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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
June 23, 2008

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Be positive professionals

IOSH president-elect Nattasha Freeman says that health and safety is not about saying ‘no’, but about providing solutions and suggestions to turn a negative response into a positive.

I have just visited the annual Probabalistic Safety Conference in Hong Kong, where most of the presentations revolved around quantifying risk, because health and safety awareness is boiled down to pure risk assessment.

It sounds like something you need to be trained to do, but can you remember the first time you carried out a risk assessment? Of course not; that’s because you were a baby and cold, so you cried so that your parents would respond and do something to make you warm again.

Similarly, when did you last carry out a risk assessment? It almost certainly wasn’t when you got to work this morning. More likely, it was when you chose your clothes according to the weather, or when you drove the car to work. We assess risk all the time.

Many headlines can be found in newspapers about fun events that are stopped on the grounds of ‘health and safety’. But, when you delve a little deeper into the background behind the story, you find that the “no” that stopped the event was either not given by a health and safety person, or, if it was, it was not the actual reason for stopping the event.

In real life, the “no” from a professional health and safety person is a qualified one. Professional health and safety people go further, and suggest what needs to be done to allow the event/work.

For more complicated tasks though, you do need training to carry out a risk assessment, as there are usually high risks to be considered and live environments to be taken into account. If you are working in an operational environment, or one that includes the presence of strangers (the general public is a good example), you have to act in a practical fashion, with a capital P.

Accidents are unplanned events, and the more unpredictable the factors the more likely a potential environment for an accident will occur. Professionalism in health and safety comes with experience of those possibilities, and knowledge on how to control them.

Take going skiing for the first time — you take lessons, get fit and buy the appropriate kit because you don’t want to break your leg and waste your holiday. When you plan an event the mindset should be similar and you should take into account the need for the safety of third parties. Don’t rain on someone’s parade — find out what you need to do to make it happen, just as you did when you were a teenager. If you can’t do it, find a man or woman who can. We safety professionals live to serve, so give us the job!

If it’s work that is being stopped, ask why it’s being stopped and adopt the same approach. ‘Wise up 2 work’, and do your workplace hazard awareness course. Tell your boss to ‘Get the best’ professional advice, and manage and work in the job safely. Always remind them that, if we say ‘no’, it may be because we are looking after their health and safety, not stopping them doing their job.

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