European Week for Safety and Health at Work: Planning Tips

European Week for Safety and Health at Work: Planning Tips

When you’re planning workplace health and safety activities annually, there will doubtless be a number of standing dates you stick in the diary, around which you can build awareness, campaigns or endeavours, including the fast-approaching European Week for Safety and Health at Work (w/c 22 October 2018).

Comprehensive campaign materials are available free for use at https://healthy-workplaces.eu/en/get-involved/european-week .  Yet, I can’t help but feel something is missing. 

The personal!

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Best times to hire a workplace health and safety speaker?

Best times to hire a workplace health and safety speaker?

If you’re thinking of hiring a workplace health and safety speaker, you’re most likely to be doing so because you want to engage hearts and minds at a particular point in your organisation’s health and safety journey. 

You’ll be asking yourself a number of questions, perhaps uppermost among them:

  • is this the right thing to do; and

  • is it the right time to do it?

In this article Louise answers these questions and gives examples of some of the best times to use a health and safety speaker.

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​​​​​​​Why do people think health and safety has gone mad?

​​​​​​​Why do people think health and safety has gone mad?

144 people died at work last year. So said the Health and Safety Executive’s annual fatality statistic report. So it must be true.

I mean, that’s not even 3 people a week. And, in a country with a population in excess of 66 million people, it would barely register as a bar on a graph, or a slither on a pie chart.  

Easy to see then why people:

  • think health and safety’s gone mad;

  • claim health and safety is a burden on business;

  • tout safety regulation as red tape; and

  • see safety rules and procedures as a tiresome impediment to getting a job done. 

Actually, as someone who has lost a brother in a work-related electrocution, I think all of these beliefs could not be further from the truth.

So, why do such attitudes persist?  In part, is it because the general public are not told The Whole Story?  And if they were, what difference would it make?

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Best Ways to Engage a Health and Safety Guest Speaker Who Engages With Your Workforce - Part 1

Best Ways to Engage a Health and Safety Guest Speaker Who Engages With Your Workforce - Part 1

I’ve had cause to sit and reflect recently on the different ways in which organisations have used my brother's story to positive effect and some lessons learned along the way as to what is effective - or not so effective - in driving engagement.  I plan to set these out over a series of briefings in the coming weeks, but starting with: critical project stages and safety stand downs.  

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Influencing health and safety in 2018 and beyond

Influencing health and safety in 2018 and beyond

This year's Safety and Health Expo at London's Excel brought a true "What the Four-Letter-Word" moment for me. 

Chris Edwards, the Show's Director had pulled me aside on the morning of Day 2, to chat about the "running order".  Knowing I was presenting in the Soapbox Challenge in the afternoon, I assumed that's what we were to be chatting about. 

It turned out to be more about what was to happen prior to the Soapbox Challenge.   

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Who are the best female health and safety speakers?

Who are the best female health and safety speakers?

Ask an organisation which safety speakers they’ve had in and the list will more often than not begin with Jason Anker and Ken Woodward. 

Or there might be Dylan Skelhorn, James Gorry and Paul Blanchard. 

And what of Paul J Mahoney, Gary Gallagher or Matt Hazelton. 

All with a compelling story about injuries or losses suffered.  And all male. 

So just where are all the women? 

In this post, Louise outlines the three best female health and safety speakers she’s aware of in the UK who talk about personal loss.

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SHExpo Soapbox Challenge - The Whole Story: Work-Related Fatalities

SHExpo Soapbox Challenge - The Whole Story: Work-Related Fatalities

Being able to present in a convincing, engaging and inspiring manner is important for developing almost any career and is certainly important in health and safety. Speaking in front of a large audience has the bi-product of developing confidence too."

And this was exactly the opportunity being offered to six women by the Women in Health and Safety Committee at #SHExpo.  Entries were sought to deliver a 3-minute soapbox piece in the Keynote Theatre on any health and safety related topic: something we felt passionate about and on which we wanted the audience to take action.  

In this blog, Louise writes about her successful entry to the Challenge, and the lessons she learned from taking part.

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Sister's safety video aims to promote positive change

Sister's safety video aims to promote positive change

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" That was the question my 3-year-old posed to me just the other week. 

At school the answer was PE Teacher. I ended up becoming an employment lawyer. 

It's certainly never the case that I wanted to become a workplace health and safety guest speaker when I grew up.  

It surely wouldn't be anyone's aim.  Because becoming such a speaker invariably results from a personal story borne of tragedy.  

In this blog post, Louise explains more about that personal tragedy , and what she seeks to achieve with your help in the year leading up to what should have been her brother's 40th birthday on 18 March 2019.  

