International Health and Safety
How do you plan on managing Health and Safety overseas?
You’ve got health and safety systems in place to cover your UK operations and are wondering what you need to do internationally? You may have just acquired or established a presence overseas, or you may already be established and just feel it is time to review your international health and safety systems.
Wherever you are in this cycle, your first step is to be sure you understand your own overall approach to managing health and safety. Very broadly, there are three approaches to managing H&S.
A Reactive approach implies that you do the bare minimum and simply respond to health and safety incidents as and when they occur. Internationally your main concern will be to ensure you understand any legal implications in the event of an incident, particularly if that could have been prevented had you been a little more proactive in managing health and safety.
If your approach is to ensure you are always Compliant with legislation regardless of where you operate in the world, then you will need to review your existing UK health and safety systems to assess how or if they match, exceed or fall short of the other countries you operate in.
Many of Arinite’s clients believe that going beyond compliance, and taking a Proactive approach to managing health and safety, not only creates a better working environment but also has significant business benefits. Such companies take pride in extending this philosophy overseas for both permanent and project based operations.
Taking unnecessary health and safety risk overseas
Failure to comply with international health and safety standards can be met with heavy personal, and/or corporate fines, and even imprisonment of individuals. Even where a multinational company tries to offshore harmful operations to countries with lesser standards, they can still suffer reputational risks when things go wrong.
In the UK, a work-related injury or death will, in general, result in the organisation being prosecuted.
In Italy, although corporate criminal liability has been recognised in Italian law since 2001, criminal responsibility is limited to a person who has effective decision-making powers and control over financial resources relevant to the safety of workers (e.g. a board director, or general or senior manager). While it is possible now under Italian law to prosecute a corporate body, it remains much more likely that an individual will be prosecuted.
In the event of an incident, it can be telling and damaging if the workers’ version of what has been happening on the ground differs from the ‘official’ version, and their lack of engagement is obvious.
International health and safety legislation
Most developed countries now have a sophisticated regime for regulating workplace health & safety standards.
The USA implemented a modern regime with its OSHA Act in 1970, followed by Great Britain in 1974 with the Health & Safety at Work Act. Countries have a habit of looking over the fence at each other’s standards, seeing what works and what does not -and often copying the outcomes.
Consequently, one can see common threads of law running throughout industrialised countries, with a heavy onus placed on employers everywhere to assess and control workplace risks. Some kind of labour inspectorate usually exists to check that standards are being maintained, and to investigate serious accidents.
Although the European Union (EU) is at the forefront of developing and adopting a common framework of health and safety laws across its member states, there are still differences between countries and even across regions of the same country.
The 1989 EU “Framework Directive” was a substantial milestone in improving safety and health at work. It guarantees minimum safety and health requirements throughout Europe, while Member States are allowed to maintain or establish more stringent measures. It also prevents member states’ achieving a cost-advantage through lower workplace standards.
In 1992 the Framework Directive laid down a series of six individual directives which each member state had to transpose into their own national laws, concerning aspects such as work equipment, PPE, manual handling, and display screen equipment. This so called “six pack” of EU Health & Safety laws did a great deal to level the playing field throughout Europe. The only way harmonisation could be achieved was by raising member states’ standards to the highest common denominator.
However although there are common EU Health and Safety Directives, different countries not only get to draft and implement their own legislation but also choose how to enforce that legislation. The same can be said of the United States where different states have different requirements.
Another useful source of information is the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which gives guidance on specific countries. The ILO also sets out principles for the protection of workers from sickness, disease and injury under a system of Conventions and Recommendations. However, in practice the ILO has even less power of enforcement than the EU. An example of an ILO Convention is the Occupational Safety and Health Convention 1981, which requires the adoption of a coherent national occupational safety and health policy, as well as action to be taken by governments and within enterprises to promote occupational safety and health to improve working conditions.
International health and safety benchmarks
There is a clear correlation between H&S standards and country performance in relation to accidents. Figures 1 and 2 show the number of workplace fatalities and major injuries in EU countries in 2011-2012 (Europa Accident Statistics). It can be seen that the UK performs well compared with nearly all other countries. UK rates are well below the worst performing countries.
Figure 1 – Fatality Rates per 100,000 employees – EU Countries
Figure 2 – Major Injury Rates per 100,000 employees – EU Countries
A pragmatic approach to international health and safety
As long as all local laws are observed, a multinational organisation can set its own global health and safety standard. This can take more than one form, such as a manifesto on health/safety principles, a set of “golden rules”, or a global code-of-conduct safety provision.
In reality, organisations that have sought to implement a single set of requirements for all operations irrespective of differing local legal requirements (the implication being the organisation’s requirements will be at least as high as the most stringent legislation in any of the jurisdictions in which it operates) have been less successful than those adopting a more flexible approach.
The primary reason for this is that cultural differences mean it can be a challenge to implement a simple set of health and safety requirements. From operational and legal perspectives, the key seems to be to tailor the initiative, taking into account legal compliance in each country in which the organisation will be operating.
In order to work, an effective global safety standard will need global worker participation. This will usually require education, as worker understanding of safety and prevention may well be limited. While many organisations have safety committees, in some cases these committees have no worker representation – often a sign that worker participation in safety is limited at these locations.
How Arinite can help
Arinite can assist in the planning, assessment and management of the health and safety aspects of international operations. We have more than 30 years health and safety experience working with companies with a European and worldwide presence.
Most UK based companies want assurance that staff located in their overseas offices are working to at least the same standards as their UK counterparts and, as a minimum, also conforming to local health and safety legislation.
They also recognise the efficiencies to be gained from having the same governance and reporting mechanisms throughout their organisation, regardless of location.
We have the in-house expertise to take a holistic look at your health and safety management systems in all the countries in which you operate.
Is your policy a wish-list of good intent, or are robust Plan-Do-Check-Act processes in place to translate the policy into actual practice and understanding by the workforce? At the same time, different cultural and language differences must be respected.
- Arinite can audit your health & safety processes against local legislation, against head office practices and best practice generally. The output will be an action plan that will lead your organisation towards its stated objectives, and provide Management with a dashboard of key performance indicators.
- Arinite can train Managers in their responsibilities, and help them update their workplace risk assessments.
- Arinite can help with health promotions, incident reporting and emergency planning.
Contact our team of experienced UK health and safety consultants to discuss your needs at home and abroad.
Reference material for managing international health and safety
Our international infographic shows the similarities and differences between health & safety laws in the EU’s four largest economies. And the table below provides links to relevant health and safety pages of European Government websites.
|Minimum requirements for the protection of workers from risks to their safety and health arising, or likely to arise, from the effects of chemical agents that are present at the workplace or as a result of any work activity involving chemical agents.||UK COSHH||EU COSHH||FR COSHH||DE COSHH||IT COSHH|
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