Reducing risk through innovation

Friday September 10, 2021

Workplace health and safety is not just about following the rules. The nature of work is changing rapidly, and safety measures need to keep up. As well as complying with existing guidelines, you may be able to gain competitive advantage by being on the lookout for new ways to reduce risk.  

Musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders are a growing problem for the UK workforce. There are currently 480,000 workers suffering from arthritis, back pain and other MSK complaints. In 2019, 30% of all work-related illness was caused by MSK injury. Tackling this problem will require an innovative approach, and this is where the Risk Reduction Through Design Award comes in.  

What is Risk Reduction Through Design Award? 

The ‘Risk-reduction through design’ Award is sponsored by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF). 

We want to inspire businesses to consider how ergonomics-based design changes can reduce the risks of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and nominate design changes that have made a real impact. 

HSE’s message continues to be that risks from MSDs must be controlled and that all employers should eliminate or reduce these risks at source where possible. 

Curtains to repetitive strain injuries at one company? 

Sponsored by the HSE, the annual award is presented to the company whose original design ideas have the most potential to reduce the impact of MSK disorders at work. This year’s (2021) winner was the textile manufacturer Herbert Parkinson. The company created a 3D printed tool that allowed workers to insert curtain hooks into curtain headers without risking injury to the fingers or hands. Other companies received commendations: for example, one for designing a vibrating sieve to break down blocks of rice, and another for coming up with a more comfortable way to fill gas cylinders.  

Working from height 

MSK disorders aren’t the only problem that can be tackled through innovation. Fresh approaches to safety can reduce risk in all areas of work. A good example of this is working at height which is still the most common cause of accidental death in UK workplaces. The HSE’s most recent report on fatal injuries showed that 35 workers died as a result of falls in the year leading up to March 2021. 

Working at height is covered by the Work at Height Regulations 2005. These make it clear that, wherever possible, you should try to eliminate the need for employees to work at height altogether.  

This is where it pays to think creatively. In many cases, working from height can be avoided by taking a different approach to the task at hand. Common-sense examples include: 

  • Moving equipment to ground level before repairing it  
  • Using extending tools to work from the ground rather than climbing a ladder  
  • Installing cabling at ground level
  • Avoiding fragile surfaces, even when working on the ground 

 They could all help significantly, but could some innovative thinking transform your risk profile where such measures are not an option? 

What could you do differently? 

Falls from height may not be a major risk for office workers, but thinking outside the box can help to reduce other dangers too. The widespread switch to remote working during the pandemic showed that a complete overhaul of working patterns is possible when the safety of employees is at stake. This should be a source of inspiration. If we can change this, what else can we change?  

It can be hard to think creatively about your own workplace. If you’ve been doing things a certain way for years, imagining anything different is a lot to ask. This is why it pays to bring in a fresh set of eyes.  

An outside perspective 

Whether you’re looking for a complete health and safety audit, or just need some advice on a specific area of health and safety, we can help. We are not suggesting we will invent a high-tech gadget to solve all your problems, but our team can identify any risks you may have missed and suggest ways to reduce them and/or mitigate the consequences. We can also cast an expert eye over your existing safety measures and help you to make them more effective.  

A small shift in perspective can make a big difference to safety. Contact your local HS Dept to get started. 

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