Whistle-blowing is on the up…
Companies now have an added incentive to keep their health and safety systems in order after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced a 70% surge in complaints from whistle-blowers. Following a Freedom of Information request, the HSE disclosed that more than 4000 inspections had been carried out in the twelve months up to March 2014 as a result of tip-offs or “intelligence-led operations”.
Whistle-blowers are clearly finding it easier to raise concerns with the HSE; there were just 2429 inspections in 2012 – 70% fewer than this year. The HSE carries out 22,000 ‘proactive’ inspections every year in addition to those brought about by accidents and incidents.
For businesses unconcerned about their health and safety obligations, this rise in whistle-blowing is probably quite alarming. For everyone else it presents a useful challenge – how to maintain the highest standards in between routine HSE inspections.
Should Whistle-blowing be encouraged?
Whistle-blowing often has negative connotations, often because it destroys the business involved. However encouraging staff to speak up where they see health and safety failings is actually extremely good practice – and a great way to keep your business out of court.
The key is in training staff to report issues through the appropriate channels first. By law your company is required to employ a competent person – someone responsible for managing your business’ health and safety provisions. And it is this person who should be the first port of call for any employee concerns.
Your induction training routine should outline the correct process for reporting health and safety concerns, starting with line managers and the company’s competent person. Only in the event that reports of problems are not being acted upon should the employee need to contact the HSE direct. But if your business is taking its health and safety responsibilities seriously, there should not be any reason for direct contact with the HSE unless there are breaches which require a statutory report to be made.
Why does it matter?
Encouraging staff to speak up about health and safety concerns ensures that all of your team are working together to improve standards. Taking whistleblowing seriously helps validate the opinions of your employees too, keeping them engaged and working hard.
From the business point of view, whistleblowing will help avoid serious financial, and possibly criminal, penalties. If the HSE decides that breaches of legislation are as a direct result of cost-cutting, your senior management team may face prosecution. Failures arising through cost-cutting measures may also result in the financial penalties levied for breaches may also be determined based upon the remuneration packages of the senior managers.
HSE site inspections remain an important tool in protection the welfare of the general public and employees. However most businesses would benefit from resolving issues before escalation to the HSE by whistle-blowers. To find out more about implementing a proper reporting process, or the role that a competent person service plays in managing health and safety, give Veritas Consulting a call today on 0800 1488 677.