H&S is failing Small Businesses – Part 1 with Carl Mannion

Safeti Podcast Transcripts

Carl: What’s to say HSE cannot receive those details and send out you know congratulations you’ve taken the plunge. Do you know that you’ve got some health and safety responsibilities and by the way this is what they are.

Intro: Welcome to the Safeti podcast. With your host all the way from a small Green Island in the wild Atlantic Ocean, Richard Collins.

Richard: Welcome back to the safety podcast. We’re now onto our second episode. As my voiceover guy has just said, I’m your host Richard Collins. The voice you would have just before was that of today’s guest Carl Mannion. Carl has very kindly come on the show with us to share how he strongly believes that health and safety both as an industry and as a system in the UK is actually failing smaller businesses and also of course to give us his viewpoint on how he feels this could be changed. Carl doesn’t pull his punches. He’s going to give us a very open and honest account of his experiences since opening his own consultancy business just over a year ago. This is really what the safeti podcast was set out to do. Get you into the nitty-gritty of the industry and regardless of where you are in the world, I’m confident that you’ll be able to relate to a lot of what is said in this conversation. It was certainly very interesting for me to listen to Carls perspective from his recent experience and we both look forward to hearing your thoughts and listening to your feedback. Just to make it a little bit more digestible for you, I split this podcast into two parts. So let’s waste no more time and shoot over to a conversation with Carl.

Richard: Carl welcome to the safety podcast.

Carl: Yeah thank you.

Richard: Delighted to have you on the show today to discuss in some detail the aspect that we’re looking at in regard to health and safety failing’s smaller businesses. There’s lots of detail behind this subject and I think it’s a very worthy topic for us to discuss today. But before we get into that do you want to give the audience a little bit about your background?

Carl: Yes sure thanks for having me Richard. As you said my name is Carl Mannion. I’m a charter member of IOSH I’ve been a health and safety professional as it were for a number of years now. I sort of started my health and safety career in about 2008 and 2009. I went the NVQ route and became chartered that way and I’ve worked for very large organizations within the construction and consultancy businesses. Such as Mace, Bureau Veritas, Babcock engineering and more recently in the last year I’ve set up a small consultancy practice to support organizations throughout the UK and the European Union.

Richard: Excellent. So you’ve obviously got a lot of valuable experience to draw upon. We’re going to focus on today sort of the difficulties around small businesses and perhaps this is something you feel very passionate about from what you’ve seen in the last year with your own consultancy business. Would that be right?

Carl: Yeah I think that’s a very accurate to be honest Richard

Richard: Looking into this in detail to give some context, what are the biggest factors here in terms of what is impacting small businesses what is difficult for them to actually meet in terms of their requirements?

Carl: Okay well first I think we need to take a step back and think about the context of what a small business is and just how many there are. So these are officials stats that’s from the houses of parliament library as of December 2017. So these are literally sort of five months old, these stats at the moment. So according to the data, there’s 5.7 million businesses in the UK. That’s all businesses and of those 5.7 million businesses, one of the things that we have seen is a 64% increase since the year 2000. So in the last 18 years there’s been a 64% increase in the amount of small businesses being set up and established in the UK. These are small/medium businesses and the definition of that I think is up to 250 employees (SME’s). I think that’s the actual definition. Now of those sole traders and single proprietors have grown larger than any other type of business. So these are people who run their own maybe coffee shops, sandwich shop, maybe sole trader tradesmen and bricklayers and plasterers joiners, plumbers those sorts of things and maybe even accountants and service industry types. So this is the largest growing demographic for business in the UK presently. Of those 5.7 million, two hundred and eight thousands of them employ between ten and 49 people and thirty four thousands of them employ 50 to 249 people. So the vast majority over five million businesses employ zero to nine people. Well there’s a problem at the data here for us from a health and safety perspective. Because as you know very well Richard, the certain conditions apply once you employ five or more people that are slightly different so if you’re just working for yourself. So things like writing a risk assessment, having a formal health and safety policy, communicating it and so on and so forth. All of that sort of triggers at the five employee mark. But we don’t have any data that tells us how many businesses employ from five people to nine people. We only have from zero to nine. So our data is massively misrepresenting what the scope and scale of the challenge is. So that’s a sort of a bit of a background into how many businesses and how many people were potentially talking about here.

