A safer tomorrow begins today

Maintaining up-to-date health and safety standards may seem like a daunting task. But a new accreditation system aims to simplify compliance and protect against liability, writes Wayne Baxter.

Increasing pressure from environmentalists, stakeholders and regulators mean that it has never been more important for the water industry to ensure its risk assessment and safety procedures are up to date.

Any plant treating water could have a range of hazards, from explosive dusts and
flammable gases to corrosive chemicals and bacterial contamination. The consequences of not preparing sufficiently for such risks are extremely serious.

But confusion remains over the necessary steps to ensure plants are as safe as they can be. There is also a culture of reluctance in the industry, with many organisations either burying their heads in the sand or employing insufficiently experienced consultants to carry out risk assessments.

While there are no legal requirements yet, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) require employers to "undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk that their activities present to their employees and others, including contractors and the public."

The Health and Safety Executive standard IEC 61508 was developed to provide a methodical approach to demonstrating the necessity and fitness for purpose of safety systems.

Many in the industry believe introducing a competence management system is an expensive, complicated and daunting task. But 61508 is arguably the most workable and thorough of the standards.

Employers failing to employ a risk assessment standard can face heavy fines, or even have their plants closed down. It is also worth remembering that the standard is extremely versatile, and can be adopted as a framework to assess environmental and business risks too.

As safety systems have become more complex, so the need has grown to provide confidence that they will perform in the intended manner when called upon to do so.

IEC 61508 provides a framework for all parties to work together to ensure that systems operate to the required level of integrity. The standard stresses the importance of people involved with safety systems having the necessary competence. If this is your first contact with the standard, it is important for you to obtain advice and guidance from someone who has experience of using it.

The 61508 Association was formed to help companies gain the full benefits of the successful implementation of related health and safety standards.

At the association's AGM
in 2007, engineering firm Haden Freeman (HFL), along with other members of the association, reported on significant progress in implementing the standard and a slow but steady increase in the industry's understanding of its principles and benefits of the 61508 approach.

The association's primary aim is to develop Conformity Assessment of Safety Systems (CASS). While IEC 61508 was being developed, it was realised that people would need a method for demonstrating that they, and their products and services, were complying with the standard.

A project involving many sectors of industry and funded by the DTI led to the formation of CASS, which provides a transparent and consistent method for assessing conformity with the relevant requirements of the standard.

Certification using the CASS method can be offered by competing certification bodies under the scrutiny of a national accreditation body such as UKAS in the UK. To participate, the bodies must meet the requirements set down by CASS and monitored by the accreditation body.

HFL applies the V-model safety life cycle to IEC 61508, to achieve legislative compliance and realise simplification efficiency benefits. The safety life cycle activities and deliverables are selected to meet the requirements of each project.
This practical, structured approach to planning will appeal to those frustrated by elaborate technicalities, and those seeking a more accessible framework in which to begin safety planning. Critically, this model can also be applied to safety planning for both personnel safety and protection against operational threats to the environment.

A practical approach to planning can actually save a significant financial sum. Put simply, companies must assess plant operations, have the site risk-assessed and then begin re-engineering the site. That gives you an opportunity to review existing safety equipment on the plant and remove anything deemed unnecessary.

The onus is firmly on the employer to ensure safety measures are in place. Aside from moral obligations to employees and your environment, safety managers need to be aware that the cost of taking measures to meet legislative requirements will no doubt be much less than the potential cost of legal action or fines if an incident occurs.

Plant safety issues should be viewed holistically and forward planning and ongoing review is essential to avoid any intervention by the HSE or EA. Taking a structured approach to safety planning brings numerous cost savings and benefits. And it is important to remember the task is not insurmountable.

Seek consultancy if required and benefit from reducing the size of the task by being focused on what is actually required. The V-model safety life cycle is an excellent path to follow.

Wayne Baxter is director of Haden Freeman and chair of The 61508 Association.
E: wbaxter@hadenfreeman.com W: www.61508.org

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