Active Monitoring of Health and Safety is vital if an organisation is to avoid catastrophe. Good, solid, and sensible active monitoring help an organisation to avoid disaster by ensuring that the control measures that they believe are keeping them safe actually are keeping them safe. Active monitoring helps to avoid the reality gap: the chasm between what we think is happening and what is really happening.
A few years ago there was a significant prosecution in Scotland based on a failure in the health and safety management of a company, mainly to do with their lack of active monitoring. This is a very brief summary of the key points of this case.
In common with other important aspects of running a business (e.g. sales, production, finance, quality, etc.) companies need to measure their health and safety management performance to find out if they are being successful. Monitoring may be split into two distinct areas: Active Monitoring and Reactive Monitoring. Most people are familiar with, and comfortable with, the concept of reactive monitoring. Reactive Monitoring is the process of investigation into things that have gone wrong (such as accident investigation) and involves learning from mistakes. These mistakes may have resulted in injuries and illness, property damage or near misses.
Active monitoring is an important aspect of modern health and safety management that appears to be very difficult for some companies to accept and to buy into. It is the things that we do that generally keep employees (and other persons) from harm; but it is the records and documents that we keep (and complete) that help to protect the Company. A Scottish court case from a couple of years ago helps to put this into context.
M (a Scottish tyre-fitting firm) was fined £10,000 for failing (in the words of the Procurator Fiscal) to “give effect to arrangements that were appropriate for monitoring and reviewing its health and safety policy. It didn’t check that people were actually following it.” Regulation 5 of the Management of Health and Safety Work Regulations 1999 places a duty on employers to ensure effective planning, control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures within their health and safety arrangements. This point is expanded with the Approved Code of Practice that supports the Regulations where the point is made that “Active monitoring reveals how effectively the health and safety management system is functioning”
Sequence of events
The case followed a traffic incident in which one of T’s employees and the driver of a broken-down (client) lorry were killed at the roadside. One of M’s tyre fitters attended an early morning breakdown on the A90 Dundee-Aberdeen road. The broken-down vehicle had stopped in the nearside lane (no hard shoulder available on this stretch) and the hazard warning lights had been switched on. The section of the road in that area was unlit and, according to witnesses on the road at the time of the crash, the two drivers could barely be seen. This indicates that they were not wearing high-visibility jackets. Unfortunately, the driver of a third vehicle failed to spot the breakdown in time and collided with the broken down truck, shunting it into the recovery vehicle, which had been parked in front and killed the two men on the scene. The driver of this third vehicle pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless driving.
During the investigation into the incident, the HSE discovered that M had a good, up to date, written Health and Safety Policy that addressed issues such as the wearing of Hi-visibility fluorescent jackets, the placing of traffic cones at the site of the breakdown and parking the recovery vehicle between the broken down vehicle and the oncoming traffic. It also discovered, however, that none of these measures had been implemented in practice. The court heard that M’s driver had seen the policy and had signed it to acknowledge that he had read it. It also heard that the Company had carried out a vehicle check about a month before the accident. According to Procurator Fiscal, the failing of M was in not putting into practice what it had put down on paper. The Company could not demonstrate that it monitored the use and effectiveness of policies and procedures or the control measures arising from its risk assessments. It did not take enough steps to ensure that its employees were working to the Company’s procedures.
This case highlights the fact that it is not enough to have a health and safety policy and expect everyone within the organization to understand it and to work to that policy. People must receive suitable and sufficient training in the policy and then the effectiveness of the policy must be established. Active Monitoring of Health & Safety is important for protecting employees and organisations and is part of health and safety management.