What is a Suitable Safe System of Work?
If you’re an employer with transport, warehousing or logistics operations you have a legal duty to ensure suitable arrangements are in place to manage health and safety in the workplace.
Every year, many incidents occur in the workplace because the employer lacks a ‘safe system of work’. That’s why HSE (Health and Safety Executive) guidance states that this is required regardless of the size and nature of your business.
A safe system of work is about far more than just having some documented processes in place – it also demands the right behaviours and attitudes within the workforce. Frequently HSE prosecutions find that the lack of a suitable safe system of work was the cause of an incident.
So how can your business ensure both safety and compliance with a suitable safe system of work.
1. Follow the ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ approach
If you’re not sure where to start, take the advice of the HSE, which suggests a common-sense approach to managing health and safety - Plan, Do, Check, Act. This helps ensure that health and safety is managed with both the right systems and the right behaviours and encourages ongoing review and adaptation as your business changes. This no-nonsense system considers where you are now and how incidents could be avoided. It suggests steps to take you through planning a safe system of work as well as implementing, monitoring, measuring and reviewing its performance.
Download the HSE guidance PDF ‘Managing for Health and Safety’ for free and see pages 7-9 to learn more and get started.
The HSE health and safety toolbox also provides ‘A safe place of work’ checklist which can help you ensure that your business facilities are meeting the basic requirements for any workplace.
2. Ensure you have a written health and safety policy
Leadership and management are among the HSE’s ‘core elements’ for managing health and safety. A formal management system or framework can help some businesses manage health and safety, such as ISO 45001:2018 Occupational health and safety management systems – requirements with guidance for use, or BS EN ISO 9001:2008 Quality management system. Find out more about these here.
No matter what steps you take to manage your health and safety processes, it is vitally important you record them. Not only does this make them easier to implement, but it is also a legal requirement if you employ more than five people. But it’s important not to get bogged down in creating too much documentation for the sake of it as this can distract from the important human element of implementation which is crucial for controlling risks.
3. Conduct appropriate risk assessments
Risk profiling is another core element of managing health and safety. As an employer you must consider risks to employees, contractors, pedestrians, customers, neighbours or anyone who might encounter your operations that carry a risk, bearing in mind that risks could affect different groups in different ways.
Remember that risk assessment is an ongoing process – not something that is done once. It should be regularly reviewed and amended to ensure that new risks, such as those from new processes or machinery, are addressed and suitable processes put in place to accommodate them.
4. Monitor and review
Putting health and safety practices in place is not enough for continued safety and compliance. You should check that your plan has been implemented practically, not just that the paperwork has been completed, and assess how well risks are being managed. Accidents, incidents and near misses should all be investigated. Some organisations may find audits such as the RTITB Workplace Transport Operations Health Check will help with this.
It is also helpful to measure and review your performance, learning from accidents and incidents, as well as looking to errors or experience from other organisations and acting accordingly. Plans, policies and risk assessments should all be reviewed to see if they require updating, bearing any audits or inspections in mind.
5. Create a safety culture
The HSE advises that worker involvement should be a core element of health and safety management. As an employer, you’re legally required to provide employees with access to competent advice and information around health and safety and to ensure they are aware of the risks in their workplace and day to day role, as well as the measures that are being taken to protect them.
However, for the implementation of safe systems of work to be even more successful, you should strive to create a safety culture among the workforce by truly involving them. Employees can be consulted around health and safety matters, as well as involved in assessing risks and developing new policies. Competence is required at every level throughout a business to implement safety measures appropriately.
6. Train and supervise employees
Adequate training of employees is a legal requirement and is a key part of ensuring competence around health and safety. You should help employees to gain the skills and knowledge to carry out their work safely and without risk, as well as how to deal with the risks they may encounter and who can support and assist them with health and safety matters. Competent supervision of employees should also be applied when conducting tasks with risk involved.
RTITB courses for employees and supervisors help support safety in transport and logistics operations. .