Richard: That’s an excellent point and I’m glad you’ve done your homework on the stats there. Because it really raises how the economy is developing and the potential blind spots that are existing there. What you must be seeing on a day-to-day basis is just a coming to fruition as such and it’s only probably a tip of the iceberg.

Carl: Absolutely and again just to astound you with more stats. For all of these businesses, these SME businesses make up 96% of total business in the United Kingdom and that includes 33% of total employment and 22% of business turnover GDP for our country. So we’re talking about huge amounts of money. We are talking about many millions of people and also we’re talking about the supply chains for those people and we’re talking about the interactions that they have with their clients and with members of the public as well. So when we traditionally think about health and safety, the first thing many professionals jump on to say is, oh well you know the safety of your people. The health and safety of your employees and I’m quite right so you know that’s a huge concern. But then for many of these businesses, there is also continual interaction with members of the public. So there’s the civil liability or the civil aspects as well to contend with that very often get overlooked by their advisors.

Richard: Obviously the regulations and the demands from the legal perspective are well established. So I’m sure what your assumptions are here is that a lot of those very basic safety obligations aren’t being met.

Carl: Well I think if we were to sort of take a case in point as to contextualize it. If we look at the CDM 2015 for people who may not know the construction design and management regulations. Which were overhauled in the UK to meet European directives. If we think about CDM 2015 for a second and we think about who that impacts, that’s people traditionally in the construction sector. But it can involve all the people as well. Depends on the definition that we look at for CDM 2015. But if we go back to those business stats that we were talking about before, over 1 million businesses in the construction industry are alive and kicking as of December 2017 contributing to roughly 8% of overall employment in the UK. So a million businesses in construction who were sole traders employing zero to nine people or there might be limited companies as well employing zero to nine people. So if we think about that for a moment, these brand new regulations come out 2015. It’s not very old at all. The question I would pose is well how many of these businesses do you think understand CDM 2015? So if I went back a second and talk to you know you’ve mentioned already I’ve workers from large organizations, very well-respected organizations with excellent safety track records. If I take on one of those organizations, Mace. Which is a very well-drawn, very health and safety conscious employer. They spent several months in preparation for CDM 2015. The consultations before it was released. Getting staff feedback, employee feedback within the Health and Safety Department and the consultancy division, business unit. Sorry, they also spend significant amount of money and time and energy and effort on educating the entire construction management workforce and project management workforce throughout the business in the UK. That’s over 2,000 people at the time. So you’ve got this giant Leviathan of a business spending many many thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds preparing for CDM 2015 and then you have sole trader, bricklayer plasterer joiner, driving around in their van doing domestic household work. How much time and energy do you think they dedicated to CDM 2015?

Richard: Absolutely not a lot I would imagine.

Carl: Yeah I would suspect so also. Based on the people that we’ve spoken to in the last year and a half many of them that never even heard of CDM 2015.

Richard: From my own experience working both in manufacturing and construction for the smaller guys. Yeah a lot of them don’t even know what it is.

Carl: I was going to say one of the challenges I have when I talk to smaller businesses, smaller construction businesses is very often they will have a job. Say a builder has a job and he’ll bring in his mate or her mate to come in and give them a hand say with the plastering. Because they know they’re not very good plasterers. But they know someone who is a good plasterer and then somebody who is a good plasterer comes in and they do the work. They do a great job and that’s all brilliant and the clients happy and the builders happy and everyone’s happy. the problem is they don’t understand, because no one’s really sat them down and educated them that their mate is actually not there mate and from a legal context, that mate is either their subcontractor or a direct employee. You know they talk to HMRC to argue that, that point I guess. But the point is here, a lot of builders they build a network over time as well and they all know a good plumber, a good plasterer, a good joiner who they will just say oh can you come and do this job for me. It’s at this address, it’s at this time. They get a price, they turn up, they do the work and they leave and there’s no thought about the consequences of what if that person falls through a roof or what if that person falls on a hop up and breaks their ankle, who’s responsible for it. A lot of these things go unreported.