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Michael's story: Lessons from an entirely preventable death

Louise Taggart bravely tells the story of her brother Michael, fatally injured at work, in the hope of helping raise awareness of the fundamental importance of safe systems of work.

“Michael’s been in an accident in Dundee.  We’re on our way to the hospital.”

Those were the words my  mum said to me on the evening of 4th August 2005.

Assuming it was a car accident, I didn’t ask, during the brief call, what had happened to Michael.

Later that evening, I kissed my wee brother’s forehead and said goodbye for the last time as he lay dead in a hospital bed, with barely a scratch on him.

He hadn’t been in a car accident – he’d been electrocuted at work.

Michael was an experienced spark, 26-years-old and engaged to be married.  It had never for one minute crossed my mind prior to his death that he might leave for work one morning and not return home. Yes, of course electricity is dangerous, but it can – and should – be worked with safely…shouldn’t it?

He had cut a cable marked ‘NOT IN USE’, which was in fact wired into a distribution board and was not safely isolated.  It took more than three years for the case against the company that employed him to get to court, and for us to find out the fundamental failings in implementing safe systems of work that led to Michael’s entirely preventable death.

The HSE press release issued after the trial outcome said: “Michael Adamson’s death could have been prevented had his employer ensured that safe working practices were being carried out in accordance with the company’s own written procedures.”

I’m driven by the need to have no-one else ever have to hear those or similar words.

I want his story to reinforce why safe systems of work need to be in place, not only on paper, but also in practice.

The method statement of my brother’s employer said that “before working on electrical equipment, it should be isolated and secured by means of a padlock”.

However, the devices for lock-off/tag-out were not provided by Michael’s employer.  Instead the practice on site was to use insulating tape.

The HSE’s specialist electrical inspector wanted to get hold of examples of the lock-off devices to show as evidence at the trial.  He was asking for them in Edinburgh, in major industry wholesalers, and at every turn he was being told “Nah mate, sorry, we don’t stock them.  No demand from industry for them.”

This fundamental safety procedure, each spark had been taught during his or her apprenticeship for around 20 years prior to Michael’s death, was not being implemented by the electrical contracting industry.

So, a key failing appeared to be an industry-wide one.  But there were also a catalogue of other failures specific to Michael’s employer, including a failure to ensure he and the other sparks on site had access to the testing equipment they needed in order to do their jobs safely.

In addition, the risk assessment for low voltage electrical work was described by the mechanical project manager as a “living document”.  Well, during the course of the fit-out, the distribution boards were energised and work on them continued.  However, the risk assessment was not revisited and was described by the HSE as “completely inadequate”.

And there was a critical failure in supervision and management. The electrical supervisor was to tell the HSE during his investigation interview that “I don’t regard it as part of my job to ensure safe working practices were adhered to at all times.”  I consider that to have been a fundamentally important part of an electrical supervisor’s job.

As well as Michael’s employer being charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, so too were the managing director, operations director and technical services manager. Mistakes were made by the prosecutor. Those three individuals were to walk free from the dock. The lawyer for the company then referred to his client as being the “invisible man” now sitting in the dock.

It didn’t take too long for the jury to find the invisible man guilty as charged. But that provides my family with little in the way of justice, and nothing in the way of comfort.

So that’s why I want to tell his story: to stop this from happening to anyone else, and to stop any other family from having to go through what we have gone through, and will forever continue to go through.

I want his story to reinforce why safe systems of work need to be in place, not only on paper, but also in practice.

I want it to reinvigorate supervisors and management in the role they must play in driving safe working practices.

I want it to give people the courage to speak up when they see something unsafe.

And, above all, I want Michael’s story to stay with people for a long time, sparking conversations and actions and contributing in whatever small way to people going home safe to their loved ones at the end of every shift.

It makes me sad and angry in equal measure to repeatedly have to read stories about work-related deaths that “could and should have been prevented had the employer ensured” that proper risk assessments were undertaken; or that adequate training was provided; or that machinery was properly guarded; or that a safe system of work was being followed; or that its own written procedures were adhered to.

Michael was a son, a brother and a fiancé, who should by now be a husband, an uncle and a dad. I can’t bring him back. So my biggest hope is that, through the telling of his story, it stops any other family from having to walk in my family’s shoes.

This article was originally published by SHP Online on October 17, 2016

Reflection

A full year since I wrote a website blog piece!  Where did that year go??

Well, it just so happens that today is the 9th anniversary of Michael’s employer being fined £300,000 in respect of his death, and it’s been heartening to look back through the diary for this past year to see just where it did go, and to reflect on the impact sharing my wee brother’s story has had. 

