Safety, is it reasonable? Is it practicable?

(Event attended on Wednesday November 29th)

Maeve O’Loughlin of Middlesex University, Nigel Burgess, the former chair of the IOSH London Metropolitan Branch and Shaun Lundy of Greenwich University conceived the idea of PIPER (Partnership for Innovative Practioner Engagement in Research) some years ago, whereby they run what they describe as a ‘speed dating’ event between organisations and research students to match organisational needs to student dissertation research projects.

November 29th saw the IOSH London branch, Middlesex University & Greenwich University partner up to celebrate last years PIPER Initiative success, and one student, Richard Woodbridge, was awarded research project of the year for his research on the ‘Risk benefits of Obstacle And Assault Courses in use at Royal Navy and Royal Marine Training Establishments’. He presented on moving from risk elimination to risk appreciation, and it made for interesting listening. One of the points presented by Richard was that in Australia, with a view to improving cyclist safety, cycling helmets were made compulsory via legislation. Whilst there may have been a reduction in the amount of injuries arising from not wearing cycle helmets, what was more startling when the data was analysed, was that the amount of people cycling actually dropped by 25%! It drew to mind Dave Snowden’s discussions of complexity theory, that sometimes what we think is a logical, sensible solution in supporting risk management may in fact fail to consider other valuable issues which influence the context or support other positive outcomes. Unintended consequences can demonstrate equally unfavourable outcomes than initial concerns. We need to consider the views from stakeholders to evaluate the overall system, and not just our narrow view of risk and its control.

Also speaking at this event was Jeremy Bevan from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Jeremy presented on the ‘blue tape review’ being prioritised by the HSE this year. For those of you that may not be familiar, red tape is often referred to as legislation, what the law says we must do to ensure compliance. What blue tape is then is what has been referred to as the burden placed on businesses by other businesses, leading to bureaucratic excess in the form of what can be paperwork, costs, and prescribed risk control beyond that required to meet the legal requirement of what is ‘reasonably practicable’. It is not necessarily compliance, for example, it can come in the form of standards that businesses strive for in order to gain accreditation from certain bodies. The HSE wants to clearly distinguish between red & blue tape for employers, and to review the consistency of professional services being offered. According to Jeremy there is interesting and consistent feedback in relation to good and bad safety consultancies from the HSE & Local Authorities, and some of the advice given by some safety consultancies leaves a lot to be desired.

Ruth Denyer of ITV spoke of the Safety Differently approach they are using within their organisation, and gave some practical examples of its implementation. Her statement “we’ve built a world full of bureaucracy that doesn’t need to be there” was a fitting statement following on from Jeremy’s previous keynote. It is so encouraging to see organisations adopting the Safety Differently approach and having such positive results.

Dr Alan Page, another colleague from Middlesex University (and whose office I reside in for my two days at Middlesex University each week), then presented on ‘reasonably justifiable risk’ in his charismatic style. He spoke of the differences between the American approach to H&S regulation, which is thought to be very prescriptive, and the UK approach, which is more geared towards goal-setting. It sparked lively debate and the Q&A session afterwards went on for some while. Unknown unknowns sprung to mind during his keynote which planted lots of fodder for thought…




Wednesday December 6th

The following week then saw the next cohort of MSc students looking to undertake research projects meet with potential organisations that they might pair up with in order to conduct the research. The energy in the room was palpable. The students I could tell were delighted with the opportunity to meet some really well respected H&S folk and to see if they could maybe work together. Ideas were placed on post-its and employers went to look at the research interests posted by students and the students went & viewed the ideas of interest to organisations which were posted on the opposite wall. And so the process began, the level of conversation and energy was really encouraging to see. To give Maeve & Shaun credit, this really is a great concept, and one which I imagine would appeal to and serve other universities well.

In the same flow as the week before, we made our way across the road from the Holborn Bars area to the ‘Inn of Court’, whereby more great discussion ensued in the atmospheric London bar, and whereby more introductions were made and relationships built.

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