Posted on Tue 29th Oct 2019 at 8:23pm
Lee Holloway, Chartered Health & Safety Consultant and Advisor to Showlite puts risk assessments and method statements under the spotlight
I recently oversaw health and safety at an event in London, rare for me now because most of my work is company side as opposed to on-site. Not long into the build I saw a couple of members of the production company setting up some lighting at height. They were using a Zarges stepladder, leaning into the top for support whilst hands were busy and the installers colleague was footing the steps, wearing a hard hat in case anything fell or was dropped. The work was short duration, requiring no more than 20 minutes at each location so HSE guidance requirements were all met. This would have been impressive enough but it also reflected exactly how the contractor had described they would work in their method statement.
This might not mean much to some readers but I can promise you for anyone who has practiced health and safety in the events industry this type of thing is extremely rare. Not that safety practices are necessarily bad. Not that documentation is always poor - but to have them both be good - and consistent with each other - is, unfortunately rare, and understandably so.
First, the writer of risk assessments and method statements can often be removed from the operation, perhaps a commercial person or maybe even an outsourced consultant. Then, for some organisations, these documents are seen just as a means to gain permission to work at an event - they are intended just to satisfy an event organiser or venue, not as a genuine planning tool for the work.
And until something goes wrong it’s easy to see why this happens.
Back in the summer an event contractor was fined in excess of £150,000 after an accident that seriously injured a team member because, the court decided, the work had not been planned - the team had been left to decide how to do the work themselves. And unless you've studied health and safety law to any extent this isn't an unreasonable thing to do, doesn't mean you've bad intentions and may well mean you believe in your team and want to empower them.
The problem is, as soon as there's been an accident, the onus on an organisation is to demonstrate how it has attempted to plan the work, design out risk, use the right equipment, select competent personnel and develop a safe system of work. If there is nothing written down it is very hard to persuasively prove that work had been planned and that the plan had been communicated and followed.
Going through this risk assessment to safe-system-of-work process should involve team members with knowledge of the work, who understand the day to day hazards and know what can and can't be done. It should also involve somebody with knowledge of legal requirements who can help make sure that the methods that are eventually documented meet HSE guidance or codes of practice as far as they possibly can. If the contractor has had any accidents or near misses in relation to the activity this should be factored into the thinking too, with any improvements made clear, so there's evidence of trying to be better - this can be a powerful factor if a defence in court is ever required.
Showlite has worked from a plain English and accurate set of method statements for a number of years and helps its subcontractors meet the same standards with an online training and licensing program. It doesn't mean they will always get it right, but it does mean the business has really sat down and thought about how it wants to work, drawing in years of talent from individuals like Roger Cogan, Rob Davies, Jeremy Abraham and newer blood like Ross Isolda - an 18th edition qualified electrician who has also just completed his NEBOSH certificate - an unprecedented commitment to health and safety from both Ross and Showlite.
Work to get the documentation right, so that it reflects a robust and defendable way of doing the work and then use it as a communication, training and monitoring tool to ensure you actually do the work that way. You'll find it a useful business tool in its own right as you scale up for busy season, and you'll be protecting your team, reputation and legal position along the way.
You'll never hear of a contractor being prosecuted for following a good method statement!