Health and Safety is an intrinsic part of our everyday working life, but how is the transport and logistics industry dealing with it and how effective are their processes?

Food and drink distribution brings with it particular challenges when it comes to health and safety; from cold storage and chilled delivery, to time-sensitive produce and product packaging. Added to the ever-growing list of health and safety requirements and it’s clear that maintaining standards can seem prohibitively time-consuming. But can the investment in time be measured or benchmarked against the practices and procedures that result?


While many companies have an established process in place for measuring risk, others take a more hit and miss approach (depending on the motivating factors), but how effective are the measures taken and is it in proportion to the real risk posed?

Risk assessments are commonplace and represent a fairly robust and simple way of identifying a working practice that could pose a risk to staff or contractor health, or safety. But there are typically two problems with a risk assessment; a written synopsis of the risk factor and risk ‘score analysis’ (usually 1-5 plus your favourite colour) combine to make the final document look like a mathematical conundrum.

Second, those with responsibility for developing and producing the assessment tend to be those that understand health and safety; it’s rarely the case that the end user will a) witness the final document and b) understand what it means. Assessments should be usable, easy to understand and perhaps include images or photos for easy referencing. Above all, they must be inclusive and focus on the people that are directly affected by the risk being examined.

Risk profiling is perhaps a more holistic approach to measuring risk. It often identifies two or more related activities that can sometimes be missed by the more traditional assessment, which can prove invaluable to building up a bigger picture and help towards business continuity planning. The trouble is that it can often become unwieldy and confused if not managed effectively, which actually makes the situation worse because you run the risk (if you pardon the pun!) of missing the smaller risks that are otherwise picked up using the assessment approach.

Companies should not shy away from risk profiling; far from it. The focus should remain on a particular job role, area of activity or environment. Once the profile has been created (often a culmination of risk assessment data, historical evidence and future forecasting) only then can you effectively create a comprehensive risk profile for the business.
And remember, look at what evidence or information you already have; it may save time, money or both.

Corporate motivation
While health and safety is part of our everyday working life, the level of exposure varies from company to company. Most directors or managers recognise that if there isn’t a health and safety system in place then they’ll leave themselves open to fines, prosecution, claims, irreparable damage to reputation or even (with the advent of the corporate manslaughter and homicide act) imprisonment. But it would be unfair to suggest that this is the motivating factor for having a health and safety system. No, in all probability most company directors value their staff to such a degree that they want to create a protective and safe working environment, but undoubtedly the red tape associated with tendering, the hazards posed by ever diverse working activities and the need to be ‘squeaky clean’ all contribute towards defining the level of detail that a company produces.

The motivating factor should always be employee welfare. However, it’s easy to see that other influences can not only muddy the waters but also create a burgeoning system that is difficult to manage.

Staff involvement
Everyone’s affected by health and safety, and increasingly senior managers and directors are recognising the value of an inclusive working society. It’s a difficult subject to get excited about, but health and safety ‘champions’ and staff representatives are popping up all over the place, while regular department meetings and open forums are providing a flow of information with the opportunity to tackle problems before they manifest into something altogether more sinister. It can’t be viewed as anything other than a good thing because it raises awareness, provides staff, at all levels, with a voice, and encourages a feeling of unity and ownership that sometimes spills over into other areas of the business.

Great, but those responsible may sometimes forget the rule of ‘everything in moderation’. Too much information, too many department meetings and too much documentation can damage staff enthusiasm and morale, leading to a disjointed workforce with an apathetic ethos that is so difficult to recover.

Paper trail
It’s an age old problem. You’ve produced a fantastic array of health and safety policies, procedures, assessments, safe systems of work, images, training programmes and historical references. You have a crack team who are dedicated to tackling health and safety and who constantly review, update and release more information into the corporate jungle, yet the real-world effectiveness of these actions, from start to finish, is rarely examined.

It’s crucial to not only create a policy, for example, but to also demonstrate how the policy actually works in practice when integrated into the working environment. If the staff member is able to see how it works then it provides more added value to the entire process. Take a road safety policy. This is an example where a real-world scenario would add weight and value to the policy, making clear how it affects an individual in a situation that they’re entirely familiar with. It becomes more than just another piece of paper.

Intelligent use of information
So you have a huge filing cabinet full to the brim with health and safety information gathered over years of business. You have KPI, evidence from a range of incidents and all manner of policies and information created in response to legislation changes and the modern day working environment. And of course, you’re not alone.

The question is how this information is used and whether it can lead to real-world changes sooner rather than later. Health and safety information can often be reviewed as a checklist and sometimes it can become a regular feature of a monthly meeting, therefore it risks losing some of its impact.

The important thing is to look at the way in which you use the information available and don’t always follow a well-trodden path; try to balance it with practical scenarios and a steady stream of information in order to get the best out of health and safety across your company.

James Tillyer, Freight Transport Association

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