Health and safety systems – the extremes

By Craig Carlyle, Maintenance Transformations

A term often bandied about in health and safety conversations is ‘health and safety system’. People’s description of their systems range anywhere from either a blank look to a couple of forms downloaded from the web or to weighty tomes spanning multiple ring binders. Hopefully your system (if you have one), is not at these extremes.

The presence or lack of a health and safety system has been mentioned in health and safety Case Law. Perhaps we should pay attention then.

You could bury yourself in ISO 45001 (the recognised standard for health and safety systems), to understand what a working health and system is about but let’s talk in plain English. In general terms, a system describes your policies and procedures, along with the tools (normally forms) used to manage your health and safety. It can be as succinct as you like, or (as more often the case), full of PC speak and virtue signalling. Some years ago, we accepted the challenge from Greater East Tamaki Business Association to produce a document under 40 pages in length and found our clients appreciated the clear concise result.

The key component of your system is your register of potential hazards and risks in your business, the controls required to minimise those risks, the scheduled actions (events) you need to achieve to ensure long term compliance, and the sporadic tools that you may use from time to time, (such as accident investigations).

There has never been a prosecution for having the wrong font, the wrong layout, or not following corporate health and safety fashion. Prosecutions follow from PCBU’s not complying with their responsibilities under the law and regulations, the requirements which are dealt with in your system.

If your manual is gathering dust on the shelf, it is likely that you may have a problem. None more so than if your system has identified a hazard or risk, described a hierarchy of controls, that you fail to convert into a management task.

For example, let’s say you run a brake press in your business. Your system identifies it as a hazard and amongst the hierarchy of controls, requires that operators are trained in the use of the press, and then retrained at regular intervals. Discovering that you never actually got around to training your staff member after he amputates his hand is not going to be viewed well by the Courts. We have seen this happen.

The only thing worse than having no health and safety system is to have a system and not follow it. A health and safety system provides the structure of what you are doing, your responsibility is to create or use a management information system to ensure the ongoing compliance assurance. This can range anywhere from office tools to third party software. The test of your success is your long-term compliance, which can be tested with a health and safety system audit; did you do the things you said you were going to do?

Get these basic tools right and health and safety can become a positive compliant part of your operations. It’s no wonder it is referred to in case law.

Craig Carlyle is director at Maintenance Transformations. His expertise lies in the practical application of maintenance and health and safety management systems in the workplace. He is also a life member of the Maintenance Engineering Society of NZ.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.