Two centuries ago when the Industrial Revolution took hold, workplaces were hazardous and held to barely any standards.
A surge in new mills and factories meant a demand for cheap labour in the cities. Pay was poor, hours were long, and conditions were hazardous. Working excruciating hours and dealing with anything from exposed and accident-prone heavy machinery to toxic chemicals, labourers – many of whom were children – frequently suffered injuries and illnesses. If ailments weren’t fatal (too frequently they were), they could put individuals out of a job for weeks, months, or years, if not for life, with zero compensation required to be provided by employers.
Over the years, a series of reforms and acts – from Factory Act introduced under Sir Robert Peel (pictured) to the Employer’s Liability Act – saw employers become more accountable for the conditions of workplaces and the safety of their employees in the line of duty. In 1974, the Health and Safety at Work Act laid the foundations of the current standards employers are held to today in the UK and in many places around the world, and the founding of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
In our modern working environments, organisations are required to adhere to rigorous and constantly reviewed regulations that are designed to limit risk to human life to the greatest extent possible. And they work: workplace fatalities and injuries continue to fall year by year.
While workplace health and safety is constantly improving thanks to wide-scale compliance with guidelines and regulations, however, the actual process of compliance itself is mired in complexity.
For a construction firm, the administration of health and safety documentation generally takes place in production time, eating into the daily workflow of management and operatives. Organisations in the construction sector are burdened with a mountain of paperwork. Depending on the size and nature of a site, a Health and Safety document could be up to 350 pages long. Even a small subcontractor of 10 operatives working across multiple sites, each with their own particular health and safety requirements and associated documentation, might have to handle some 300 separate paper documents each week, all requiring distribution among staff, completion, and filing.
Combined with Toolbox Talks, qualifications cards, new starter registrations, disciplinary logs, PPE registers among a tall and growing stack of paperwork, archival management can become an all-consuming occupation. Even physically storing all those documents in small site offices can prove a challenge, and it’s hardly surprising documents are often difficult to trace when required by staff, contractors, or inspectors.
In short, health and safety standards have advanced by furlongs, but there’s plenty of ground to be made in streamlining the process of compliance with advantages to all-around site safety, productivity, and efficiency. But taking steps towards streamlining health and safety is in the hands of the individual employer.
A systematic approach to health and safety compliance will serve as a policy framework for every new site that will ultimately expedite the process while ensuring it remains thorough, all-encompassing and becomes just another of the company’s organisational goals.
Following risk assessments, responsibilities can be shared to create, review and revise policy and procedures to ensure they’re up to date each time, and not taking more resource than required. All health and safety activities can then be drawn into a single plan with clear objectives and targets whose performance can be measured to ensure policies are continually working and being improved where possible.
As we all know, there is often a perception that health and safety compliance procedures are just a tangle of ‘red tape’ that gets in the way of work getting done. Of course, it only takes one serious incident to show anyone that’s not the case: health and safety is both an essential and unavoidable process. If leadership emphasises the importance of every individual’s awareness and contribution, a professional ‘safety first’ culture can be fostered.
Motivating team-wide involvement in the process can ensure that documents are completed and returned on time, questions are asked in briefings, and more attention is paid to adhering to standards. Workers can also be rewarded for meeting health and safety objectives and taking the initiative to ensure they’re implemented effectively or incentivised with valuable training such as fire safety or first aid.
One of the most effective ways to streamline health and safety compliance is to ‘bust’ the paperwork entirely, by storing it centrally in a Health and Safety Compliance Application such as Illeso, in partnership with Intelastel.
Illeso users can quickly upload all of their existing health and safety documents to their application, and automate the distribution of documents to individual workers as they require them, to any device. Eliminating paper trails carries huge advantages to the efficiency of construction sites, with reduced administration time enabling increased productivity.
Health and safety has come a long way over the years. Workplaces have never been safer, but compliance has never been more resource-intensive.
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