Occupational Health Safety Risks and Hazards Identified in a Student Workplace in UK Essay

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According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the cost of workplace injuries and disease is in excess of $20 billion dollars per year. Obviously, these figures are alarming and would suggest that Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) should be a top priority for management. However, a survey from 2011 revealed that many companies have no written OHS policy and nearly half have no formalized occupational health and safety program. A relatively high number of risks and hazards exist in the workplace, particularly within the retail industry. These include gas, fire and electrical dangers, personal security and violence, biological hazards, dangers from improper equipment handling, and exposure to hazardous substances.

Organisations can avoid falling into the trap of mere reactive approaches to OHS through proper education and personal responsibility. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace, properly train workers, comply with legal requirements and implement a comprehensive OHS program for their premises. Workers have a responsibility to know and follow safety requirements, work safely and report unsafe conditions and injuries immediately should an incident occur. This collaborative approach to OHS helps reduce the number of accidents in the workplace, improve staff morale, inspire confidence in management and raise competence standards which can result in significant cost savings for a business. Pre-empting negative safety issues and hazardous conditions is far better than simply responding to problems as they arise or after an accident has happened.

In Shops Centres Ltd.is the focus of my workplace based assignment. I have been employed as Building Repairs and Maintenance Manager with the company since 2003. The company owns a network of indoor shopping centres and market halls, which offer a unique environment for the local independent retailer. Operator serviced retail spaces in these indoor markets, shopping halls and shopping centres provide local businesses with prime retail space with minimal levels of investment and comprehensive business support. Currently there is a network of 50 centres throughout the United Kingdom which provide trading space for over 1800 independent retailers.

Our premises are normally located on high streets or attached to main shopping centres. We sub-divide our premises with demountable partition panels to create smaller retail units which can be leased to individual traders. Units range from 100 sq. ft. To larger units of around 400 sq. ft. Or more. Each trader signs a license and is a fully independent business within our premises. Each site is provided with a premises manager who collects weekly rent payments. In addition, cleaning staff are offered at each site to maintain the communal aisles/toilets, overall security and fire alarm systems to the premises.

Our premises generally operate 6 days per week from 9am -- 5pm. Site management has a degree of "duty of care" for lease holders. There is a central office that is staffed to manage human resources, accounts payable, and other business functions. There are also seven mobile handymen across the UK who carry out basic non-skilled maintenance duties. The OHS culture can best be described as "poor." There are several reasons for this assertion.

Health and Safety policies are antiquated. Those that do exist are not adequately enforced. Maintenance and safety personnel headcount is not sufficient to cover the demand and needs of the premises which means that certain preventative measures are often overlooked or poorly carried out. Lease holders are given a brief list of safety criteria and procedures, but enforcement is lacking. Shopping centre safety is the shared and collective responsibility of the mall owner and tenants, but they often have varied approaches to training staff and dealing with H&S issues. Thus, the very nature of the shopping hall business presents unique safety challenges.

Interestingly enough, the In Shops corporate philosophy and mission statement is "to provide a wide range of shopping and trading opportunities that offer value, quality and choice to all and which will stimulate and foster socio-economic activity." According to their website, In Shops indoor markets and centres were specifically "developed to provide an exciting and attractive shopping environment with professionally designed, high quality shop fit units, contemporary lighting, air conditioning, security and an onsite centre management team."

The company also touts the use of higher specification materials to meet OHS standards including individual steel roller shutters, innovative signage and the like. They state that the organisation is committed to maintaining healthy local independent retailing. This would be best achieved first and foremost, by ensuring a safe work environment; however, the corporation is heavily investing in upgrading its portfolio of centres. The over-riding business objective appears to be to generate profits and safety shortcuts are sometimes taken that could have disastrous consequences.

In my opinion, the company is in desperate need of a Health and Safety (H&S) audit and overhaul. Management has limited knowledge of legal compliance and, it seems, no sincere regard for the health and safety of employees, tenants or the public. The consequences of failing to meet OHS standards could be tragic. Thus, the aim of this assignment is to examine the work environment and review current systems in place for managing risks and hazards. By identifying shortcomings and providing H&S recommendations to management, it is my hope that they will be inspired to take action. The primary objective of this paper is to produce data-informed, justifiable and manageable action plan.


Aims, Objectives, and Methodologies

The content that follows takes a closer look at the current landscape of the In Shops health and safety management system, hazards and risks, legal implications, and areas for improvement. Recommendations are offered to bring conditions up to code and institute improved H&S processes necessary in retail/commercial premises. The goal is to safeguard against injury and ensure a safe and healthy work environment for all. My methodology for developing a more complete and accurate picture of current conditions includes a thorough assessment and gap analysis of the premises. I have carried this out through first-hand observation of common practices, dialogue with mobile maintenance and cleaning staff as well as lease holders, and consultation of appropriate NEBOSH texts and legal requirements.

Organisational Description

As mentioned, In Shops operates in-door style markets, usually within shopping centres or located on high-streets within 'Grade-B' consumer shopping areas. The premises occupied are likely to be ex-supermarket premises. These premises/buildings are gutted to shell level and specific internal layouts are produced to provide what is ultimately an indoor market of trading units leased for a minimum of three months at a time.

New traders enter into a license agreement with many clauses advising them of their health and safety responsibilities. However, conversations tenants reveals that In Shops does not have an adequate orientation or training program in place to ensure that tenants fully understand and adhere to H&S laws and legislation. Most lease holders operate autonomously within their allotted space with little to no regard for OHS policy or even basic awareness of how to handle emergency situations or report hazardous conditions or safety issues.

Management has employed seven mobile handymen to carry out the non-technical works required within the centre. These workers each cover approximately five building areas and utilize a van and basic toolkit to complete required work around the premises. The majority of their time is spent re-configuring of trading unit partition walls to accommodate new tenants. They work under the direction of the Area Manager on site and receive no consultation with senior level management.

The indoor market format of the premises presents hazards. There are many unique challenges associated with the health and safety of such shopping centres. Injuries are often commonplace due to wet floors, oily surfaces, loose rugs and mats or uneven flooring, broken tiles, spills by customers, obstructed views, poor lighting or uncovered cables. Much of the prevention of related catastrophes and accidents begins with solid housekeeping policies. This does exist, but typically only to a minimum standard of safety, cleanliness and sanitation. Spills are typically cleaned up quickly, markers are used to highlight wet areas, and most obstacles are removed from walkways in a timely fashion. However, without proper oversight of staff, best practices are not always employed which leaves In Shops open to litigation if a physical injury or another accident should occur.

In most shopping centres employees and tenants are required to have (or know where to locate) first aid kits or bags, fire extinguishers and personnel that are trained in proper equipment usage. At In Shops, tenants are given little instruction in this area. Again, enforcement of proper policy is lacking. In addition, employees are not adequately trained in proper lifting techniques, educated about all hazardous materials on the premises, or shown the location of material safety data sheets and how to read them. All employees should be armed with this information. In addition education is needed in proper clean up techniques and what protective equipment is required for various duties (safety vests, gloves, footwear, etc.). Only safe cleaning agents should be used. With the overarching corporate focus primarily on the…

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