls, electrical malfunction (e.g. electrocution), and fire or flooding.
Much like an organisation has a security policy it should also have a health and safety policy. This should detail who in the organisation is responsible for healthy and safety and, most importantly, what exactly will be done to address it. This needn’t be very complicated and a very simple sample policy template may be found at the HSE website.
The second step in implementing workplace health and safety is to have done a risk assessment. Much like security assessments are done to identify the security threats in an environment so too are health and safety risk assessments done to identify hazards present which threaten the staff of an organisation. While doing the risk assessment you should look for any hazard which could harm an employee. It is also important to remember that not all employees are equally vulnerable to all health and safety risks. A driver, for example, is more vulnerable to car accidents than a staff person who sits at a desk each day. Likewise, a person who works on a computer all day is more vulnerable to repetitive stress injury than a driver who is not engaged in repetitive tasks. A sample risk assessment may be found in the policy link above.
Engaging with employees through this process is a critical step. Employees who perform tasks that you don’t on a regular basis might see hazards that you don’t. Ask them their opinions or if they have confronted hazards previously, or suffered from accidents, which you might not know about.
After you are aware of the hazards it’s time to put in place measure to prevent these hazards from occurring or to minimise their damage when they do occur. Prevention is possibly the most important part of workplace health and safety. If accidents don’t occur time, energy, and productivity are saved. Each hazard should have a/several methods for preventing it. An example of prevention measures for fire is show below:
Annual check of all gas supply lines / valves for leaks
Ensure that there are fire alarms and they are in working order
Do not store anything flammable near gas stoves or heaters
Place fire extinguishers in appropriate places and regularly maintain
Do not overload electrical sockets with electrical equipment
Train staff on use of fire extinguishers / other fire equipment
Keep anything flammable away from electrical heaters
Train staff on fire evacuation procedures
Warn employees not to move with loose clothing near stoves or heaters
Ensure there is at least one person trained on first aid for burn victims
These preventative measures and how to respond to a hazard is possibly the most important step. An organisation can have very good policies and procedures but unless employees know how to actively engage in preventing and responding to a hazard they add little value to a safe work culture.
In addition to asking employees what hazards they routinely see and face, some training will be necessary for certain employees. This might be because their job requires it to be safe (e.g. warehousing, driving) or because they volunteer to be trained as first aiders for the rest of the organisation. While it’s not necessary to train every employee on first aid it is good to remember that those who are trained will, at times, be out of the office, on holiday, or there will be cultural prohibitions that could affect their ability to provide first aid. Thus, an organisation should have at least four people, or more depending on the size of the organisation, trained in first aid with both men and women having received training. All employees should be informed of where the first kits are kept and what is kept in them.
Building a safe work culture
Even if an organisation has health and safety policies and practices in place it might not have a safety ‘culture’. A safety culture is one where health and safety are part of the daily activities of the organisation and every employee is mindful of the role they play. While having policies and procedures are the foundation for a safety culture there are other elements as well, including expenditure on health and safety being viewed as an investment rather than a cost, continual assessment and improvement of safety practices, and a system for preventing hazards and communicating that to staff. Additionally, an organisation having a ‘blame-free’ approach to health and safety will help employees feel part of a team rather than merely carrying out manager’s instructions. Blame-free health and safety means that after an incident at the workplace an assessment is done of the incident – not to place blame but to understand how the same accident could be prevented in the future.
No matter how many health and safety policies and practices an organisation has accidents can still happen which are outside an organisation’s control. When this happens having a response plan that can immediately be implemented can save lives. While this involves having staff trained in first aid it also means knowing how the injured person/s will be transported to the hospital and what hospitals will be used. What insurances does the staff person have and/or can the organisation help with payment to ensure that quick treatment is received? The organisation should also know how to get in touch with each employee’s emergency contact in order to inform their family about what has happened and where they have been taken. A point person within the organisation should be designated to inform other employees about what has occurred and to advise them on any precautions they should take.
After a health and safety incident is over, the person responsible for health and safety should assess the situation and what occurred to determine whether there needs to be a change in practice to prevent the hazard in the future.
Encouraging Employee Health
While an employer is not responsible for the health practices of each employee there are several ways that an employer can contribute to staff health and safety and encourage positive practices. Some of these are:
Reduce stress: Stress is the body’s natural way of responding to a demand or threat. Everyone responds to different environments in different ways so something which is not stressful to one person might be very stressful to another. While it’s not possible to eliminate stress in the workplace, employees should be encouraged to recognise what makes them stressed and then to take action to reduce that.
Encourage employees to stay home when sick: When people have a lot of work to they often feel that it’s better to ‘just get on with it’ even if they have a cold or flu. Not only does this not help them return to full health but it also exposes other colleagues in the office to the illness. Staff who are sick should be encouraged to stay home and recover.
Don’t reward workaholics: People receive different amounts of pleasure and self-esteem from succeeding at work. While all employers should want employees to enjoy their work and this is normal it can sometimes spiral into unhealthy practices where employees are relying on having work to do to bolster their self-esteem and no longer take appropriate breaks from work. Employers should be mindful of this and encourage employees to have a work/life balance – or time away from work.
Encourage healthy eating: Most work places have food and drinks available throughout the day. This might be through lunch that is provided, when cookies and cakes are served to guests, or when colleagues bring in sweets and baked goods. While oil-rich foods and sweet treats are fine in small measure their continued consumption can lead to health complications. Employers can be mindful of this by reducing the amount of oil, sugar, and salt used in foods and drinks provided by the organisation.
Encourage employees to move around during the day: Many employees who work on computers and at desks for long hours during the day. Without realizing it this can lead to repetitive stress injuries, eye strain and weight gain. Employers should remind staff to take breaks and change their positions in order to reduce this.
Conducting a Health and Safety Assessment/Checklist
There is no way to create a comprehensive assessment or checklist for all health and safety items as hazards will vary by organisation, location, and building. However, there are a number of indicative questions which can be gone provide a baseline for health and safety provision. Each organisation, however, should go beyond these to ensure that their location specific hazards are also addressed. To download Safer Edge's free health and safety assessment checklist click here.
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