Risky business

10 August 2018

Myles Francis is a former HSE inspector and is now a risk assessor and he will share some of the common and sometimes extremely worrying health and safety failures he comes across on a regular basis.

WHEN I was asked to write this column, my immediate thought was “why me?”. If anything is guaranteed to raise my hackles, it’s some self-appointed “expert” pontificating on health and safety, demonstrating their sound legal knowledge, but often displaying a total lack of practical application. And that’s the thing with health and safety; most of us, as professionals, know what “should” happen to comply with the relevant legislation, but the actual situation we find ourselves in doesn’t easily lend itself to actually doing that. So, one of the things I would like to do here is demonstrate some of the more left-field issues I’ve had to deal with over the years, and talk about the practical application of health and safety in some unusual situations.

But, again, “why me?”. What qualifies me to write a column such as this? Well, nothing really. We all have our experiences in health and safety work; we all have our stories to tell, it’s just I’ve been given the opportunity to tell some of mine and add a bit of commentary to current issues in this field. In terms of experience, I have been involved in health and safety for over twenty years, starting as a trainee Inspector with the Health and Safety Executive where I was exposed to a wide range of industries, many of which I never knew existed! On many occasions, it was a case of resorting to first principles – if it didn’t look right, then it probably wasn’t. A key part of the job wasn’t the specific health and safety knowledge, it’s the personal skills, getting people to talk about their work and how it’s done, explaining why this dangerous looking machine I’d never seen before didn’t need to be guarded, and talking through practical solutions.

Practical solutions

Ah, there’s that “p” word again! The ability to come up with practical solutions, which will actually work is essential for any health and safety professional. Quite simply, if measures introduced for health and safety reasons make it too difficult for somebody to do their job, they are going to fall by the wayside. People find work-arounds, or simply don’t bother to follow the rules. In many cases, it’s important for the health and safety professional to bring a sense of perspective to the situation. And that works both ways. I’ve often found myself reviewing clients’ risk assessments and advising that they are potentially going too far in putting in control measures, skewing the “reasonably practicable” balance in the direction of spending too much time and effort on fairly trivial matters.

But it’s equally important to recognise where more needs to be done to minimise the level of risk. Has the balance gone too far in the other direction, with not enough being done to control a more significant issue? And if so what can be put in place to address this? Working in the film and tv industry throws up some pretty odd challenges in this regard, and coming up with the “right” way to do things can be a real challenge! Where do you start when a client comes to you saying: “well, we want to cook a roast dinner in a tumble dryer, and have our presenter eat it at the end…..”?!

Hopefully, this column will be able to explore some of these examples and demonstrate how health and safety can be used to enable these activities, and not be used as an excuse to stop them.

Myles Francis is a principal health and safety consultant at 1st Option Safety Group. For more information, visit