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Safety budget success – How to plan it, fund it and get everyone on board

Dealing with one of safety’s toughest challenges is funding projects on worksites that senior managers never see. Fall prevention specialist Carl Sachs has become an expert at attracting funding for OHS. Here, he shares the secrets of successful investment in safety.

Where OHS meets business

OHS professionals tend to be idealistic, as they should. Capital expenditure decision makers, on the other hand, are often a tad more hard-nosed. Both find the other’s approach immensely frustrating and that can be a big problem when it comes to funding safety related capital intensive projects.

Surprisingly, the secret to finding common ground lies in the OHS professional’s stock in trade – the risk assessment. The pure logic of combining probability with consequences to assign a risk rating is something that resonates with many senior company officers, who are increasingly attuned to risk management in an uncertain global business environment.

The key is to present the information in a format that very clearly reflects the organisation’s objectives, whether they are prudent corporate governance, reputation management or sheer compliance.

Create a plan

The place to begin is with an audit. Uncover and document what the organisation already has in place and the current compliance gaps, then set a baseline for improvement.

At the heart of the audit lies the risk assessment’s matrix of the probability of injuries and their seriousness. This ranking system creates a list of priorities and takes the first step towards legal compliance and successful corporate communication: accurate documentation of the facts. While documentation is a necessity, do not be tempted to produce a daunting wad of paper designed to strike fear into the hearts of senior management. Clarity is the secret to winning capital expenditure approval.

For this reason it’s important to present audit reports very simply. Photographs of each hazard should be matched with plain English explanations and a colour-coded risk rating. The results can be summarised in tables and even the most time-poor decision makers rapidly appreciate the relative urgency and importance of projects.

Illustrating reports to demonstrate hazards is particularly valuable when the decision makers are physically remote from the hazards. In my experience, prominent hazards are normally dealt with more rapidly than others that may be associated with greater risk but are quite literally ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

Do the sums

The next step is to team the prioritised areas with controls that minimise risk and maximise safety. Again, the good news is that the safety professional’s best friend – the hierarchy of controls – tends to work well for corporate accountants since the lowest order control for any risk is also often the cheapest over its lifetime.

From a management perspective too, the most complicated safety systems are generally the least effective. Any fall prevention system that involves a harness, for example, also brings the need for second workers, rescue plans, regular inspections and a tide of paperwork.

Sadly, this is where many facility managers face their greatest challenge. The main source of information about controls is equipment vendors, who are also generally enthusiastic promoters of complex, expensive solutions.

Remain stubbornly true to the hierarchy of controls and, almost invariably, there will be significant lifetime savings and safety gains to be won. Such practicality will also win OHS professionals many friends at the executive management level and invaluable respect from users.

So, how then to get the safest, most workable solution and a proper costing? Choose your providers with great care. Look for those who participate at an industry level, are trainers, are independently accredited to relevant standards, who provide impressive referees and, importantly, have a suite of solutions on offer so they can supply the appropriate match for your circumstances.

Ask to see sample reports in advance and, for a real insight, learn how they manage their own safety obligations. Photocopied safe work method statements (SWMS) for a height safety installation, for example, warn that a service provider’s safety credentials are little more than skin deep.

Specialists are normally best geared up to the job correctly and can often deliver savings due to greater efficiencies.

Match the costings with the priorities identified by the risk assessment to create a budget. Of course, no organisation can realistically address all risks instantly, so the budget could have several phases to allow for systematic project management.

How to fund OHS systems

With a risk assessment and a budgeted list of priorities, the business case for OHS capital expenditure now simply needs a rationale.

In most cases, compliance with safety obligations alone is sufficient but not always. In the name of flexibility, most work health and safety laws are open to interpretation and sometimes even conflict with other mandates.

It is also true that many substantial safety gains are made beyond mere compliance in terms of productivity, lower insurance costs, improved morale and fewer lost time injuries.

The most compelling call to action is the one that best mirrors the goals of your organisation, as former chamber of commerce advisor and now OHS consultant Jo Kitney explains.

“Meeting health and safety obligations is a moral as well as legal obligation; however there can be differences in values and beliefs for health and safety between organisations and within organisations,” Ms Kitney said.

“Decisions made by employers and business managers can be influenced by what they think and how they feel – and this can make the difference between resourcing health and safety, or not.

“To find money for health and safety means looking beneath the line and establishing the organisation’s value base for health and safety. It is difficult to do so, but there are times when below the line aspects of health and safety management have to be challenged, to ensure that those making decisions are aware of the implications – personally as well as for the wider organisation.”

Get everyone on board

Even the most robust safety systems come unstuck unless the people they are designed to protect take them seriously. Ensure that employees and contractors of varying skill levels are working safely by following a few basic principles.

Consult with users
The first is clearly to consult with the users of any safety system very early and often throughout the process. An unworkable safety system is a dangerous safety system because it forces users to take perilous short cuts.

A safety system that is difficult to manage is similarly frightening, so it is important to consider the resources and skills of the people using the equipment – right from the start so safety is inherent in the design rather than an afterthought.

In the field of fall prevention, for example, a vertical ladder line may suit a telecommunications environment where two riggers are working, trained in rescue and doing this on a daily basis. Not so for a school where teachers or grounds staff climb on the roof to retrieve balls.

