Health and Safety Consultancy Services for SMEs in Birmingham, West Midlands and beyond

Cutting Corners – Considering the Risk to Reward Ratio
Posted by David Cant on January 31, 2014

health and safety services birminghamStop and consider the Safety Risk to Reward Ratio

No matter what role you perform, there is a quick way to do your job, and there is the correct way to do it. Cutting corners to complete jobs quickly may save some time, but it will probably also result in lower quality output. And in many cases, circumventing proper works procedures could actually be placing people and property in danger.

Why do employees and businesses cut corners?

Most people inherently know that cutting corners is “wrong”, but they still go ahead and breach health and safety rules regardless. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • To try and cut costs.
  • To save time.
  • To deliver according to an otherwise impossible deadline.
  • To get home early.
  • As a temporary fix until a proper solution to a problem can be found.

Sometimes employees cut corners without authorisation, and at other times managers and foreman sanction such measures. Everyone always assumes “it’ll be ok, just this once”.

The problem with cutting corners

Once health and safety safeguards have been overridden for the first time, it becomes easier to justify on every future occasion. Left unchecked, these shortcuts become established working practices, part of your business’ standard operations. This means

  • New staff will never be trained in performing their duties safely, immediately placing them at increased risk of injury or death.
  • The chance of employees or members of the public being injured increase exponentially.
  • Your business risks prosecution for any incidents arising out of legal guidelines not being followed.
  • Your business will face increased costs for retraining staff to perform tasks correctly.

A practical example

Wilson Power Solutions from Leeds were recently fined £6500 plus costs after admitting a breach of Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The charge was brought after a 22-year-old trainee technician was electrocuted and badly burned by unsafe testing equipment in February 2013. The man spent five days in hospital and, after receiving skin grafts on his hands and chest has still been unable to return to work.

HSE investigators found that there was a series of failures at Wilson Power Solutions, both in the equipment being used and in the working practices of management and staff. The trainee technician had been supplied with incorrectly specified equipment that delivered a 415 volt shock when he was testing a transformer.

The issue was compounded after it was discovered that the system intended to turn power off to the transformer had been disabled, and that the emergency stop buttons attached to the equipment were broken and unusable. The systems intended to protect employees had been poorly maintained, or deliberately defeated placing them in danger every time the equipment was used.

Wilson Power Solutions were also served with a prohibition notice halting similar work until management could prove that they had improved safety measures and procedures.

What can be learned from Wilson Power Solutions?

For long-serving employees of Wilson Power Solutions, many may well have been aware of the problems with the equipment, any additional precautions they needed to take when working on the transformer, and the workarounds that would help keep them safe. As a new employee without proper training however, the unnamed 22-year-old was probably unaware of these additional considerations.

The Wilson Power Solutions situations also clearly demonstrates the significant human and financial costs associated with workplace accidents:

  • The injured man has been unable to work for almost a year since the incident, and there is no guarantee he will ever return to work.
  • The company was effectively shut down following the incident until the HSE was satisfied that working standards had improved, potentially costing thousands of pounds in lost revenue.
  • The firm was fined and publicly named in court, highlighting their failures.

The long-term effects on Wilson Power Solutions could damage earning potential for years to come.

What about your firm?

Does your business have known short cuts or workarounds that could be exposing your employees and your business to unacceptable risk? Is there any faulty equipment that needs to be fixed as a matter of priority? Or have your staff fallen into bad working habits that need to be corrected before someone is seriously injured?

As always, we;d love your comments below


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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