Workplace Safety in Unusual Environments
When we think about workplace safety, we typically tend to visualise a factory floor or office space. Construction facilities and retail sales environments also have fairly straightforward safety provisions - but what happens if you're doing something a bit out of the ordinary? You could be working on a submarine or oil rig, where conditions are highly specialised; or out at sea on a fishing trawler. Alternatively, you might be handling plants in greenhouses or shooting a film on location. In such cases, safety risk assessments are going to be rather more complicated.
A relatively recent development, for instance, in the handling of plant materials is covered in the government's Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2014. These regulations require anyone working with microbiological organisms and pathogens to carry out specific risk assessments with regard to environmental and human health impacts. Any chances that such pathogens might be exposed to the public or accidentally released into the environment must be minimised. This means that all potential hazards to human health must be identified, and particularly any routes into the environment through which a GMO might escape. These include preventing mechanical transmission or accidental dissemination of plant pathogens by humans, as well as via equipment failure and inefficient waste disposal.
A survey conducted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in 2017/18 named commercial fishing as the UK's most dangerous occupation. Fishermen were six times more likely to die at work than in any land-based occupation. Apart from the obvious hazards of falling overboard and drowning, a vessel at sea must be scrupulously assessed for risks associated with fire, operational machinery and flooding. HM Coastguard publish their own safety guidelines covering such hazards. Any person applying for a job on a commercial fishing vessel must be thoroughly trained in procedures and skills such as fire fighting, first aid and survival.
Making a film or video has specific hazards even when it's on a closed set, including trailing cables and high temperatures generated by the lights. Producers are therefore required by law to conduct a full risk assessment for any production as part of their management plan, and insure themselves against all foreseeable threats. Once on location, additional risks can be posed to the safety of performers just by the activities demanded of them. Scenes might include heights, fire and water, wild animals or dangerous machinery, not to mention environmental threats encountered on location, such as heatstroke, ticks, biting insects and snakes.
Assess, plan, train
Rigorous risk assessments must be conducted in all these specialised conditions, and managers must plan the optimal response to all possible types of emergency. All personnel must be trained to react effectively to a crisis without panicking, and regular practice runs must be carried out. In a complex work environment, everyone must know without hesitation where they should be, what they should do, and what equipment is necessary for each type of emergency.
There's no doubt that risk assessment forms an essential part of health and safety planning, even in an unusual or exotic workplace. Whatever your occupation, we're here to help.