Apart from skills and resources, the conditions of use need to be understood. If people need to carry tools onto the roof, for instance, a narrow opening presents an added hazard. It is also important to make sure a truly representative group is consulted, which might go beyond the normal workplace boundaries. Employees might carry out completely different tasks to those of contractors and visitors, who are equally as entitled to a safe environment.

It goes without saying that design concepts should be shared with and approved by users to ensure a sense of ownership as well as real world functionality.

Training and protocols
Many of the most successful OHS projects require little or no training because they build safety into existing processes. On the other hand, some require serious skill levels coupled with careful administration to make them effective.

Beyond the skills of the user, work positioning systems, for example, demand inductions, administrative controls, rescue plans, a buddy system and regular inspections. It is essential in situations like these that users and the administrators responsible for the management of the safety system are well supported with training.

Management feedback
Don’t forget to include senior management – the people who approved the project – when it is time to celebrate project outcomes. Update the proposal document to create a review report, complete with before and after pictures and testimonials from users.

Feedback in this format will be very welcome, builds a useful relationship for the next OHS project and is a great way to demonstrate compliance with your friendly workplace safety authority inspector.

OHS skills are great business skills

OHS is often perceived as a cost rather than an investment and a tangled web of red tape. Ironically, occupational health and safety professionals are better equipped than most to present a compelling business case for capital expenditure. Like so many things, the key to success may just be simplicity.

Case study

Once you’ve secured funding for your OHS project, the benefits quickly become obvious.

From having had no height safety plan to achieving a textbook approach to fall prevention, Sydney’s Fairfield City Council revolutionised access to dozens of rooftops.

Around 80 of Fairfield City Council’s 250 buildings are frequently assessed by air conditioning contractors and council plumbers. Until a review, those workers were given little guidance when it came to working safely at heights.

Facilities manager Guna Gunachandran said: “Before, we left it up to each individual employee and contractor to decide whether they felt it was safe to work on the roof,” Mr Gunachandran said. “There was no consistent approach and employees and contractors usually just decided it was safe enough.

“The NSW government and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2001 made us think about creating a uniform and consistent approach. And, the Fairfield Council wanted to provide a good, safe working environment for employees and contractors.”

OHS lawyer and author, Michael Tooma of Deakins, said there were specific controls governing working at heights.

“Across the board you’ve got obligations to identify, assess and control risks in the workplace,” he said. “In relation to fall prevention, across the country there are express obligations to deal with the risk of a fall at a workplace, working at heights.

“These obligations require you to identify the risk of a fall from heights, assess the risk of a fall from height and control those risks in a prescribed manner. That manner is the hierarchy of controls and in relation to fall prevention requires you to look at barriers, redesigning the rooftop as a primary control before you even look at what everyone else looks at first, which is a harness. The hierarchy gives you more permanent controls.”

To address the risks and manage its liability, Fairfield City Council was determined to implement best practise controls.

“The first company we consulted with was pushing roof anchors which, for us, were the last choice,” Mr Gunachandran said.

“Roof anchors are very cumbersome compared to other options and we would have to train the staff to use them properly. Staff members were reluctant too. And, there was no way for us to assess whether staff or contractors would even use the roof anchors.

“Anyone can sign a document that says you’re using safe practises, but we want them to actually do it. If I were to climb onto the roof, I would rather not bother putting on a harness – I would prefer another system, even if it cost more.”

The Council conducted an audit of its buildings buildings following the approach outlined previously, and balancing ongoing expenses with up front capital costs.

Aware that static lines, anchors and harnesses have their place in the hierarchy of controls, Mr Gunachandran was also conscious of the host of other requirements using these would bring, like training, permit and induction requirements, annual inspections, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and rescue procedures.

He said: “Often this isn’t disclosed at the time of sale and organisations aren’t geared up to maintain the controls for these systems – the legislation and budget for ten years of ongoing maintenance, administration and training costs.”

Based on the recommendations of his audit, the Council provided a five year fall prevention installation budget, with priority placed on the high risk areas that were identified by a height safety consultant.

During the risk assessment process, areas were rated as high, medium and low using a risk management process, and it was recommended that any maintenance on high risk facilities was put on hold until rectification works were completed. If getting work done on a high risk building becomes absolutely necessary, then that particular site can still become a priority.

The important thing is that the Council stopped the contractors accessing the higher risk buildings and therefore reduced its exposure.

Mr Gunachandran said just one year into the five year programme, the results had already been impressive.

“So far, the feedback from the staff is very positive, especially with our building trade staff because they are the ones using the safety measures,” he said.

“They are happy because the Council is looking after their safety and we are happy because the Council will now be compliant with the Occupation Health and Safety regulation 2001.”

About The Author

Carl Sachs is the Managing Director of the working at heights specialists Workplace Access & Safety. He is a renowned expert in height safety and consults to major corporations and government on working at height. He represents the FMA (Facility Managers Association) on Australian standard committee AS/NZS1891, and was a committee member that redrafted AS1657. He is Chairman of the Technical Committee of WAHA (Working at Heights Association), and is a director of the Association.