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Health & Safety: Thinking differently – and changing the game

We live in a Health & Safety-obsessed world. Or so it seems.

Schools, colleges, universities, organisations, shops and businesses up and down the land take great pains to prove that they are ultra-conscientious about Health & Safety practices and are fully compliant with Health & Safety laws. They draw up strategies. They assess risks. They run Health & Safety safety courses. And — most importantly — they tick boxes.

Sometimes, though, they seem to tick boxes without thinking things through, just because they feel they should. And that can land you in all sorts of bother.

Heard the one about the office workers who were refused permission to put up Christmas decorations, for instance? (Those tinsel stars and streamers could have fallen down and hurt someone, and thus needed to be put up by ‘qualified’ personnel.) Or what about the town hall that banned candy floss in case people tripped up and impaled themselves on the sticks? (Well, it could happen). Then there was the university which ordered its graduates not to throw their mortar boards into the air during the customary ‘now throw your mortar boards into the air!’ photo opportunity (they might have someone’s eye out as they landed). And, last year, The Daily Telegraph reported that “a school has banned dinner ladies from baking triangular flapjacks, branding them ‘dangerous’ after a pupil was hit in the face by a flying oaty treat.”

Those aren’t made up, jokey H&S examples. They really did happen. Seriously.
No wonder this petty attitude outrages some people. Well-known columnists in daily tabloids, for instance, have forged careers writing miles of angry newsprint about OTT “’elf and safety” rules, concluding that — tcha! — ‘you couldn’t make them up’. Exasperated listeners ring Jeremy Vine to make their feelings known whenever a Health & Safety over-reaction hits the headlines. And, in April, government minister Mike Penning wrote to schools and councils urging them to take “a more common sense approach to Health & Safety.”

“Health & Safety is vitally important in a wide range of industries,” noted Penning, “and it is down to the introduction of Health & Safety laws that we don’t have so many accidents as work as in previous generations, but there is a limit. The bottom line is that you can’t beat good old common sense!”

Penning is absolutely right on both counts, of course. Unfortunately, while those banned candyfloss and lethal flapjack stories are infuriatingly funny, they have the regrettable side-effect of making Health & Safety seem like a joke. Sadly, it isn’t. Because there are some working environments — where vehicles and human beings meet, head on, for instance — where Health & Safety isn’t a laughing matter at all. For every example of silly, Christmas decoration-banning, posterior-covering, jobsworth bureaucracy, there’s a grisly example of a spectacular workplace transport Health & Safety failure to wipe the smile off your face.

In April alone, reports the Health & Safety Executive, a national sweet manufacturer appeared in court after the fork on a forklift truck pierced a worker’s foot — one of three collisions in the same location at the factory within a three-month period. Then an agency worker was left with life-changing injuries when his leg had to be amputated after he was crushed between a moving vehicle and a water tank; and an Essex-based manufacturing company was sentenced for safety failings after a forklift truck reversed into a delivery driver’s lower leg, fracturing his ankle.

Suddenly, with real people getting really hurt, sensible Health & Safety procedures don’t seem like such a silly idea.

Which makes you think: in industrial workplaces, do managers really understand Health & Safety requirements? Or are they, like those Christmas decoration-banning office managers, content to unthinkingly tick boxes, simply for Health & Safety appearances sake?

Certainly the suspicion is that some managers are so busy keeping up appearances, they often don’t investigate better options or dig deeper for safer solutions. For example, for Health & Safety reasons, it’s important for industrial workplaces to have the right safety barrier for the right application — and many managers don’t realise the potentially dire Health & Safety implications of having the wrong protective barrier in the wrong place. Put simply, it’s asking for trouble to take the attitude: ‘We’ve got a barrier to comply with Health & Safety regulations. It looks sturdy enough, so that’ll do.’

This is not necessarily the manager’s fault, mind you. Because the safety barrier they think they need may not be the one they actually need. But how can this be? How can ‘clever’ engineers not understand the physics of installing the wrong barrier and the enhanced-safety specifications of the right barrier?

Sadly, it’s probably because most industrial workplace managers simply assume that a generic metal barrier system is adequate for their Health & Safety needs. Yet metal barrier systems are usually rigid. Hit one in a vehicle and you’ll know about it. The vehicle will be damaged, the floor will be ruined and the barrier will need to be replaced. Equipment like this is only investigated properly after an accident, or when the boss threatens to make an appearance. Otherwise it stays put and the status quo — and the bigger Health & Safety picture — remains unaffected.

But a Yorkshire company called A-SAFE — which makes a full range of pedestrian guardrails and vehicle check systems, including bollards and stack protection buffers, tested and certified to British Standards — has been thinking differently about Health & Safety in the workplace and wants managers, UK-wide, to do the same.

A-SAFE a recent winer of the Queen’s Award for International Trade, has produced a world first: a modular barrier system made from Memaplex, a robust flexible polyolefin blend of eight materials and rubber additives, that it has developed itself. It’s easy to install and potentially cheaper than its metal counterparts; and when an A-SAFE barrier is hit by a large moving vehicle it flexes on impact and springs back into shape because (here comes the science bit) it’s been designed to dissipate the force throughout the barrier. What’s more, it only transfers 20 per cent of the force to the floor, so floor damage isn’t an issue either.

And because A-SAFE are experts in their field and offer a full consultancy and back-up service, they can advise workplaces about installing the right barrier for the right situation.

In Health & Safety terms, then, it’s an absolute game-changer. And that’s no joke.

A-SAFE are the inventors and manufacturers of fixed polymer safety barriers; used around the world to offer unbeatable, money-saving protection for buildings, personnel and equipment – for more information call 01422 331133, email sales@asafe.com or visit www.asafe.com

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