16 August 2011
The perfect 10
The word on the factory floor is that health and safety is becoming a competitive barrier for UK manufacturers. New industry think tank the WM Leaders Forum comes to the rescue with 10 recommendations on keeping safety standards high without compromising productivity
1 Carrot as well as stick
Health officials should remember the carrot as well as the stick in their bid to police safety standards, according to the WM Leaders Forum.
Investigations are too often chastening experiences even for the innocent, say site managers.
"I had one vexatious claim by an employee who said noise levels in our factory reached 120 decibels," says Andrew Churchill, MD at JJ Churchill. "That's louder than a jumbo jet taking off, which is clearly rubbish. The HSE arrived unannounced and we had to stop everything while they did an audit. It was most certainly 'you are guilty until proven innocent'."
Regulating health and safety doesn't have to be so officious, Churchill stresses. "I think we sometimes delight in trying to find fault rather than saying 'this business is trying to learn and improve' in which case let's help them."
The 'we're out to get you' approach is reinforced by HSE information, adds Gary Winstanley, supply chain director at Siemens. "The publicity I see from HSE isn't about positive examples; it's about who's died and what they're doing to prosecute the employer."
2 Safety legislation is essential
Despite frustrations over officialdom, manufacturers respect the need for a legislative safety net to protect their workforces against injury.
Leave it to human nature and pretty quickly you'll have some highly risky work practices taking hold, the Leaders Forum ruled.
Rob Walley, partner at Bourton Group, says: "Unfortunately there's not an endemic safety culture among those who go to work. They'll take the path of least resistance. They won't wear ear protection, they won't wear eye protection, and they won't operate safely."
3 Beating the British mentality
Something in the British DNA makes us world beaters when it comes to risking accidents, the Leaders Forum says. Like a nation of naughty children we just can't help doing the opposite of what we're told.
"I had the chance to see production lines where they were hot forming car seats in Japan and the equivalent in the UK," says Bill Twigg, development director at Semta. "In the UK it was all guarded with key locks. In Japan there was no guarding and I pointed that out the risk to the line manager. 'What happens if someone touches that?', I asked. 'Why would they want to?', he replied. That's exactly the difference: here, we'd question if it was hot and test it."
"We do have to legislate for stupidity," agrees Julian Bond, R&D engineering manager at Parafix."But we have to be careful not to take it too far."
4 Make human nature work for you
Human nature, particularly the UK variety, might be the antithesis of high safety standards. However, with a little tuition we're actually the most influential force for improvement.
The key, according to the Leaders Forum, is to inspire people to the cause. Mark Bown, global customer services improvement manager at Cummins, explains: "We created a whole new training programme on the psychology of safety, working on the hearts and minds of people. That's had the biggest impact on our incident rate, much more than schemes where workers sign a document committing to wearing safety equipment."
5 Size shouldn't matter
Company size should have no bearing on the quality of health and safety standards in operation, according to the Leaders Forum. Some delegates believe HSE goes easy on smaller businesses – a charge the organisation strongly refutes.
"My biggest concern with health and safety is sometimes with people at the HSE they quite like to get a big name in the press," says Winstanley of Siemens. "We get a lot more attention than some smaller competitors."
Judith Hackitt, HSE chair, responds: "I don't accept that. I think we base our inspections and intervention programmes on risk and where we perceive the highest risk to be, and that's based on evidence of performance of the sector and individual companies. By definition the more employees you have, the more risk you have."
6 OEMs must spread best practice
SMEs might lack the resources to develop extensive in-house health and safety training programmes, but there's no reason why they can't use OEMs as role models.
Churchill, whose company is an SME, says: "We're too small to develop our own best practice programme so we've picked up on the policy of Cummins and Rolls-Royce. We've distilled the two together and rolled it out, and we've insisted that our second tier suppliers implement it."
OEMs are the linchpins, the Leaders Forum ruled. All it takes is one manufacturing giant demanding benchmarked safety standards from its suppliers and pretty quickly those will filter down through the chain.
7 Link health and safety to continuous improvement
Marrying health and safety with improvement schemes means you'll spot the potential rewards from better health and safety.
"Health and safety audits are tied in with our continuous improvement audits," Winstanley of Siemens explains. "Our health and safety issues are divided into genuine concerns, such as near misses, and real business improvement opportunities. Employees are much more engaged if you do this."
8 Seek out root causes
Manufacturers are still gearing their safety work towards the symptoms rather than the cause of incidents, the Leaders Forum ruled – for example, conducting return-to-work interviews with occupational health consultants rather than tackling the root cause of the incident behind the absence.
"We put our machinery into our factories and it's fully health and safety compliant," says Phil Harris, strategic asset manager at British American Tobacco. "A week later and the workers have been tinkering, putting holes in the guard to pull out the material. If it keeps jamming, sort the problem. Don't put a hole in it."
9 Promote your safety record
Displaying safety records openly on the shopfloor can help rally workers behind the cause.
The construction sector is a frontrunner in this approach explains Stuart Smith, chairman of Bourton Group. "You go to a lot of these sites and you see a sign saying '300 days since the last lost time accident'. They seem to have a strong health and safety culture that we could learn from."
10 Clampdown on compensation culture
The rise of no-win, no-fee insurance claims has distorted health and safety, with firms gearing policy towards defending litigation rather than best practice, according to the Leaders Forum.
"I have a real beef with the insurance companies," says Churchill. "Probably twice a year an ex-employee will make a claim, and we'll have all of the data and the insurance company agreeing the individual is trying it on. But in the end the insurance company will always settle – that really bugs me."
The insurance industry has been allowed to feast on health and safety legislation, the Leaders Forum ruled. Delegates backed tougher regulatory standards proposed for insurers by the Lord Young review. The decision to fight a claim should be based on the legitimacy of the case rather than the cost, the Leaders Forum concluded.
The WM Leaders Forum, in association with Bourton Group, is a new think tank for UK manufacturing. Formed of frontline factory managers and industry representatives, the group will deliver hands-on advice on how to tackle the big challenges facing industry.
The top 10 recommendations are taken from the Leader's Forum first meeting where delegates discussed if health and safety was compromising productivity
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