There’s no getting around it: construction is a high-risk industry, and specialist fields such as licensed asbestos removal especially so. In the UK, the ground-breaking 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act has gone a long way toward creating a culture of safety: fatal workplace accidents have fallen six-fold in the intervening 44 years, while employer-reported non-fatal injuries fell by 58% over the 30 years to 2016/17.
Yet the nature of the industry is that accidents, incidents and near-misses still happen, with their associated toll on workers’ health and wellbeing – not to mention the emotional, financial, regulatory and reputational fallout for employers. As a licensed asbestos removal contractor, the most important assets you have are your employees and your license. What should you do to help manage and minimise the risks inherent in your work?
1) Understand your workforce
It’s imperative to identify the strengths, weaknesses and skill levels across your employees, at all levels in the organisation. Not only will it allow you to ensure that projects are staffed with appropriately experienced and qualified employees, it will allow you to support any identified weaknesses with corresponding strengths.
Audit, audit and audit again: only with direct observation can you truly understand behaviour. You shouldn’t just focus your efforts on the supervisors, even though they are the easiest. It’s vital to include the full workforce in a comprehensive health and safety auditing scheme – contract managers, operatives, the admin team, stores and even the SHEQ (safety, health, environment and quality) department all have enormous impacts on the smooth running of a project.
Clearly this increased observation – not to mention the analysis of the extra data – is a task in itself, so significant thought should be put making the process as effortless as possible. If the solution is complex or time consuming, it will impose barriers and won’t be implemented effectively.
2) Tailor your training
Once you know in great detail what you are facing, where the weaknesses of the team are and where you need to add extra support, you can do something about it.
You are now faced with a huge opportunity. If your team is great at A, B and C – but weaker at D and E – then you don’t need to waste time on training the first three. Having a clear idea of current skills lets you plan and deliver more focused and effective training, effectively improving skills and optimising your staff development budget.
3) Learn from your projects
We’re back to auditing – but now we look at the same data from a different angle. All the audits you did to get a comprehensive understanding of your team are an excellent basis from which to learn valuable lessons. Say that X, Y and Z went wrong on a site. Ask Why? What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Are there any trends building up? Are there any linked underlying causes?
Having a dashboard or high-level view that allows you to see your projects globally – or all of your team at a glance – will unmask seemingly discreet linked issues. Strategies can then be designed to get ahead of these issues before they become a major headache.
Everything I’ve been saying so far should be the standard approach for any industry, but the next is particular to asbestos removal. Measuring the exposure to asbestos is another way to test the success of a project. When removing asbestos, it is inevitable that there will be some exposure for the workers you task with the job. As employers it is our moral and legal duty to measure and minimise this.
You can’t be specific enough when it comes to monitoring exposure. And with this detail – so long as it’s recorded correctly – you will be able to directly measure the success or failure of a particular method. Treat any spikes in exposure as an accident. Investigate immediately, find the cause, and change the method. Success can be rolled out to other projects, failure can be learned from to drive change.
The key is that – just like audits – a simple but clear system needs to be designed that allows you to do all of this at the touch of a button. Any obstacles means that at best it is a task that will be delayed. At worst it could be put off entirely.
4)Learn from near misses
The HSE tells us that the average cost per non-fatal injury is £8,200. If you include litigation (private or regulatory), the financial and reputational cost rise exponentially.
Near misses are the accidents and incidents that didn’t quite happen. Rather than a collective sigh of relief and a ‘let’s forget about that…’ we should be gathering and analysing this health and safety gold.
There is considered to be a direct relationship between the number of near misses to the number of minor and major accidents. Heinrich, Bird and the HSE have all produced accident triangles: here’s the HSE’s one:
Any accident that didn’t happen is a warning of what might have happened. If we can learn and implement change before something has occurred… well, I don’t need to labour the point.
We first have to get over the natural human response of ignoring a near miss. Who would want to get someone into trouble when no one actually got hurt? However, the correct way of looking at this is: “That was close. Right, what can we do to make sure it can’t actually happen?” It’s an education process. Encourage the reporting of all near-misses through talking, explanation and rewards: regular analysis of the data you receive will allow you to preempt accidents.
5) Cut the paperwork
One huge advantage that every licensed asbestos removal project should have is the supervisor. You have someone on site whose primary role is to ensure the job runs safely and to plan. There are obvious competence questions here that I have dealt with earlier, but the other unavoidable issue is paperwork.
Certainly with asbestos projects there are a multitude of safety-critical checks that have to be completed every day. No one would argue with that. Importantly though, the supervisor has to record that these checks have been done. Whilst this is unavoidable, it does take time away from supervising the works, reducing the supervisor’s impact in helping to prevent accidents.
Streamlining this paperwork will release the supervisor so that they can supervise – shifting their focus more towards overseeing and ensuring workplace safety.
Nail the fundamentals
Asbestos removal combines many common construction dangers with the specific risks of handling a highly toxic material. You can’t entirely remove the risks from such an inherently hazardous activity, but:
- By knowing your workforce you can immediately mitigate weaknesses
- By tailoring your training you can eliminate these weaknesses
- If you learn from past projects you won’t make the same mistakes twice
- If you can predict accidents before they happen, they’re less likely to happen
- If you free supervisors from paperwork, they’re more available to ensure safety
Get all five nailed and you have the fundamentals of how to de-risk your business.
That’s exactly what has driven the development at Assure360. With the combination of intuitive apps and a powerful database, our entire solution is directed at streamlining and simplifying H&S effort. Audits are made easy – and the legwork required for analysis largely eliminated. Exposure monitoring is instantly analysed to allow a constructive review of the success of each method. Incidents, accidents and – importantly – near-misses can be reported directly without adding to the paperwork.
All of this gives you unparalleled understanding of your people and your projects, but in a fraction of the time. Now, with the introduction of Assure 360 Paperless – the first out-of-the box solution for the supervisor – we free them to get back to what they do best: supervising.
Want to discover more? Get in touch today to book your free demo.
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