Sunday 28 January 2007

Elf n' Safety

I mentioned elf n' safety in my previous post (about how we re-jigged our H&S paperwork with the assistance of the HSE through their "Workplace Health Connect" programme).

The upshot of the re-drafting was that we turned our 100+ page A4 H&S manual into an 11 page filofax insert to issue to all our handymen.

Why did we previously have such a huge H&S manual? Because we had written a risk assessment and "method statement" for pretty much every conceivable situation. We thought we had to do that, but I had for a long time thought that such thoroughness was counterproductive: if you give an employee a 100 page document to read, he probably won't read it, or if he does he is unlikely to remember much about it.

And if you issue to people a document about which they are generally dismissive (which they would be if it told them how to safely change a lightbulb), you risk making them generally dismissive about all safety issues, which is bad.

In reality (we think) there are a small handful of potentially dangerous situations that our handymen are exposed to. And our new H&S material focusses purely on those situations, with a simple one-page risk assessment about each one, plus real-life examples of where our own handymen have incurred injuries doing those tasks.

A graphic description of Patrick's hand after he sliced it with a Stanley knife is a lot more effective than burying a warning about sharp implements somewhere amongst hundreds of pages of waffle about elf n' safety.

Every additional bit of information you add to a document inevitably reduces the impact of existing bits of information. So if you add a risk assessment about a lightbulb, you reduce the impact of the (more important) risk assessment about working at the top of a ladder. And if you add dozens and dozens of risk assessments about relatively trivial risks, the really important stuff is completely drowned out by the noise.

Why am I blogging about this?

Because, this week, our National Britannia Safecontractor accreditation renewal was delayed because their assessors didn't like our new (shorter, focussed, safer) risk assessments. They gave us an example of what they think a risk assessment should say (several hundred words, small print, lots of superfluous and redundant wording); and I think they think we should have more than the half-a-dozen or so that we have.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out: there is no way that I am going to revert back to our previous H&S manual. But of course National Britannia will want to cover their backs: as far as they are concerned the more paperwork we show them the better, I would imagine. So will they listen to what I (and HSE) say? Will I persuade them that our new H&S manual is a million times more effective (=safer) than the reams of waffle they would probably rather we produced?


manchester handyman said...

i am a handyman now but before that i was in engineering, i spent day after day writing Sop's and risk assesments and coshh assesments, all of which were as confusing to read when written properly and not doing the job they intended. i then did half a H&S diploma, thbe single most frustrating course i have ever done, quite clearly only about protecting the system rather than the individual.

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