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May 13, 2014

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Safety legislation: the language of law


Tjeerd Hendel-Blackford, Enhesa

Be honest: unless you are studying hard for a UK safety qualification, do you have a copy of the UK’s Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 on your bedside table? If you are responsible for operations in India or China, maybe you like to browse through the Indian Factories Act, 1948 or the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Work Safety over your morning coffee? I thought not.

Reading laws, in any language, can be like reading a completely separate “foreign” language within a language. Definitions, references, cross-references, caveats and exceptions all add to the potential for confusion and yet they are a crucial tool in trying to ensure that workplaces are safe and that employees are healthy. It doesn’t help that laws are constantly updated, amended and replaced: Turkey, for example, has just completed revamped its health and safety legislation.

In a recent webinar looking at the challenges faced by EHS legal compliance auditors around the world, we asked participants to rank the greatest difficulties they faced. In a catchall list, at the top were “language barriers” (57.1%), followed by “unfamiliar legal framework/system” (51.8%). In a distant third was “lack of access to local authorities” (33.9 %).

As such, having to ensure compliance with the law across different jurisdictions is one of the biggest challenges an international EHS or Safety Manager can face. Being aware of, finding and then understanding the legislation that applies to you in an unfamiliar country are all significant hurdles.

Naturally, and logically, many EHS managers place their faith and trust in their local in-country staff to ensure they stay on top of regulatory change and make sure they are compliant. That may give a certain peace of mind, but it can be a risky strategy as they will face the same challenges as anyone else, especially if they don’t have a legal background. At Enhesa we have frequently encountered situations where personnel on the ground in a factory say they are compliant with the law; even tick the appropriate boxes on the corporate checklist€ᆭbut in reality this is not the case and when we have subsequently carried out a legal compliance audit of that facility in question have identified numerous, some serious, findings. Often facilities are simply not aware of their obligations under the law.

The innate complexity of the law has to take a certain amount of blame for this type of situation. Laws are not accessible and user friendly by their very nature. This will inevitably lead to people having little or no knowledge of, or interest in, the law. There can also simply be no impetus, due to a culture of lax safety standards or poor enforcement, to take a more proactive approach to complying with regulation.

This is, of course, a dangerous game. The buck tends to stop more and more with senior management when it comes to responsibility, and accountability for ensuring compliance. Enforcement is also on the rise, as I explored in a previous posting.

What is the solution? Careful management, appropriate regulatory compliance tools and local legal and cultural awareness are just some of the critical factors in keeping your people safe.

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Michael Greenall
Michael Greenall
10 years ago

Having worked in different countries in Africa and in the Middle East as a HSE Manager I have found that the basic principals remain the same. An EOC evaluation of compliance register is created and the relevant laws to which one needs to comply are studied. The difficulty does lie with the translation into English for the exact meaning, However,as I mentioned earlier the basics remain the same.

10 years ago

I don”t agree.

Reading law is straightforwards with concentration and basic literacy, such as knowing “piece” from “peace”.