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All Safe and Sound: An Interview with SGP's Peter Hall

03 June 2013

In an exclusive interview with David Strydom, SGP's director of risk management, Peter Hall, an occupational health and safety professional since 1980, talks FMs, the HSE, and the compensation culture

How does health and safety impact FMs?
FM is a career that people just don't seem to target as a choice from school. It has never had that profile. Usually we become involved through other networks, which is how I ended up in facilities management. As with the career path, training and development is often company specific, with individuals supplementing any formal courses with membership of a professional body such as the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) to broaden their knowledge. FM is all about looking after people and property. Working in FM you are likely to be attuned to health and safety issues affecting the workspace and client operations, so health and safety is just one aspect of daily operations in which you are expected to be expert. Even without a formal qualification, health and safety practice become second nature because it's part-and-parcel of the everyday workplace environment.

What should FMs do to be even more attuned to health and safety?
There area lot of excellent working practices but of course there are a range of levels to which people are operating health and safety management. There is a wide range of health and safety training available, including qualifications, to enhance those levels. Even one-day awareness courses can make a difference. Perceptions can be altered in a short space of time, meaning that at the end of the session those who've attended behave differently in the workplace. The goal for health and safety management should, in my opinion, be to create an integrated function in any business environment not a separate stream of activity. We do have a long way to go in getting business leaders to accept this view.

Have you noticed a growing compensation culture?
Over recent years, there's been a proliferation of the compensation culture. Today we see many examples of claims being made, some for the most innocuous issues, many of these on a 'no win no fee' basis. The good news is this should slow as after the end of April 2013 the way fees are paid will change.

How do you rate the Health & Safety Executive (HSE)?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is doing all that it can to try to help businesses move the health and safety agenda forward, but it is not plain sailing. All central government budgets have been cut, the HSE being no exception and as a result they have therefore had to review their inspection plans. Approval has been given to introduce an appropriate charging scheme "Fee for Intervention" so that they can now charge £123 per hour for time spent investigating an incident and other related matters. To date over £700k has been invoiced.

Would that dissuade people from reporting every accident in the workplace?
There is a train of thought that there is underreporting anyway. However there are legal requirements to report fatal, serious or other dangerous occurrences and there's a whole raft of reasons why you should report. Having accurate reporting allows for the analysis of accident and incident trends enabling resources to be deployed appropriately. The regulators can then gain an overall understanding of how effective our national health and safety regime is in comparison to other national organisations. Equally, for organisations accidents need to be reported because in doing so it guides you in what to do, such as targeting your resources. If we have a problem in certain areas, we need to know about it, and undertake appropriate interventions. What good health and safety practice should be about is learning from our experiences to safeguard people at work.

What has been done in recent years to forward the health & safety agenda?
Over the past three-five years there have been several reports, first by Lord David Young, who brought out a report commissioned by David Cameron - 'Common Sense, Common Safety'. That led to another review that hit the nail on the head in terms of identifying the amount of old legislation that exists. Recommendations were made for several changes to be made to the way health and safety is viewed, and the government has accepted those and has started to act on them.


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