When we think or see a gate we often think what is it there for?  Is it designed to keep something or someone in or out?  Gates come in all shapes and sizes, wooden, metal, automatic and DIY.

I am not talking about physical gates in this context but “gates” that give you control over aspects of your operation.  For example if your purchasing department decides to buy a new machine on request from the Engineering department – do you as the Safety Manager know about it before or after it happens?  Similarly if the laboratory decides to buy in a new substance to carry out new tests on raw materials are you aware of it before it arrives on site?

If you are a busy Safety Manager in a typically large manufacturing plant you will undoubtedly be a busy person.  You may have up to 50 health and safety issues on your agenda, from the most serious to the less serious as well as ongoing projects.  What you do not need is someone in the organisation making a purchasing or process change decision which adds to that 50 making it 51, or 52 or more.  So you need some sort of controls so that you are involved at the very beginning when such decisions are being thought about and not being informed at the end.

In many large plants there are administrative controls, possibly Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which outline that other managers and those buying must consult with Health and Safety before proceeding.  These procedures need to be clear and that anyone ignoring them is not working on the principle of “we take health and safety seriously here”.

I have always advocated that health and safety needs to be mainstreamed into all management decisions and that all managers are in fact Safety Managers.  While this is true the role of the qualified health and safety professional is not diminished even if this mainstreaming is effective.  Health and safety professionals working within an organisation need to be aware of and involved in everything – every project, every major change and every little change.  Why because the health and safety implications of such changes may not be clear to those making those decisions.

We are there to look at the bigger picture, to see how these changes will impact on work and those doing the work.  Our sole purpose is one to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of all those working there and all others affected by the work carried out is maintained, if not enhanced on an ongoing basis.

So what types of decisions should Health and Safety be consulted about (and have the power to veto if necessary)?:

Every purchasing decision (unless it is a routine, regular purchase order)

New Equipment being bought

New vehicles being bought

Vehicles being modified

New raw materials being sourced

New chemicals being bought in

Substitute chemicals being sourced

Changes to equipment and machinery that may affect CE marking, noise levels, vibration levels, ergonomics and safety generally

Changes in layout of equipment or machinery

Changes to shifts, working hours and total time worked by employees

Changes to the types, suppliers or standards of personal protective equipment

Changes to training programmes with a health and safety element within them

Awarding of contracts to Contractors

Work to be carried out by Contractors

If we use “gate” in this way we should be able to stop unsafe equipment and other materials coming into the organisation.  We may still be working on our pre-existing 50 issues but at least we will not have added to them.