Health and safety in the energy sector

Health and safety

Generating, transmitting and distributing sources of power comes with inherent danger. In recent years the industry has made improvements in reducing the number of injuries, and the active involvement of reps has been key to this.

While good progress has been made on safety, progress has not been so positive in addressing work-related health problems. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that the sector has one of the highest rates of occupational ill health across the whole economy.

The networks industry’s own figures show the number of days lost to sickness absence per worker has generally risen in recent years and now stands around 75% higher than the average across all sectors. A large amount of this absence is caused by musculoskeletal disorders and mental health problems.

 

National HESAC and Powering Improvement

Prospect is an active member of the National HESAC, along with the sector’s other unions, employers represented by the Energy Networks Association and Energy UK and the HSE. Like company HESACs, this provides the union with a forum to discuss concerns and how they should be addressed, and share information.

For over 20 year now, National HESAC has run a health and safety strategy which aims to bring about continuous improvement in the management of health and safety in the energy generation and networks industries.

This strategy, called Powering Improvement, focuses on four key overarching themes: leadership at all levels; improving competence; worker involvement; and corporate memory. It is overseen by a tripartite steering group, on which Prospect is represented.

The strategy is planned in five-year phases addressing priority areas and setting targets for the sector to achieve. Themes for the 2020-2025 phase include fatigue, musculoskeletal disorders and work-related stress. Powering Improvement’s are that by 2025, the industry will have reduced the rate of work-related sickness absence by 10% and reduced the number of days lost due to work- related mental ill health.

 

Fatigue

Energy is a high hazard industry, so it is vital that anything which impedes an individual’s ability to make sound operational decisions is thoroughly assessed and carefully managed.

Fatigue is one such factor – it can result in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information and underestimation of risk, leading to errors and accidents, ill-health and injury.

Fatigue needs to be actively managed, just like any other hazard, through a process of risk assessment and review. These arrangements should be documented and incorporated into the employer’s safety management system.

However, Prospect research has shown that energy sector employees are struggling with fatigue, potentially putting themselves and their colleagues at risk.

One in five respondents to our recent survey said that at some point in the past year they had felt too fatigued to work safely. Of these, three in five did not feel comfortable telling their employer.

Powering Improvement, via ENA, commissioned the Health and Safety Executive’s Science Division, formerly known as HSL, to carry out a study of human and organisational factors in the networks businesses.

A series of workshops with senior authorised persons (SAPs) and competent persons (CPs) found concerns about insufficient monitoring of work hours or any meaningful fatigue risk assessment.

Prospect believes employers should adopt a risk-based approach to fatigue which ensures that risks are identified, understood, monitored and controlled. We will continue to engage with employers regarding fatigue management at a national level, and release guidance to support reps in discussions with their employers.