Column: Safety Leadership—Below the Waterline
Recently, I read an “In Court” article in the Safety & Health Practitioner online magazine where three construction companies were found to be complicit in the death of Rafal Myslim. Intrigued, I then started browsing through the 64 other pages of the “In Court” articles. Each of these pages contains at least 30 different articles covering various fatalities, serious injuries, and occupational disease, in addition to details on company directors and owners being prosecuted over a failure to discharge his or her duties in a fit and proper manner. These articles go from where we are today back through to 2004; that’s 1,920 articles over a 13-year period. It makes quite sobering reading.
What is most interesting is that, when you start to analyze the information provided rather than just browsing through, what starts to appear is a rather bleak picture of the challenge that we all face. Now, although these articles cover just the United Kingdom, the issues that they highlight will resonate with others elsewhere in the world. Fundamentally, though, and the reason for this article, most companies featured in the “In Court” articles are predominately small to medium enterprises (SMEs). SMEs are categorized as those that employ up to but no more than 249 people.
It is now more than 40 years since the implementation of the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974, the United Kingdom’s primary workplace safety legislation. Since that time, we have gone through factory inspectors with clipboards, workplace regulatory compliance, behavior-based safety, targeted measures, cardinal rules, curves, and doing things differently, in addition to spending millions on courses, books, lectures, journals, magazines, and pretty much anything else we can think of to keep the wolf away from the workplace safety door.
Considering this and the information provided by the online magazine further, I am reminded of the saying that usually gets trotted out when we talk about the current state of workplace accidents: “We have achieved much, but there is still so much more to do.” This is true, but, when we consider the complex and diverse range of the companies that are highlighted in the “In Court” articles gathered over this 13 year period, “still much more to do” becomes a very general, if not glib, statement, which, in reality, and if we are honest with ourselves, should now be bolstered with the additional “how, where, when, with whom, and with what.”