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Safety investment must come first

01 October 2008

The financial world is in a mood of deep gloom. Struggling institutions and failing banks monopolise the news pages as international markets plunge towards recession.

And we all know what happens at the first hint of bad times; industrial and manufacturing companies batten down their hatches in readiness for the widely predicted austere future.

As a rule, the first thing to go is spending in departments that do not show a concrete return on investment. Departments like marketing and training are subject to cutbacks but more concerning are the economies applied to the safety, health and environmental disciplines.

This commentator has survived several recessions and during these times has noted that periods of austerity hit hard at the safety regime. However, the recession cycle is punctuated with periods of boom. And
during the most recent growth period, Europe experienced a reformation in its approach to industrial safety. Major changes in legislation have radically changed the way industry approaches safety. European directives, particularly on potentially explosive atmospheres and fire regulations, were introduced in the early years of this century and have since reached the statute books, have led to the concept of the
responsible person and the principal of reasonable practicality.

In the UK, legislation in the form of the fire safety order and the dangerous substance regulations essentially changed the safety focus from a prescriptive based legislation to an assessment methodology. This included the appointment of responsible persons answerable for the implementation of the orders. The new methodology has been implemented throughout the European Community and replaces methods that had been in force since the beginning of the 1970s. As sure as bust follows boom, the new methodology will eventually be accepted globally. But despite the fact the prescriptive methods are now considered unacceptable, they survived boom and bust and proved viable in terms of implementation and regulation even in times of economic strife. The assessment approach does carry a cost, which may not be considered viable during times of recession.

With a prescriptive approach only a minimum requirement for safety was prescribed to a wide range of industries. With the new assessment method there is a cost for all businesses. Responsible persons, who will normally have another role, must be trained to a reasonable level based on how hazardous is the work environment. New certified equipment will be required by the responsible person to carry out risk assessment. Training will be required and safer work practices may demand less efficient working. Finally the levels of maintenance, review and updating of safety equipment will be needed to ensure continued due diligence. All these costs are a direct result of a reasonable and lawful approach to safety.

Like it or not, this is the way safety methodology has moved on in Europe and is affecting the rest of the World. Funding the associated costs may not be desirable but is certainly unavoidable. In many instances the decision to spend will represent something of a moral crisis for industry. But despite depressed economies, the investment must be considered as absolutely necessary.

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