A day seminar organised in conjunction with South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH Branch

Date:            Thursday 19th October 2019, 09.15 to 16.00

Venue:         The Netherwood Hotel, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6ET

Jim Tongue, Chairman, South Cumbria & North Lancashire IOSH Branch, chaired a successful day seminar. He started the meeting by welcoming delegates, especially the apprentices who had been awarded sponsored places by SCOHSG. He then gave delegates a brief overview of the day’s objectives.


Jim then introduced Dave Mason from Inspire Safety, who spoke about:

Human factors in the workplace: what are they? And how can they be managed?

Speaker: David Mason, Director, Inspire Safety (DMA Safety Management), Whitehaven

Dave began his presentation by defining human factors and ergonomics as: “…the application of psychological and physiological principles to the (engineering and) design of products, processes, and systems…”

He explained that an understanding of specific human factors when designing work areas and safe systems of work would lead to an improvement of workplace productivity by reducing human error, increasing productivity, and enhancing workplace safety and comfort. But this can only be achieved by having a clear understanding of human interactions with the task, tools/machinery, workplace colleagues and was also dependent on the experience and level of training of the staff who were employed to undertake specific roles.

Dave covered organisational, personal, environmental and task-based factors that affect human behaviour. He suggested that, for some tasks, it was often worthwhile to use check lists that included points where the user was encouraged to stop and think at key stages, before, during and after the task. For instance, operating surgeons had found that the routine use of operation check lists had improved patient health outcomes significantly.

Dave’s presentation generated some worthwhile discussion.

A ‘read only’ copy of his presentation can be found here: Oct 2019 david-mason-human-factors-in-the-workplace

After thanking Dave for starting the day with a thought-provoking presentation Jim introduced Malcolm Cook from BAE Systems Submarines, who spoke about:

The Impact of human factors on workplace behaviour when using tools and machinery.

Speaker: Dr Malcolm Cook, Principal Engineer, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow-in-Furness

Malcolm continued the theme of human behaviour in the workplace by looking at ways that employees’ human behaviour can be a major contributory cause of workplace place accidents that cannot be ‘designed out’ just by using new technologies. He agreed that there was clear evidence that new technologies had improved safety in many industries such as aviation but that there were times when it was necessary for informed intervention by engineers, technicians and other skilled workers.

He illustrated this by using an accident investigation report into an incident where the large container ship, Savannah Express collided with a linkspan while attempting to dock at Southampton port for unloading. A combination of unidentified engineering and technical problems, lack of appropriate training, inadequate and inaccurate information provided by manufacturer, time constraints due to tidal conditions and need to off-load cargo etc… were all contributory causes of the accident.

Malcolm emphasised that unrealistic time pressures often led to poor decisions therefore it was important that workers were trained to stop, think and reflect when they were faced with unexpected problems. He said that the hazard is always present therefore it is important to ensure that managers/employers overseeing high risk processes consider:

  • Training:            cost versus benefit.
  • Time:                    speed versus accuracy and stress.
  • Skill:                      speed and quality versus complacency and lack of attention.
  • Culture:                social pressures and safety culture versus obedience and compliance.
  • Memory span:    working memory versus unexpected and unplanned events.

Malcolm suggested that all accident and incident investigations should focus on root cause analysis in order to improve safe systems of the work. The ‘obvious’ cause is not necessarily the only factor, or even the most important factor that needs to be addressed.

A ‘read only’ copy of Malcolm’s presentation can be found here: Oct 2019 malcolm-cook-the-impact-of-human-factors-on-workplace-behaviour

Jim thanked Malcolm for another worthwhile presentation and encouraged delegates to network with one another, the speakers and our exhibitors during the tea/coffee break.

After a short break Jim welcomed delegates back to the conference room where he introduced Emma Carhart from Our Minds Work, who was speaking on:

Managing work related stress.

Speaker: Emma Carhart, Mental Health Workplace Educator, Our Mind’s Work, Gateshead

Emma began her talk by saying that stress occurs when the body’s internal homeostatic balance is disturbed by an innate survival response. This response evolved thousands of years ago as a way of coping with short term, life threatening situations such as that between hunter and prey.

