Diligent duty holders are the key to utility safety
14 Nov 2018
Ryan Robinson of Bureau Veritas examines the role of duty holders and how improving due diligence in the power and utilities sector can significantly reduce the likelihood of accidents.
By its very nature, the power and utilities sector has, for decades, been under significant pressure when it comes to health and safety.
Increasingly robust legislation, at times, has made it difficult to keep abreast of best practices. In many cases, companies will appoint a named ‘duty holder’ who may not entirely understand their roles and responsibilities.
For some of the fastest growing segments such as renewable energy, the construction of a record number of windfarms across the UK in recent years has undoubtedly lead to mounting scrutiny to ensure compliance meets the highest standards – a process often fraught with lengthy and complex procedures.
Earlier this year, a 74-year-old man died after he became stranded in heavy snow while working on a wind farm in Scotland, less than a year after the death of a Portuguese worker at another Scottish wind farm following an accident inside a turbine.
Amid ongoing investigations into their deaths, there have been growing calls for increased safety improvements and training on windfarms across the country. Such fatalities not only represent a heart-wrenching loss for friends and loved ones, but also lead to huge financial penalties for the companies involved, made worse by the negative publicity which risks damaging their business reputation beyond repair.
Duty holders are often left wondering what the law says about their responsibilities and what the consequences are if they fail to comply
Together with our clients, we’ve seen an increased focus and visibility requirement on ethics and safety in the entire supply chain. Best practice, and in some areas of legislation, dictates that firms must appoint trained and suitably experienced professionals who can advise on key on-site safety requirements and also demonstrate competency.
As we all know, having a clear and robust system in place plays a large part in preventing such risks from developing in the first place, so why are incidents like this still happening?
Line of duty
According to Health & Safety Executive (HSE), a duty holder is the named responsible person whose role is to ensure any potential health and safety risk is assessed, and that procedures are put in place to reduce the risk as is ‘reasonably practicable’.
However, given the narrow scope of the regulation, duty holders are often left wondering what the law says about their responsibilities and what the consequences are if they fail to comply. What’s more, when a breach inevitably occurs, duty holders can often be far placed from the scene and unaware of the true breadth of their responsibilities.
In the power and utilities sector there are duty holders designated at almost every level of the hierarchy, from site managers who are responsible for carrying out safety inspections, to the regional project managers in charge of managing risk systems - the chief executive still remains the ultimate duty holder.
Consequently, it can be difficult for firms to co-ordinate a health and safety approach that encompasses the whole organisation, which in turn significantly increases the risks of accidents likely to happen.
In light of this, duty holders would be wise to up their due diligence – making it compelling time for organisations to review their current risk systems. As we’ve seen, given the serious ramifications of a health and safety breach, the added piece of mind this can bring is priceless.
For many firms, this starts with calling the experts in.
Ryan Robinson is power and utilities lead at Bureau Veritas