We can just imagine your reaction to our latest post title, but the next 10 minutes you spend reading this blog* could make a huge difference to your life, or someone else’s. If you’re an absolute expert in all things H&S then fine, we’ll let you off – but if you’re not? Then go and get yourself a brew and take a few minutes to read on . . .
It matters because you’re at risk in two ways. Firstly, being injured yourself and not being able to work and earn money. Secondly because if someone else is injured while they are working for you, then not only is that a nightmare in itself, how would you feel if the HSE suddenly decided it was your fault? Forget the guilt aspect, we’re talking a criminal conviction here and possibly even prison!
OK, let’s calm it down a bit. Prison might be one possible outcome, but in reality it would be an extreme case. Either way, the first step is to know where your responsibilities lie. For example, did you know that someone who works ‘under your control and direction’ could be deemed as your employee when it comes to Health & Safety, even if they are classed as self-employed for tax and national insurance purposes? So even if you don’t technically employ them, you still need to take action to protect them in the same way as you would an employee.
People tend to think about Health & Safety in terms of things like protective clothing, making sure you don’t fall off scaffolding, or not having a precarious pile of materials land on your head. But it also covers the really basic stuff too – what the HSE calls ‘welfare facilities’.
If you are responsible for any workers at all, then you need to make sure they have access to things like washbasins with hot and cold running water, clean and properly lit toilets, somewhere to change and keep clothing dry, access to drinking water and the ability to make hot drinks. So there you go – being able to rustle up a cuppa when you need one is actually a legal requirement!
How hard can it be to climb a ladder, you might ask? Homeowners have ladders and they can do what they like with them, but not so for tradesmen. According to the HSE, in just four years 36 people died falling off ladders - and as far as we’re concerned, even one is too many. Starting with the basics, is there another way that would be safer? If not, is the ladder in good nick, and will it be resting against something solid – e.g. not a flimsy tree trunk. More importantly, it must be secured top and bottom to stop it slipping, and that doesn’t just mean getting your fattest mate to stand on the bottom rung!
You wouldn’t think we could do two paragraphs on ladders would you? But we’re keeping going. All fairly obvious until now – but here are some facts you maybe didn’t know. The ladder must extend a meter above what it’s resting on, or if not then there must be other handholds available. Once in place, you mustn’t need to overstretch to reach what you’re working on, and if it’s a stepladder, it must be tall enough to have three spare rungs at the top beyond the one you’re standing on. Lastly, you have to be competent to use it, or have trained your staff to use one safely.
Sometimes one thing leads to another on a job. What starts off looking simple ends up needing you to go into someone’s loft, or take a trip onto the roof of a building, or even climb a tree. And as soon as that happens you or your team needs to think about all of those lovely ‘working at height’ regulations which go beyond a simple ladder. Starting with asking you to think about whether you actually need to go upwards – or could you avoid it by using different equipment! Seems obvious, but maybe not . . .
Other things to think about include taking the necessary precautions to ensure safety, such as using scaffolding and mobile platforms – or providing nets and soft landing systems should someone still manage to fall off something. You also have to think about the weather, if changing conditions such as increased wind would make your work more risky. All in all it’s not a simple process if the job you’re doing suddenly involves you needing to get airborne.
If you thought climbing ladders should be simple, try this one – there are a raft of H&S regulations around digging holes! Possibly not something you’ll have to do that often, depending on your line of work, but good to know the basics if you do. The HSE refers to this as ‘excavations’ - but even if you’re not planning on a prison break-out, the smallest hole has to be dug properly, especially if someone ends up having to stand inside it.
So here’s a few of the basics – are the walls of the hole supported in some way, so they don’t fall in one someone? Or are they at a safe enough angle? Can you get the supports in safely, without someone having to step into an unsupported hole or trench to start with? Beyond this, you also have to think about other people around the hole, including the public of course. You’ll need to put up barriers to make sure no-one falls in by accident, and keep materials well away from it also, so they don’t fall in too.
We don’t mean to approach any of these subjects lightly, as correct Health & Safety procedures are vital in any line of work. So even the simplest of actions now has to be considered and evaluated. And one of the most fundamental of these is lifting stuff – or ‘manual handling’ as the HSE calls it. As with other subjects, the first questions is, do you actually have to lift it by hand, or is there a safer way? Or even before that, could you have chosen a lighter material in the first place? For example ordering cement or gravel in smaller bags to make lifting them easier.
If you have staff, then it’s your job to make sure they lift things safely as well, so you have to give them proper training, and proper equipment such as footwear and gloves with a good grip. Beyond that, if they are lifting items off the back of a van for example, make sure they check if the load is still stable before starting to move items, in case things have shifted during transit.
We’ll write another post on this topic soon – as there is far more to think about that just the areas we’ve covered here - and you really do need to know it all!
* PLEASE NOTE: All H&S information contained in this article comes from documentation on the Health & Safety Executive website ©2017 and is correct at the time of writing this post. This is not intended to be an exhaustive or legally binding list – full information on all subjects contained in this article should be sought from www.hse.gov.uk.