Richard: Yeah completely. Looking at it from the flip side Carl and do you think CDM 2015 has really understood the nuances of that particular industry when implementing these new regulations and because obviously my understanding of it is that if you have more than one contractor working on a job, then the CDM 2015 regulations apply is that correct?

Carl: Well CDM 2015 regs apply anyway to be clear. But if there’s more than one contractor on site, then one of those contractors needs to take the responsibilities and the duties of the main contractor or a principal contractor. there’s actually a lot of myths that go around and say oh you know it’s only if it’s for so and so many days or there’s only so many people or if the jobs only worth so much money. There’s a lot of myths that fly around a lot CDM 2015 and people say oh well there shouldn’t be. Because we educate people, it’s on the website. If you’re a builder that’s up at 5 a.m., ready to get to the shop for 6 a.m. to pick up your tools and materials to be at a customer’s address at 7 and you’re going to be working there till 6, I don’t know what time they have to check our website frankly. So to say we have a website and by the way you need to know what to look for in that website. I think frankly it is ludicrous.

Richard: What do you think can be done to try and resolve this issue?

Carl: A few of the things I thought about some time ago when the HSE were asking for responses to these very questions was about when people actually set up a business. It’s really easy to set up a business in the UK. Because we’re a capitalist country and we want people to get their piece of the pie rightly so. But I could go online right now and I could set up a limited company for about 70 pounds, they’re over there about. I could also get myself insured for delivering public liability and even employee’s liability and some may be in professional indemnity for about 90 pounds and that’s it. Its a hundred and sixty pounds and I’ve set up a limited company with insurance ready to go, ready to trade tomorrow, hypothetically okay. So where are the safeguards? Where are the things that say well hold on a minute, we need to ask a few questions here. So for example if you set up a limited company, HMRC and majesty Revenue & Customs are notified immediately.

Richard: Correct yeah so you’re going to say that the likes of the HSE should also be notified is that right?

Carl: Exactly right. So once you’ve set up and you’ve got your registered address and you’ve got your details. Now this is for limited companies only, I have to stress. But once that happens, what to say HSE cannot receive those details and send out you know congratulations you’ve taken the plunge. Do you know that you’ve got some health and safety responsibilities and by the way this is what they are.

Richard: Yeah that’s a fantastic point and did you actually feed that back to the HSE, did you say or evidently not a lot came of that?

Carl: Absolutely. I mean I went one further as well and I also spoke about insurance companies being a second tier of defense. So when you come to get insurance, we can go online right now. We could probably do a dummy and dummy one and say okay let’s get some insurance for being a baker or a private tutor or a health and safety professional. It doesn’t matter what and I guarantee within 20 minutes you can find somebody willing to insure you, no questions asked or no serious questions asked very quickly and at very little cost. But none of them asked do you have a health and safety policy. Do you have a health and safety plan? Do you understand what a risk assessment is? These basic things that we are supposed to do have as business owners.

Richard: Yeah there’s no accountability mechanism there. That’s actually embedded into the system.

Carl: There isn’t, also sadly more of a longevity project also filters into education of the workforce as well. With many of the people I speak to see health and safety as a sort of an add-on type of deal that they have to do when somebody asks. What they don’t do is see it as weaved or embedded within the actual service or product that they sell or deliver.

Richard: It’s that type of approach you’re talking about that could really have an impact on people’s overall perception of it rather than just the HSE sitting as a regulatory body in the background who may turn up on a building site one day. That it’s actually throughout the process from the beginning to the end. In that same vein Carl, whenever you don’t have those mechanisms there for businesses or whether it be consultants opening up their own operation. Do you think because there isn’t that then, the actual standards of professional or service provider out there particularly in our industry, you know as health, safety and environmental professionals, is actually suffering.