She explained that although we were rarely in such life threatening situations this innate response can still be triggered by the demands of modern life arising from psychosocial stress such as the need for: social status, respect and group acceptance or finding ourselves in a situation that we have no control over. Emma said that everyone has a ‘sweet spot’ that allows them to manage their stress levels effectively. However, for a wide range of reasons some people find it difficult to maintain the right balance between stress and ‘good’ pressure both at home and at work.

Emma then summarised some of the ways that stress can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, lack of concentration, increased heart rate, acid reflux etc…

She then looked at work related stress. She reminded delegates that HSE statistics for 2017/18 identified that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health.

She reminded delegates that the Management of Health & Safety Regulations, 1999 placed a legal duty on employers:

“…to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it…”

Emma then asked delegates if their workplaces had work specific Stress Management Risk Assessments that were being used, regularly reviewed and audited.

Emma explained that HSE’s Go Home Healthy 2017 campaign includes new criteria for stress their approach to inspecting for workplace stress. They will now consider investigating concerns about work-related stress if they see evidence that a number of staff are currently experiencing work-related stress or stress-related ill health (in one department or throughout the workplace).

Emma also looked at ways that employers could reduce workplace stress such as: stress audits (with information produced acted on), relevant management training, employee mentoring, monitoring working hours, ensuring employees are ‘fit for work’, having a robust bullying policy etc…

Emma’s presentation led to some lively discussions about managing workplace stress.

A ‘read only’ copy of Emma’s presentation can be found here: Oct 2019 emma-carhart-managing-work-related-stress

Jim thanked Emma for presenting a clear overview of a complex topic that was particularly relevant to many modern workplaces due to the changes in employment practices and the increased use of technology.

Jim then introduced James Riddick, from the Eric Wright Construction Group, who focused on:

Mentoring young people in the workplace.

Speaker: James Riddick, Health & Safety Adviser, Eric Wright Group, Preston

James introduced his presentation by reminding delegates that young people are our future so that it is important that we give them the right level of encouragement and training in the workplace. He explained that we also need to help them understand why it is necessary to curb their natural exuberance when undertaking potentially risky tasks.

He said that it is important to remember that young people starting work can be over-awed by the environment that they find themselves in and that you “…can’t put an old head on young shoulders…”, that lob competence requires patience, training and experience.

James explained that young people do not necessarily know or understand the terminology used in induction training and may not have the confidence to ask. He suggested that managers should embrace the opportunity to ensure that apprentices and other young workers were appropriately mentored and supervised.

He said that although it was sometimes tempting to follow the old adage “…If you want something done right you should do it yourself…” this, and impatient exasperation when young people make mistakes is not a good way to train young people in the workplace. Instead, he suggested that it was important encourage you people to ask questions and to take time to explain why things are done in a certain way, the reasons why specific safe systems of work have been set up, the legal requirements of workplace law and to remember that young people may have helpful ideas. James believes that this approach will help young people to gain the wisdom needed to build good relationships with their older colleagues and to become valued members of the workplace community.

In summary James said that it was important to:

  • Embrace the opportunity to mentor young people
  • Always show young people Empathy
  • Encourage young people to reach their potential and to
  • Take time to Explain and reason.

A ‘read only’ copy of James’s presentation can be found here: Oct 2019 james-riddick-mentoring-young-people-in-the-workplace

Jim thanked James for reminding delegates that today’s young people are our future and that they need to be encouraged to learn ‘on the job’ so that they become a valued part of their work team. He then and encouraged delegates to network with one another, the speakers and our exhibitors during the lunch break.

After the lunch break Jim welcomed delegates back to the conference room where he introduced Sarah Reeve from Rock & Road Training, who had very kindly agreed to step in, at short notice, to present her colleague Gordon Dick’s presentation about:

Accident investigation from reporting to learning.

Speaker: Sarah Reeve, Consultant & Trainer, Rock & Road Training, Carnforth

Sarah began her talk by challenging delegates to think about why workplace accidents and near misses keep happening even when there are safe systems of work. She suggested that this was because accident reports often did not identify the root causes of the problem.

She said that the key stages of an accident investigation were: gathering as much information as possible, as soon as possible, followed by objective analysis all the information gathered. She explained that the analysis should identify the sequence of events and look for the root causes – including the possibility that there were failings in the management team and supervision. Sarah said that root causes could include poor planning, organisational problems, a poor workplace culture, a lack of appropriate investment, failure to implement changes after previous incidents and missing, inadequate or unused control measures etc…

Once the accident’s root causes have been identified she stressed that the accident report needs to make specific and practical recommendations for changes in safe systems of work including an action plan with clear objectives.

