In defence of Health & Safety

Over the years, Health & Safety has become a much-maligned term, often mentioned with a mixture of weariness and derision. It’s a well-worn cliché to decry the ‘jobsworths’ who file mountains of paperwork to regulate the most mundane tasks around the workplace. Jet Aire always feel it necessary to leap to the defence of Health & Safety whenever we hear it being criticised. In our industry, it’s not an issue you can treat flippantly. The Covid-19 crisis has certainly given the world a keener appreciation of staying safe and avoiding risk.

Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that each year, over a million workers in the UK are injured or made ill by their work. The impact of this can be measured in terms of ‘human’ costs – a reduction in an individual’s quality of life or even loss of life - and ‘financial’ costs, such as loss of production and healthcare costs. The HSE states that the total financial costs of workplace self-reported injuries and ill health in 2016/17 was £15 billion, of which £8.6 billion was borne by individuals; employers and government/taxpayers bore a similar proportion of the remaining costs.

These general statistics reflect the potential for harm at workplaces throughout the UK, but drainage maintenance is a type of work that carries a much higher percentage of risk than most. As a contractor, our ability to manage that risk is fundamental to our ability to win business. As well as being a duty of care for our own workforce, it’s a vital sphere of expertise when you are maintaining the assets and estates of organisations which cannot afford disruption to day-to-day operations.

In the drainage industry, Healthy & Safety is an idea that you need to buy into – in every sense. That means ingraining a company culture that takes risk management seriously, led by a specialist Health & Safety Manager, as well as an investing in training, qualifications and professional accreditations that demonstrate your ability to deliver it.

Establishing those credentials is a demanding undertaking which requires companies to subject themselves to an increased level of scrutiny and assurance standards applied by independent bodies. The benchmark for any drainage contractor seeking to compete for high-value contracts is OHSAS 18001 or ISO 45001. In our opinion, the standards set by these management systems should be a given for any serious operator in our industry, but there are plenty of other organisations which provide their own valuable accreditation too. Signing up to their oversight can bring welcome insight and input for any company that is constantly seeking improvements and competitive gains.

In addition to OHSAS 18001, Jet Aire’s growing list of industry accreditations include CHAS (The Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme), Constructionline Gold, and SSIP (Safety Schemes in Procurement) which awards SMAS Worksafe qualification. These qualifications are renewed annually, subject to their auditing process, so committing to their validation is an ongoing process which helps to maintain a sharp focus throughout the company, from head office to site teams.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 was described as "a bold and far-reaching piece of legislation" by HSE's first Director General, John Locke. Since those landmark laws came into effect, best practice in Health & Safety has evolved through each decade and there is every reason to believe that its evolution will continue. Sustaining best practice within the workplace requires continual consultation with specialist bodies to stay in tune with the latest research and recommendations. It’s one of the reasons why Jet Aire became members of the British Safety Council, giving us access to assurance and advice from their internationally recognised safety, health and environmental audit, training and consultancy services.

Certain sectors present their own specific operational hazards which demand specialist training beyond the universal principles of best practice. The rail industry, for example, is subject to some of the strictest regulation due to the extremely dangerous nature of maintenance work, which includes the possibility of electrocution from an overhead power line or a conductor rail. Companies seeking access to rail contracts must demonstrate a high level of expertise to qualify in accordance with Network Rail’s safety standards verified via the Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS). Industry-owned and sponsored by a board of representatives from across the sector, RISQS supports Network Rail, Transport for London, passenger and freight operating companies, rolling stock organisations, main infrastructure contractors and many other buying organisations.

Track maintenance operatives are required by law to carry a Personal Track Safety (PTS) Card, issued once they have completed mandatory training in the risks involved in rail maintenance. In 2014, new Sentinel smartcards completely replaced the previous cards, which are no longer valid for access to Network Rail infrastructure. Workers must pass a Medical and Drug & Alcohol test – including checks on sight, hearing, blood pressure and general health - before they are deemed eligible to attend the PTS course. As a drainage contractor, we consider RISQS verification and PTS Cards to be the absolute minimum: organisations in the rail industry place a high priority on reliable risk management, so every additional Health & Safety credential represents a valuable competitive advantage for any contractor, as does British Safety Council membership.

Drainage works on railway sites can be highly complex and each project requires a site-specific risk assessment and a high level of supervision. Operations must be risk-approved and contractors must have the adaptability to respond to demands relating to local conditions. Rail sites can also pose logistical headaches due to access issues – contractors must be equipped to meet the challenge with a high level of fleet capability as well as the provision of mini diggers and extensive trackway. The responsive, time-pressured nature of work on rail sites often demands speedier operations. To serve that purpose, Jet Aire has invested in a fleet of FlexLine 414 recyclers, which are 30% more powerful than standard equipment and deliver a faster turnaround of urgent waste removal and cleaning projects. Utilising recycling technology to cleanse and re-use water for jetting on site, the FlexLine 414 is ideal for the challenging industrial cleaning and waste removal tasks which are typically required for rail sites.

This level of investment in resources is imperative to gain a foothold in risk-sensitive sectors. To open up access to the chemical processing market, we acquired specialist technology and training for our engineers in order to operate safely and efficiently in one of the most environmentally hazardous industries. Explosion-proof Atex Rated Zone 1 CCTV cameras and highly skilled operatives have enabled the company to service chemical production facilities that are subject to Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) regulations. COMAH was introduced in 2015 to increase safety on sites involving dangerous substances which pose a significant threat to humans and the environment. It outlines in comprehensive detail the measures which dutyholders must take to comply, covering every conceivable condition to minimise risk. Becoming fully trained in COMAH is a lengthy process. There are no shortcuts, but the rewards are worthwhile: being COMAH compliant has been a vital factor in enabling Jet Aire to win contracts with some of the biggest names in chemical processing, from Syngenta to BASF.

Work of this nature reinforces our belief that companies should see attention to Health & Safety as an advantage, not a nuisance. That’s why Jet Aire will never lament the so-called jobsworth. In drainage, being a safe pair of hands is the key to healthy business growth.