Carl: It’s a really interesting question. Because if we were to put it into some context again going back to what does it take to open up a business. if we said that we were going to open up a health and safety consultancy service tomorrow, you and I. the minimum requirement would be do you have a health and safety qualification that’s the question that’s asked and if you said yes I’ve got this, NVQ level three this new boss General Certificate, new boss construction certificate, NCRQ level six certificate in health and safety, applied Health and Safety. These would all qualify as the minimum benchmark to get technical membership of IOSH if you had two years of experience. so you’ve got two years of experience in health and safety and you’ve got a technical qualification that takes roughly ten to thirty days to achieve and if it was an NVQ, it take you about a year. Okay so here we’ve got this how do we know that this person’s done two years of health and safety experience? well how we validate it or how certainly the professional bodies validate it is via a CV. so that’s me sitting on my laptop telling you I’ve got two years of experience and I’ve also got this certificate which took me a ten day crash course to do or a 30 day course to do. I think there’s a huge divide between standards. I think if I remember rightly from the IOSH report, approximately 33% of membership as technical grades. Another 33% are graduate grade and then another 33% our chartership grades and then the 1% of course of course either affiliates or charter fellows I think. Please don’t take that as gospel. But think it roughly works out about that.

Richard: You’re not a stats man are you?

Carl: I’m not at the moment. But I have been known to be unfortunately, but I can’t cite the source. So please don’t accept that as gospel, please do your own research. The point here is that you and I could settle as technical members of IOSH. We meet the insurance requirements certainly to get ourselves insure red to offer ourselves as a consultancy service for health and safety to the general public. Now the general public or sorry the clients, these small businesses they don’t know what a technical member of IOSH is compared to a charter member of IOSH. Nobody’s given them a pamphlet and said oh by the way make sure you’ve got you know this type of person and while we’re on the subject really, you can get some very experienced and incredibly knowledgeable technical members of IOSH who are far superior in many aspects of what they know. So fire engineers for example who are expert in fire engineering and fire risk assessments perhaps. They may have done an NEBOSH general certificate and may become some of the sort of qualifications of that level to get themselves technical member of IOSH what may very well be Fellows of the fire engineers. So it’s not to discredit or to bash technical members of IOSH. Because there’s a lot of very very good competent people out there. What I’m saying is that the small businesses, they don’t know the difference. Because nobody’s given them that education.

Richard: No absolutely I was willing to say that exact point. but I think what you’re actually saying is just so that the standards need to be sufficient just to ensure that you know if someone is going out to a business if they’re giving advice within an industry that they do have you know the adequate competence and realization of their limitations.

Carl: The occupational safety and health consultants register, OHSCR is a wonderful idea. It’s sort of, I think its run by the HSE if I’m not mistaken and the idea is that you have to be amongst all the types of memberships. You have to be a charter member of IOSH in order to be on register. You also have to be a fellow or you could also be a fellow of the Institute for risk management as an example. so this is a standard there that they say, if you meet this standard you can go on our register and people can free of charge they can search the register and they can find a consultant that’s already been to a small degree pre-vetted by this OHSCR. Because they said yeah we’ve seen their certificates, we’ve seen their insurance and we’re happy that they’ve met this required standard. However it’s not very well promoted. It’s not very well advertised.

Richard: As an easy guide, as a way of ensuring that you’re at least starting from a standard of competence and that’s a chartered  member which obviously has a you know a long list of requirements. But at least you’ll be getting someone who’s you know met that criteria and continues their professional development.

Carl: Well the other sort of thing to consider when if we just sort of take chartership on its own for a second, a person within an organization who has very little in the way of responsibility within that organization. So the health and safety policies and procedures are already written. The methodologies are already predetermined. The audits are already in the pipeline. They have to turn off do the job and make sure this compliance and work with the people on the ground and make sure things are followed. That sort of person can still absolutely become chartered will have no real experience in strategic leadership or management for example at board level. So all of a sudden that person could say right okay and bite the bullet, & want to become a consultant. Rightly so why not. But then end up in a situation where they’re giving advice to people and don’t forget a small medium enterprise up to two hundred and fifty people now. So they could be given advice to a chief executive officer or an operations director at two hundred and fifty people strong, a two hundred forty nine people strong work force and they may very well not be in their depth and some would say of course well we have the code of conduct. The IOSH code of conduct to fall back on. Which is you know if we should respect the integrity, competence and service. Having the integrity to say I’m sorry you know this is beyond my capability now. That’s very very difficult to do for some people when it’s the difference between getting paid this month and not getting paid.

