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IOSH Annual Conference 2018

The IOSH Annual Conference took place at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Birmingham on 17-18 September. There were some useful lessons for facilities managers, reports David Sharp, Managing Director of International Workplace

The conference began with an informative session on the sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, which provided some context for the way the new rules have been applied since their introduction in 2016. Fines are increasing (they rose 80 per cent in the first year). But – interesting to note – there is leeway in the way fines have been calculated (for example, taking admission of guilt and the size of organisation into account). The session also provided a useful reminder that there had been only 40 or so prosecutions brought under corporate manslaughter legislation introduced 10 years ago – fewer than I’d thought.

The conference also provided an opportunity to hear from Dame Judith Hackitt, providing the latest update to her post-Grenfell Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. This substance of Dame Judith’s presentation may not be new, but it gave the audience a good opportunity to understand how her remit differed from that of the inquest into the accident and the Grenfell Tower public enquiry chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

Two slides of Dame Judith’s presentation told much of the story. The current regulatory structure shown on the first slide – who is responsible for what, and the processes involved – was a confusing mess of boxes and lines. Sadly, it is no wonder that an accident like Grenfell might happen with so many gaps, overlaps and break points in regulatory responsibility. Fleshing this out more in the light of discussions with industry, Dame Judith points to a culture of incompetence at best, and wilful disregard at worst – “we knew there might be problems, but we turned a blind eye to them.”

The second slide showed her proposals for simplifying the regulatory regime.

Anyone involved in facilities management would be cheered to have heard Dame Judith’s insistence that safe working in the construction of buildings was important – and that much progress had been made here in recent years – but that there was still much work to be done to ensure safe working in, and occupation of buildings once constructed. Post-occupation can be all too easily overlooked, she said, and a joined up approach should be adopted the way a building is used and maintained during its life.

Dame Judith’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: interim report was published on 18 December 2017, and the Government’s formal response is expected imminently.

Two other conference presentations stood out, both centred on the cultural shift that was made following tragic accidents.

Mark Gallagher held a number of senior roles during his 30-year career within Formula 1. He was able to give an insider’s view of the industry’s approach to safety, relating details of major accidents involving death and injury, with sensitivity, insight and humility; balancing bathos and pathos, and ultimately demonstrating that the pursuit of safety is an unrelenting competition in itself.

Shocked by the death of three-times world champion Ayrton Senna in 1994, Formula 1 brought in safety improvements that made a major impact in arresting the number of racing-related fatalities: roughly one a year over the previous 40 years. It was not until 2014 that the next major accident would occur, leading to the death of racing driver Jules Bianchi the following year.

Gallagher was careful to point out during his presentation that the Formula 1 industry employs a good many more workers than the small percentage we see racing, and that a rigorous approach to health and safety was just as important to workers in the engineering facilities and to volunteers marshalling on race days.

In a presentation later that afternoon, Dominic Wigley, Group HSS Director of Merlin Entertainments (who run Alton Towers theme park), gave an insight into the events that led up to the accident on its Smiler rollercoaster ride in 2015. The accident resulted in injuries to a number of people on the ride, two of whom subsequently required partial leg amputations. As with Mark Gallagher, Wigley managed to tread a fine line between the clearly heartfelt remorse of himself, the senior management and everyone working at Alton Towers, and the professional need to learn important lessons from the accident and the culture that had allowed it to happen.

As well as providing an unvarnished account of the root causes of the accident, Wigley took the opportunity to present what he’d learned about how to handle a crisis (his presentation was titled ‘In the eye of the Smiler’). Media coverage of the Smiler accident apparently made it the third biggest news story of 2015, and shortly after the story broke Merlin’s CEO Nick Varney was subject to an intense interview by Sky News’ Kay Burley (described in reports as a “blast”, an “attack”) in which she was criticised for being unduly rough on him.

There’s nothing new in saying that effective crisis management requires good planning. But when you hear first-hand about the news agency drones capturing live footage, vying for the same airspace needed by the air ambulance – and where every word (or lack of it) is imbued with meaning – it really does bring home the importance of thorough preparation.

Mark Gallagher’s and Dominic Wigley’s presentations were the stand-out sessions at the conference, and it’s interesting that both were really about sharing stories that had resulted in significant culture changes. Gallagher pointed out that complacency was a constant enemy.

About Sarah OBeirne

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