Misunderstood and undervalued?

23 October 2018 - Elizabeth Nichols

Often the butt of office humour, Health and Safety is not a topic which many people rush to discuss.  Frequently, there is a misconception that it is a business prevention tool used to make life difficult for businesses and organisations, which can mean that Health and Safety and the people who are responsible for it are sometimes given a bad press.
However, according to Carl Bullen Senior Risk and Assurance Auditor, with the right leadership and a pro-active approach, organisations of all kinds can positively embrace Health and Safety as a simple but effective business tool. 
The Internal Audit team at Scrutton Bland have completed several Health and Safety audit assignments over past 12 months which have resulted in an unusually high number of recommendations. Some common themes have emerged with regard to how organisations can improve their Health & Safety policies:

Fire evacuations and drills
Around one quarter of the recommendations made by the Scrutton Bland team this year relate to an insufficient number of fire drills being carried out. In any risk assessment we would expect a minimum of two fire drills to be carried out each year. Simple measures like ensuring that an appropriate number of fire marshals and wardens are trained and that the training is kept up-to-date not only keeps an organisation compliant, but could save lives. All too often we are seeing insufficient fire testing, record keeping and reporting on related fire activities. In light of some of the high profile fires which have occurred in both private and local authority owned buildings, it is imperative to ensure that you have an appointed person who understands and accepts their remit for ensuring compliance around record keeping and reporting.

Completion of risk assessments
This is another area where our team have been making a significant number of recommendations this year. A large proportion of our findings have related to out-of-date or inaccessible risk assessments, inappropriate sign off and oversight of completed risk assessments. All too often a lack of appropriate record keeping can leave the organisation open to liability, and its staff and clients potentially exposed to harm. Even where good discipline is maintained around record keeping, ensuring that assessments are regularly and appropriately reviewed is equally as important in order to avoid any assessments or recommendations becoming outdated.

Health and Safety Training
It can be common in many organisations that the responsibility for Health and Safety training is passed between departments, with no one area really wanting to accept responsibility.
Indeed almost 20% of our recommendations in 2018 have been related to achieving best practice in creating and maintaining a process for the completion of appropriate health and safety training due to a significant number of cases of poor or incorrect record keeping.  These best practice standards should include evidencing that the training has been received by all staff and, or, volunteers and that a regular review or process for any additional or top-up training is in place.

So whilst it can be easy to level the blame for unsatisfactory Health and Safety at individual departments or individuals, in fact the responsibility ultimately lies with leadership teams. Insufficient management oversight and poor communication are two of the greatest causes which the Scrutton Bland Internal Audit team most commonly identify as the cause of Health and Safety failures.  
The approach from the top of any organisation needs to be that Health and Safety is embedded within an organisation and is seen as a high priority at both senior management and board level.
Aside from the obvious statutory requirements to comply with Health and Safety legislation, an organisation who can show that they consistently and correctly record their Health and Safety responsibilities and who can evidence appropriate reporting and oversight will always be an organisation who has the wellbeing of its staff and customers firmly embedded within all of its  departments and areas.

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