Richard: That’s a very important point to make and you know we are dealing with even with what we would call maybe SME’s. Some of these businesses are quite sizable. Depending on what industry they’re in, you know can be quite a lot of high-risk activities going on. I think one of the big points to make is that no matter what your experience is or how you’re operating you know you have to be honest in terms of your limitations and your competence. Because ultimately a lot of what we do in the industry is actually assessing that we’re using people that are adequately trained and have enough experience.

Carl: An example that happened to me was when the Grenfell tragedy occurred a year ago now my phone was constantly ringing. morning noon and night it was ringing off the hook for people desperately trying to get hold of fire risk Assessors, a consultant to come in. you know 400 pounds a day, 500 pounds a day, 700 pounds a day working in London for fire risk Assessors and I would say I’m sorry no I can’t do that. Because I’m not competent, I’m not qualified to do that. Sure I’ve done a fire risk assessment before. Sure I understand what the principles of fire risk management and fire risk Prevention’s are. Does that make me competent? Absolutely not. so what a lot of my colleagues who I know have gone is gone and on a five or a ten day course in fire risk assessments and then said yes here we are, we’re here. We are now fire risk Assessors and people have been paying those three, four hundred pounds a day for three months just going around their Housing Association doing fire risk assessments on communal areas you know and these people have been absolutely cash cows to the fire risk assessment for them. Do I agree with that principle? No I do not. But that is the reality of what we’re dealing.

Richard: I guess you know suppose it then comes down to the economy and how much resource there is out there to actually meet the need and something that’s so as reactive is that.

Carl: Yes and I think though one of the things I wrote an article on this on LinkedIn actually. One of the things I’ve talked about is avoiding bad consultants and what I mean by bad consultants is somebody who you haven’t checked though references. It’s somebody who you haven’t checked their accreditations, whether they’re legitimate or not. You haven’t checked if they’ve got a professional current memberships with say IISRM Institute of risk & safety management, IEMA if its environmental. Their experience doesn’t mirror the industry that you’re working in. so for example Richard you mentioned manufacturing as an industry you’ve worked in. I haven’t. So for example I wouldn’t dream of trying to go in there and offer health and safety advice to manufacturers. Because I just simply don’t have the skill set. Particularly with heavy manufacturing or something like that. So I think for me the points to take is always get references, always check the accreditation of the person. Check if they got any professional qualifications and also check that they’ve got most important experience within the industry that you’re working in. so that they can actually help you.

Richard: I think that’s very pertinent advice for people out there. Specifically for business owners or operators and certainly for managers who are procuring services and of course HSE professionals as well and I’ll certainly put a link to the OSHCR register in the show notes for anyone who wants to look at it.

Ok guys that wraps up part 1 of our conversation with Carl Mannion. Some of the key points for me there we’re looking at the changing nature of the UK economy and I’m sure this is replicated in similar societies around the world. You can certainly let me know if you think that is the case. Also we looked at the difficulty of trying to embed how safety in the environment as well into the business startup process. Certainly Carl had tried his best to influence things there without much success. So there’s scope for improvement. We went on to discuss the importance of knowing our own limitations. Which I feel is critical for all of us to understand our own competencies and limitations in terms of what we can provide to people. I think what it boils down to is that we need to hold ourselves accountable as we would with any other service provider or employee. Which led us nicely into the last point with Carl mentioning that he thinks there’s a gap in knowledge in terms of how businesses are able to identify competent people to perform HSE services for them. There were certainly appeared to be an opportunity there for us to inform smaller businesses more effectively than what we are currently. So that wraps up the first of our two-part podcast with Carl Mannion. If you enjoyed that please subscribe at safety.co.uk to get notified whenever the next podcast has been released. Thanks very much for listening and hopefully we’ll catch you again soon

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If you would like to read on the current state of CDM 2015, check out this post in Construction Manager – Why are CDM 2015 being ignored?

For more Resources linked to this Episode, see HERE

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