European Week for Safety and Health at Work (22-28 October) offers a great opportunity to highlight the importance of safety in the workplace. Safety reps are being encouraged to get involved by carrying out an inspection where they work.
If you’ve recently taken on the safety rep role and you’re not sure where to start, or you’re an old hand at inspections but feel a bit uninspired, then Carolyn Venters is here to help.
“Inspections can be time-consuming,” admits Carolyn, the UK Safety Representatives Committee Member for Scotland.
“But they bring many benefits and once you’re in the right mind-set it becomes a lot easier. You’ll find yourself absent-mindedly checking bin lids or inspecting the roads for potholes on your way to work.”
Carolyn explains that ideally a manager and a safety rep will carry out an inspection together: “You’re looking at a lot of different things so it’s helpful to have two people and a manager may have a different perspective to you.
You’ll find yourself absent-mindedly checking bin lids or inspecting the roads for potholes on your way to work
“Similarly, it’s always good to carry out an inspection outside of your usual working environment as you’ll be looking with a fresh pair of eyes and may spot something that others who are more familiar with that environment don’t.”
So what happens during an inspection?
“A lot,” says Carolyn, who has been carrying out workplace inspections for four years. “It depends on the area you’re inspecting. You’ll be looking for different things on a ward than you would be if you were carrying out an inspection of a facilities and estates department.
“You need to look at all of the processes in place and make sure staff are doing what they’re meant to be doing. For example, risk assessments, sharps disposal, waste disposal, moving and handling. It’s a long list.”
Talk to staff and ask them what training they've had and whether they're worried about anything - it's a chance for them to raise concerns
Carolyn says that an important part of any inspection is talking to staff – you’re not just there to observe and pass judgement: “Talk to staff and ask them what training they’ve had, whether they know where the relevant paperwork is, ask whether they're worried about anything – this is a chance for them to raise concerns.”
What do you do if you find a problem?
“Always raise it locally first,” says Carolyn. “Speak to the local manager – they may be aware of the problem or you may be able to solve it together.
“If it’s something they can’t solve locally then they need to escalate it to their manager. You can take it to the health and safety committee if you need support or if you want to share learning more widely.”
Do inspections really make a difference?
The answer is certainly yes in Carolyn’s case.
“My biggest win has been improving the safety for staff in my area who work night or twilight shifts,” says Carolyn. “One of the items listed on our inspection checklist is ‘safe access and exit’.
It was a big job but it's benefitted a lot of people and goes to show that you can make a difference
“The walk from our department to the carpark was not well-lit and some staff who worked half a night shift and left around 2am felt unsafe walking to their cars. I raised this with managers and I had to keep raising it at our health and safety committee meetings.
“Eventually, through persistence, the trust did make improvements. It was a big job as they had to dig up the road to put in new cabling but it’s benefitted a lot of people and goes to show that you can make a difference.”
What's Carolyn's advice to safety reps?
“Be persistent. Even if something isn’t on the checklist, if you think it’s a problem then raise it and keep raising it.
“Inspections do take a lot of time and it’s difficult with staff shortages but they can also really help you. If you go to an area you don’t know and carry out an inspection, then you’re making contacts – with the staff there and with the managers you’re doing the inspection with. You’re putting yourself out there and raising your profile.
Be persistent. If you think it's a problem then raise it and keep raising it
“If something does need to be sorted out, you know who to go to and they know you. It may mean you can get something sorted out more quickly in the future by just sending an email to the right person.
“And it works the other way too. I often get emails from managers asking for advice on a health and safety matter and it’s great because it gives you a voice to bring about change.”
You can download the RCN Safety Representatives Handbook by logging into the RCN reps hub.
Find information about safety inspections on the Health and Safety Executive website.
Keep your eyes open
Hazards that may cause slips, trips and falls are some of the main things that Carolyn and her colleagues are looking out for when carrying out an inspection.
“It’s not just about what you see on the day,” says Carolyn. “We ask how the cleaning is carried out. For example, do staff clean one half of the corridor, let it dry and then clean the other half? Do all staff know where the signage for ‘wet floors’ is kept?
“We want to be assured that if there is a hazard, staff know what to do and people won’t hurt themselves.
“It’s about raising awareness with staff. If these potential issues are flagged up to them during an inspection then they’re more likely to think about them during their day-to-day work.”
Safety inspections go a long way to stopping accidents from happening but they can’t always be prevented.
The Health and Safety Executive reported that between 2014/15 and 2016/17 slips, trips and falls accounted for 27% of the most common accidents in the health and social care sector across the UK. So, what support is available if something does go wrong?
RCN Law offers personal injury services for RCN members in England and Wales.
As an RCN member in England and Wales you can access free legal advice and representation for injuries sustained at work or outside of work, assault, stress, lifting and handling, and road traffic accidents.
This service is free regardless of whether your claim is successful. If it is successful, you will keep all of your compensation.
Visit Personal injury to find out more and to see what else RCN Law has to offer.
If you’re an RCN member in Scotland or Northern Ireland you can access free personal injury services for injuries sustained at work by contacting RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100.