By necessity, builders merchants tend to be more savvy than most when it comes to health and safety practice – after all, the average merchant will be inspected typically every 2 years by an Environmental health Officer and left with a report of legal contraventions to remedy or best practice recommendations. In addition to insurance company requirements, civil claims and customer feedback to keep you on your toes.

But this approach is reactive not proactive and over the past couple of years, a lot has changed. From the introduction of new sentencing guidelines in February 2016, the consultation for updated manslaughter sentencing guidelines, regulatory updates, HSE priority topics, through to Brexit preparations, health and safety for builders merchants has been under the spotlight like never before.

Here are five key things that every merchant builder should know about health and safety in the present day.

1. Harsher penalties on businesses

The ‘new’ Sentencing guidelines introduced in February 2016 have revolutionised the way health and safety offences are prosecuted and the resultant fines. Offending businesses are now much more likely to be receive substantial fines (based upon turnover), imprisonment of an individual, or insolvency of a business.

Sentencing guidelines for gross negligence manslaughter have also been reviewed with a proposal to increase jail terms for gross negligence manslaughter in line with other manslaughter offences i.e. to increase the term up to as much as 18 years.

With these harsher penalties affecting all businesses, this brings into sharp focus, the requirement to properly manage health and safety and compliance in the workplace and not merely pay lip service.

2. The most common types of injury and accidents

Between 2016 and 2017, 137 workers were killed, with top risks being: struck by a moving vehicle (31 per cent); falls from a height (25 per cent); and being struck by a moving object (20 per cent).

The most common accidents and injuries in merchants are still related to workplace transport movements i.e. forklift trucks or reversing vehicles striking customers or employees. Further to this falls from height, typically staff falling from the back of flat-bed lorries or falling stock are common place in addition to manual handing injuries and slips and trips.

An awareness of these key hazards and the risk management processes to control them is essential to help merchant owners focus attention, investment and training in the proper areas.

3. Raising the bar with staff welfare

The bar is rising. More and more builders merchants are going beyond meeting the minimum legal requirements and looking to achieve best practice standards. Focusing not just on the obvious safety hazards but looking further into staff health and welfare.

Good merchant owners and managers are now taking extra care to ensure staff welfare in the following areas:

Hard hats with chin straps

As mentioned above, accidents involving drivers falling from the back of lorries still causes concern for merchants. For some years now we’ve been moving the industry forward, making working on the back of flat-bed lorries safer by encouraging the wearing of hard hats with chin straps when drivers access the lorry bed.

Seatbelts on Forklift trucks

It was once adequate to determine forklift truck seatbelt wearing dependent upon a risk assessment and ultimately risk of overturn. Whilst there has been no specific law published stating seatbelts must be worn on forklift trucks, recent events have changed things. A number of recent court cases have set a precedent stating the requirements falls under the general duty to your staff in The Health and Safety at Work etc Act and under the Management of Health and Safety Regulations. It is therefore no longer considered appropriate for a forklift truck driver to operate a forklift without wearing a seatbelt.

Consider sun safety in warmer months

If employees are working outside in the warmer months, exposure to the sun’s UV rays can potentially result in burns or an increased risk of skin cancer. Some merchants are now providing a stock of sunscreen (minimum factor 20) and advising yard staff and drivers to use it.

Update essential first-aid equipment

Having a qualified first-aider and fully-equipped first aid kit is mandatory, but providing an automated external defibrillator (AED) can be potentially lifesaving. We are starting to see merchants introduce these into branches and already we know of one life that has been saved!

4. Promoting a culture change

Effective risk management in a merchant is influenced by the behaviour of individuals. The root cause of accidents can often be traced back to unsafe behaviours. Put simply, it’s not enough to provide safe equipment, systems and procedures if the culture doesn’t encourage healthy and safe working.

The challenge is how to develop a positive safety culture. Culture develops slowly over time and requires 3 key elements:

  • Implementing working practices and rules for effectively controlling hazards
  • Management leading by example with a positive attitude towards risk management and compliance
  • the capacity to learn from accidents, near misses and safety performance indicators and bring about continual improvement.

By acting safely workers can start to think safely.

5. Cloud – based Technology to the rescue

As we move into a digital age, increased reliance upon IT and cloud-based systems, allows a proactive approach to risk management to be achieved.

Unlike traditional IT systems, cloud-based software is very scalable and affordable. Your software provider manages all the hosting and maintenance of the underlying infrastructure so you can focus on getting the most out of the technology for your merchant. This means there are no large upfront hardware or licensing costs. Instead, you pay a subscription based on the number of users and you’ll always have access to the latest version of the software. As you add branches, your cloud software can grow with you, just add more users as and when you need.

Cloud-based management software frees up merchants to adopt a modern proactive approach to health and safety. Its built-in support for mobile technology makes it ideal for connecting and engaging today’s workforce. It brings together all your health and safety documentation in one place and helps you manage it in a way that supports day-to-day operations, adding value to your business.

To discover how Southalls can transform safety standards across your business, book a free consultation with one of our sector specialists. 

*You can find out more about our tailored solutions for Builders Merchants here.