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December 15, 2016

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In conversation with Rob Strange: innovation and cultural shifts

Rob StrangeRob Strange OBE, ex-CEO of both the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the Association for Project Safety (APS), and now acting as a consultant to Southalls (Safety Cloud) explains the main concerns he sees within the health and safety profession currently, and the solutions that are available in terms of innovative technology and cultural shifts.

This article was originally published in May 2016.

What are the main concerns within safety and health today?

At ‘UK plc’ level, the present government continues to seek further efficiencies in departmental spending by expanding upon the work started in the last government as part of the Red Tape Challenge.

Among other things, this review will impact upon issues such as removing unnecessary regulatory barriers, burdens imposed by planning and building control, construction regulations, environmental protection and health and safety.

Another review, being run in parallel by the Cabinet Office, focuses on house building and also seeks to clarify the effectiveness of the recent changes made to the CDM Regulations in 2015.

There is also a lot of emphasis being rightly placed now on the issues of health as well as the more visible problems associated with safety.

Other, more detailed, issues and concerns relate to, for example:

  • Falls from height – in particular during roof work. Unfortunately, poor management of contractors when accessing roofs is a common issue. Fragile roofs, for example, present a considerable risk and are common in many buildings.Business owners and landlords have to understand the importance of proper vetting of contractors to ensure they inform them of the risks of any particular roof. Many do not ensure the contractors are competent to undertake the work and do not check the RAMS for the job to ensure they have, for example, considered suitable edge protection, or working around skylights.
  • Dust is generated when cutting things like blocks, chasing brickwork and cutting concrete floors. These dusts may contain respirable crystalline silica (RCS) which is harmful.Tackling dust control is a priority topic for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and rightly so. Poisonous dust control has frequently been neglected by contractors and their employees will often not be aware of the health problems caused by RCS, as it can cause silicosis and lung cancer.Simple engineering controls such as dust suppression using water backed up with suitable PPE can significantly reduce the problem to the operative and those around them.

Are there any particular trends which you see developing across the industry? And what impact do these have?

The development of technology is creating a shift in the health and safety profession with more of a push for everything to be handled virtually rather than on paper.

Having health and safety documents in a cloud-based format, accessible from anywhere, makes management far simpler, allowing for automatic reminders, reducing paperwork and keeping everything together with historical data at hand.

How do you see safety and health evolving over the next five years?

The hidden dangers from asbestos have been well documented. The emphasis on silica dust and hand arm vibration will, in my mind, increase and we are seeing a renewed focus with such initiatives as the Construction Health Leadership Group.

Health and safety professionals need to work hard to ensure that staff awareness is continually raised. By using software and cloud-based solutions, the health and safety professionals within businesses can ensure that memos can automatically be issued in the event of an accident or near miss. This will continually raise the profile of health and safety and improve the health and welfare of all those involved.

I am very impressed by the software solutions, combined with consultancy support, that companies such as Southalls offer, but there is a growing range of such product offerings now available to help businesses with their health and safety compliance.

What positive changes would you like to see within the industry?

Firstly, a growing emphasis and awareness of the problems to health, particularly in the construction sector.

I feel that simplification of the system around vetting contractors would ensure health and safety is not given a bad name and would go a long way to bringing back a more common sense approach.

Over the past few years there has been a growing burden on the construction industry, although I believe that newly emerging schemes like the Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) are a very positive step forward.

This scheme is extremely sensible. A construction-based company can apply to a SSIP provider on an annual basis and they will independently vet your health and safety procedures in detail. This will cover your policy, risk assessments, auditing procedure, accident statistics, employer/employee feedback loop etc. Once completed the company receives a certificate stating that their health and safety systems have been independently verified.

The logic in this was to reduce the burden on companies as they could then tender for work and by submitting their SSIP they would avoid extensive pre-qualification questionnaires which essentially ask the same questions as those done by the SSIP evaluation.

However, in some cases what has happened is that large construction companies will want a company to be a member of a SSIP and still complete a huge pre-qualification form, even before the company knows if they were successful. This is overly bureaucratic and means businesses have a huge burden as they have to duplicate all they do.

The industry should go back to how the scheme was designed. That is, obtain a SSIP and this should be all the proof that is needed to tender for work in terms of health and safety competency. Then ensure the RAMS are checked and then operatives are checked during work as part of an auditing process.

What are your thoughts on the HSE’s #HelpingGBWorkWell campaign?

I think the new HSE Strategy is well conceived and is laid out in six easy-to-follow key themes.

The most important part of it is around acting together. Everyone should be interested in health and safety. We need to continue moving away from the ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality.

SMEs provide the cornerstone of our industry and simplifying tender process etc as already mentioned will help them realise that health and safety does not need to be a burden but can be a positive advantage.

The HSE are now exploring ways of increasing their commercial income streams, partly as a reaction to the government spending cuts; I think this can lead to some potential conflicts with other key players within the industry, although I do recognise the inevitability of such a move.

What are your thoughts on ‘Safety Differently’, which is being explored by John Green, Laing O’Rourke?

I recently met with John and I do support his vision to a large extent. However, while I believe it is true that the key to change is people, throughout my career I have come across a number of quite senior people who, despite training and reinforcement, are difficult to bring on-board when it comes to taking health and safety seriously.

It could be the case that a reduction in red tape and bureaucracy would see a positive change in attitudes towards health and safety. It is important for all safety professionals and consultants to spend time during their visits to clients speaking to all levels of the workforce, working with warehouse staff through to company directors in an effort to understand their barriers and concerns and to help promote a positive safety culture. This then allows health and safety to take a positive part in the organisation.

Why is Safety & Health Expo an important event to be a part of?

I have attended Safety & Health Expo for the last 20 years in my role as CEO for IOSH, then CEO for the Association for Project Safety, and now as part of my work with Southalls.

In this time I have seen the Expo develop into the leading health and safety show in the UK, accompanied in recent years by the IOSH conference, and one of the main shows in the world.

Safety & Health Expo is so important as a platform and facilitator in bringing hundreds and thousands of people together in the common cause of improved health and safety of the global workforce.

The variety of exhibitors and attendees, as well as the lively speakers and theatre sessions, ensures that there are always experts on relevant topics present. People embarking on their career get a valuable opportunity to speak to health and safety professionals and see the opportunities that are out there.

Rob Strange OBE is the ex-CEO of both the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the Association for Project Safety (APS) and is now acting as a consultant to Southalls (Safety Cloud) and is also a Trustee, Non Executive Director and an Interim CEO.

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