We are at a fairly advanced stage with our health and safety management system. We have a policy to provide a management framework and a set of objectives that we have set ourselves. We have an organisation with staff aware of their roles and responsibilities, and competent to deliver what is required of them.
We have planned for health and safety in our workplace, using risk assessments as a tool for measuring risk, and we have developed risk control measures accordingly. In short, things are beginning to happen. Some logical questions that follow all this activity however are, how well is it all working? Are we achieving our objectives? Are our risk control measures effective? Are staff adopting the working methods we have devised with them? There is of course only one way to determine the answers to these questions, and that is by monitoring our performance; in other words by measuring our success. There is a very old saying which goes something like, what gets measured gets done! Most of us need an incentive to do the things that we ought to do, and knowing that our performance is going to be periodically checked is usually sufficient motivation for us to do our best. The same is true in health and safety except that the stakes are often higher than in other aspects of working life.
Types of monitoring
Monitoring can be done proactively and reactively, and what is required is a combination of both in order to provide a true measure of performance. Proactive monitoring is carried out before we have any indication of failure; before anything goes wrong. It is routine, regular checking, that can include physical inspections of the workplace, audits, and environmental sampling. Reactive monitoring is the examination of data that arises from incidents in order to shed light on our performance. Accident data, details of machinery breakdown, and sickness trends are all examples of reactive data that can be used to help us to build a picture of our health and safety performance.
What should be monitored?
This series of articles has promoted the idea of systematic management, and it has set out the various elements that should be present in a successful system. It therefore follows that this management system should itself be monitored for its effectiveness, and this is done by the use of an audit. A health and safety management audit examines the structure of the management system to see that all the key elements are in place and working satisfactorily. For example, the first element in the system is the policy.
The audit would examine the company’s health and safety policy to see how robust it is, how relevant it is, and the extent to which staff understand and conform to it. Performance in an audit is usually quantified by the use of a scoring system to provide a rating which in turn provides an indication of the current level of achievement. This makes it fairly simple to set targets for the next period and embark on a cycle of continuous improvement. Audits are a form of proactive monitoring.
Another proactive method is inspection. Inspections need to be carried out on a regular basis so that hazardous situations do not develop without being noticed. It is often useful to draw up a checklist of points to be examined in the inspection so that things are not missed and historical data can be amassed so as to identify trends if they emerge. An inspection of a workshop for example, might include an examination of the general condition of the walls and floors etc, electrical issues, machinery and tools, emergency provision, and personal protective equipment. Deficiencies can be identified and remedied before any harm is caused, remembering that they are indications of less than satisfactory performance.
Risk control measures sometimes take the form of mechanical and/or electrical devices. Local exhaust ventilation systems for example are sometimes installed to draw off harmful fumes produced by various processes before they are inhaled by staff. We cannot take their continual efficiency for granted however, and we need to understand that any fall in their performance can lead to the contamination of the air. We therefore need to monitor our health and safety hardware as well as our staff and systems. In this case we might carry out various tests on the equipment to check that it is working within the design specification, and these tests are yet another form of proactive monitoring.
There are very few occasions in life when we achieve 100% success, and this is certainly true in health and safety at work. Sadly however, our shortfalls in performance in this area often manifest themselves in accidents and ill-health. They can however provide us with valuable insights into our failures, which if acted upon, can help us to prevent the recurrence of these things. This is why it is essential to develop a reporting system that will draw attention to all accident and ill-health incidents, and indeed to near-misses! This reactive data is an indication of performance which can be used to our advantage. For example, a sudden upturn in the number of accidents occurring in a particular area, or a rise in the number of a particular type of injury, might lead us to identify a weakness in our system. Armed with this knowledge, we can then direct our resources to make the necessary improvements to prevent recurrence.
Similarly, data related to absence from work, illness, and machinery breakdown can all inform us about possible failures in our health and safety performance, both as individuals and as a company. The old saying, ‘ignorance is bliss’. most definitely does not apply in health and safety. The more knowledge we have of our failures, the less likely it is that we will be caught out! Health and safety monitoring provides us with the means by which we can gather this knowledge and so make the workplace a safer, healthier, and much more productive environment for all.
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