A good business will aim to avoid a health & safety incident in the first place. But that is not always possible. When it comes to dealing with a claim or responding to regulatory involvement following a health & safety incident, there are a number of common mistakes made by businesses which can make this more difficult.
Here are my top five most common mistakes with some (hopefully) practical and “easy to implement” tips for avoiding each one:
(1) Failure to update policies and procedures
Policies and procedures should be living documents which are reviewed, revised and updated regularly to reflect any changes to your business. If a business expands or develops in to new areas, policies and procedures may no longer be fit for purpose. Legislative, technological, environmental and other changes might also impact their effectiveness over time.
(2) Failure to communicate policies and procedures
Policies and procedures (or the relevant parts of them) need to be communicated to the right people – that might be employees, other workers, contractors, visitors and/or members of the public. It is also important to make sure that the way in which your policies and procedures are communicated is appropriate. Do people understand what they mean? Do they know the responsibilities they might have? Is training required?
After a health & safety incident, being able to produce a Health & Safety Policy, no matter how thorough, is unlikely to satisfy a judge or regulator, if that policy has been put in a drawer or buried somewhere on your intranet.
(3) Failure to keep records
It is frustrating when key documents which could support a defence have not been retained – for example, records of health & safety inductions, toolbox talks or training programmes. Whilst a witness saying that training took place or a risk assessment existed can be helpful, memories are not always reliable, and often not as persuasive as black and white proof. You should also think about retaining earlier versions of documents. It might be sensible to keep the previous versions of, say, a risk assessment, rather than overwriting it. That way you can easily demonstrate what was in place, if you need to, at a particular point in time.
(4) Failure to appropriately manage an incident
Everyone in your business should know their role if an incident happens. That role might simply be for an individual to alert their supervisor – or it might be far more involved e.g. being the key liaison for any health & safety investigation. It is sensible for any business to have a major incident protocol in place as well as procedures for dealing with less serious incidents or near misses. And remember to notify your insurer!
(5) Failure to gather the necessary evidence immediately after an incident has occurred
Appropriate incident management (as above) should help to avoid contemporaneous evidence being lost – but I wanted to specifically mention in gathering evidence immediately after an incident. This is not an exhaustive list but some questions you might want to ask are:- Do you need to take witness statements? What about photographs or video footage? Is there CCTV? Do you need to preserve a piece of plant or equipment or another item so it can be examined later? Do you need to put your hands on any documents such as repair, maintenance or inspection records? Was the accident caused by a third-party contractor who should be indemnifying you? If so, do you know where the contract is? Should you pull together relevant training records, risk assessments, policies, method statements, relevant correspondence in to one place?