She also suggested that the investigation needed to assess the workplace’s safety culture and to look at practical ways of developing a positive safety culture if necessary.

Sarah’s talk generated some lively discussion including comments about the practical difficulties of changing a workplace’s culture and management attitudes – especially if managers and employers believed that their company’s profitability would be adversely affected by implementing such policies.

A ‘read only’ copy of Sarah’s presentation can be found here: Oct 2019 sarah-reeve-accident-investigation-from-reporting-to-learning

Jim thanked Sarah for undertaking this presentation at short notice.

He then introduced the last speaker, Helen Shaw a solicitor, from Potter Rees Dolan, who specialises in helping employees who have suffered life changing accidents at work.

Shortcuts lead to Disaster – What happens when things go wrong? The Legal implications.

Speaker: Helen Shaw, Partner, Potter Rees Dolan Serious Injury Solicitors, Manchester

Helen spoke from the heart without a PowerPoint prop. She began her talk by expressing the wish that delegates would go back to their workplaces and make sure that she was put out of work by ensuring that their workplaces had safe systems of work that eliminated preventable workplace accidents that left employees seriously injured and damaged their family life.

She said that the saddest part of her work was that all the clients she dealt with had suffered life-changing injuries that were easily and cheaply preventable. She illustrated this problem using examples from her completed cases.

She spoke about one case where a window fitter had fallen from a ladder after being electrocuted. In this instance she said that the contactor had relied on a generic risk assessment and the employer claimed that the property had been inspected before the window installation took place. If so, it was clear that the inspection had been a cursory process. If a thorough inspection had been undertaken the person doing the inspection would have noticed that there was a light switch near the window that was scheduled for replacement and they should have then checked the route of its associated wiring.

This omission led to the window fitter being electrocuted as he drilled a screw hole for to fix the window. He became unconscious at the top of the ladder. When someone eventually switched off the electricity he fell to the ground and sustained further injuries. He was rushed to hospital. His life was saved but he is now a paraplegic. This has had a devastating effect on his family, friends and work colleagues.

As with most such cases there were several contributory causes to this accident such as:

  • Management failings: no specific risk assessment had been undertaken prior to sanctioning the task and no safe systems of work were in place.
  • The only screws available for fixing the window at the time were longer than the standard screws normally used for this purpose.
  • No-one had checked the route of the light switch’s connecting wiring with a wiring detector, a piece of equipment that costs about £20.
  • No-one knew where to switch off the mains electricity.
  • No-one stopped to assess what might happen when the electricity was switched off.

HSE prosecuted the contractor. Helen won her case. However, no amount of compensation could give the window fitter and his family the quality of life that he had lost as a result of this workplace accident.

Another case that Helen cited involved a scaffolder who was crushed by an insecure load of scaffolding. In this instance poor management included: a lack of planning, no assessment of delivery vehicle access to the site, inadequate supervision, severe time constraints and poor communication with building workers who were on another part of the site. The net result was the same. Another man became a paraplegic with a similar devastating effect on his family, friends and work colleagues.

Helen said that cases such as these made her angry because they could have been easily prevented. She explained that she liaised with HSE inspectors as part of her one-woman attempt to reduce preventable workplace accidents.

Jim thanked Helen for her heart-rending presentation and for focussing delegates’ minds on the possible consequences of management complacency about seemingly ordinary everyday workplace tasks.

Jim then summarised some ‘thoughts for the day’: risk assessments need to be task specific and take account of human behaviour (including age, experience and potential technological failures etc…), managers need to be proactive and engage with their workers (especially young people) and that developing a positive workplace culture can be the key to reducing workplace stress and increasing productivity. However, there is no ‘magic bullet’ to help achieve these objectives. It takes time, patience and a good management team.

James Riddick, Chairman of SCOHSG, then thanked Jim for chairing the seminar. He wished delegates a safe journey home and hoped that everyone, especially our sponsored apprentice delegates, had found the day both challenging and worthwhile.

A copy of the speakers’ profiles can be found here: Oct 2019 speaker-profiles


Shortcuts lead to disaster – Your guide to getting it right People, equipment, mindfulness and engagement