Lessons in safety

23 January 2013

Rather than being baffled or put off by health and safety legislation, a trust which helps young adults with learning difficulties find work has found embracing the associated challenges has helped its business thrive

Rather than being baffled or put off by health and safety legislation, a trust which helps young adults with learning difficulties find work has found embracing the associated challenges has helped its business thrive

Acollege that helps to get 16-25 year olds with learning difficulties into work within three years might not be the most obvious place to find health and safety issues at its core.

But since focusing on its health and safety compliance, the Petty Pool Trust charity has gone from strength to strength. Not only does the charity now turn over £1m a year but it also gets 68 per cent of its students into employment compared to a national benchmark of 7 per cent. On top of that, Ofsted has given the college an 'outstanding' grade 1 rating and the trust has obtained the Investors in People Gold standard, making it one of only 19 organisations in the north of England to achieve the award.

When Peter Evans MBE joined the Petty Pool Trust as chief executive he found that ensuring the facility continued to comply with changing laws was taking up a lot of executive staff's time - time that he wanted to devote to building on the trust's nationwide reputation for delivering quality services to users with needs.

There are three main reasons that health and safety became a bigger focus for the trust. Firstly because its outdoor centre was increasing the amount of activities that students were taking part in, including abseiling, zip wire work, orienteering, climbing, and riding on a model railway. Secondly because there had been significant changes to legislation which required organisations to show that they were meeting all health and safety criteria. And thirdly because the centre was being used by hundreds of organisations, companies and schools which meant there could be 200 people on site at any one time. Clearly, it was vital that all legal certifications were always up to date.

Peter says: "Not only did we have many thousands of people using the outdoor centre throughout the year but our students were doing exciting activities like whizzing along at 30 mph 30 feet up on a zip wire. Our priority is their safety, of course, and we have always ensured that, but the new legislation meant that we had to be able to prove our compliance at any given time and that meant a potential administrative headache." He continues: "All students and staff and everyone who visits here need to feel that their safety is assured at all times and that they are able to operate in a safe, fully tested environment. Our certificates prove this and ensure everybody has comfort and peace of mind." To help deliver this peace of mind, Peter called on the services of Bibby Consulting & Support, specialist in employment law and health and safety legislation. When the health and safety law changed for corporate manslaughter, Bibby designed a training programme that brought all trust staff bang up to date.

As well as health and safety advice, Bibby Consulting & Support helped Petty Pool to keep up to date with employment law and meet all its legal obligations.

More importantly, however, by ensuring he is meeting every employees' needs correctly, Peter has been able to improve people performance and turn compliance with employment law into a competitive advantage.

Describing the service provided by Bibby Consulting & Support as "terrific", Peter says: "It just makes you sleep easier, knowing there's a 24 hour support helpline for you and your managers. We now have an annual inspection with a report showing if there's anything that needs actioning. I can honestly say that we have had zero issues but it's great to have that professional backing and to know that all your contracts are legal at any given time." Michael Slade, managing director of Bibby Consulting & Support, comments: "The safety of students and the safety of staff are massively important at Petty Pool but with changes in legislation it can be difficult to keep up. We took away the headache of worrying about complying with all sorts of employment and health and safety laws and allowed the trust to concentrate on doing what it does best - improve the lives of young people with needs and make them ready for the world of work."