As I say when I speak, the conviction of his employer and the imposition of a fine gave us absolutely no comfort as we didn’t believe it would effect any sort of real change. 

It seems though that, through telling his story, it does bring about change which is tangible, positive, and lasting, both in individuals and in organisations.

Hearing about what happened to Michael has sparked new enthusiasm amongst health and safety professionals. One contacted me more than a year after hearing me speak to say: “Hearing you speak turned what was a career into a passion that no family will ever go through what your family went through on my watch.”  And another messaged to say “It’s very easy to lose focus of why you are doing what you are doing and just see it as a ‘just a job’ and to be honest, that's where I was yesterday. Listening to Michael’s story has changed my thinking and I now have a renewed enthusiasm and focus on improving safety standards and culture at work.”

If every time I speak, one person leaves with that renewed energy, how many will they in turn impact?  But I’ll always hope more than one person leaves the room with either a changed attitude towards safety or renewed vigour for ensuring it, as that will increase the impact exponentially.

For example, this I received from a Director after a session delivered to a senior leadership team: “For me, it hit a number of chords…the welfare of my workforce…the risk of programme pressure…the challenge of peer pressure…my legal responsibilities…but above all, the impact on the families and friends. I thought your delivery was very brave, emotional, intelligent, challenging but, most of all, prompted a number of the audience to think about what they were going to differently when they left the presentation.  You, and therefore Michael, have left a lasting impact that we can build on to improve our safety culture.”

And from another: “Michael’s Story as told by his big sister has saved lives.  We cannot put a number on it, but in my mind the impact of Michael Adamson was and is there to see when HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Rosyth recently to worldwide coverage and did so without a serious electrical incident.”

Tangible, positive, lasting change, which prevents others from suffering the heartache of Michael’s family and friends.  

That does and will continue to provide comfort.   

 

A Big Week

This past week I've been in London, telling Michael's Story to teams across the Crossrail project. And an article I'd written for SHP online was also published. So a big week, when thousands more people got to hear or read about the failures that resulted in Michael's death and hopefully actions then flow which prevent further incident, injury or worse.

 Last HEALTH AND SAFETY session of the day for Morgan Sindall at Pudding Mill Lane

Last HEALTH AND SAFETY session of the day for Morgan Sindall at Pudding Mill Lane

"I'm an employment lawyer by day and a FACKer by night..."

...is a line I used many's a time to try to lighten the mood a little during presentations.  

However, I'm no longer in practice as an employment lawyer, having ended my 13 year career to focus more fully on health and safety projects.  I am still a FACKer though because, if I hadn't become a FACKer, I wouldn't have the strength to be doing what I am now. 

You see, in the months after Michael's death, I couldn't talk about him in life without tears streaming down my face.  There is absolutely no way I could even have contemplated recounting the detail of his death.  

Then, a year after he died, through my work as an employment lawyer, a new campaign group grabbed my attention.  Its name had been designed to make people sit up and take notice.  It was FACK, standing for Families Against Corporate Killers.  This was a group of families who were joined by the common bond of having lost loved ones in work-related incidents.

I joined.

And from those bereaved parents, spouses, partners, and children, and the strength they were showing in the face of the ultimate adversity, I found a new sense of purpose.  I realised that through my family's experience of Michael's death, a difference could be made to the safety of others. I found the confidence to speak up, first to politicians, then to trade unionists, and most recently to employers and their workforces.  

The first client to invite me in to tell Michael's Story admits he was "apprehensive" beforehand. Understandable.  You've been told it might be an idea to invite in an unknown quantity - who campaigns with FACK - to speak to your sparks and you'll be hearing the content of her presentation for the first time at the same time as all of them. Any initial apprehension was quickly overcome though it seems.  Because, after hearing what I had to say, I'm now a regular feature in Babcock International's workplace safety speaker programme, and must have spoken to approaching 5000 people at their sites at Rosyth - where the Aircraft Carrier Alliance Project is centred - Devonport, Appledore and on the Clyde.

When I asked another client if I could use a thank you letter he sent me as a way of dispelling any fears over the fact I'm a FACKer, he replied "I would suggest that any Company committed to creating a safe environment for their workforce should have no concerns whatsoever."

And therein lies the rub.  Because to be a FACKer is to want to stop others from losing their lives or their loved ones in incidents which could and should be prevented, an aim shared by companies wanting to create a safe environment for their workforce.  

Some have suggested I should play down the fact I'm a FACKer.  And, yes, I would absolutely rather not be one.  I would much rather my wee brother was alive and well. But he's not. And that's why I want to tell you Michael's Story so I can stop anyone else's loved one from meeting that same fate.