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Health and Safety

The 9 Principles of Prevention

Luke Pitt - Last Update: 28 Jan 2021

What are the principles of prevention?

The principles of prevention are a set of solutions which are prioritised from most effective (Don’t do it – Avoid) to the least (Instructions to employees – which on their own don’t offer much protection) and stem from the Management Regulations (Reg 4).

They require us, as employers, to utilise these principles when we are implementing preventative and protective measures in the workplace.

I would like to offer my take on these principles which I hope will inspire some food for thought when you are going through this process.

The 9 principles are:

#1 Avoiding risks

This has to be the best solution. After all, not doing it at all is much safer. As my mentor once said to me, “No-one has ever fallen off a ladder they didn’t go up!”. So can this process be avoided, or done differently? My favourite example of avoiding risks are window cleaners. They could avoid having to work on ladders at height by using reach and wash systems, so they can work at ground level instead.

#2 Evaluating the risks which cannot be avoided

When we can’t avoid a risky situation, we have to assess or evaluate it first to find out what it is you are up against. Here’s a great two-minute video from the HSE which explains the steps employers should take to protect their workers, and other people from harm.

#3 Combating the risks at source

What we are attempting to do here is deal with the hazard at its root. Examples of this could be enclosing the noisy work equipment, buying quieter or local exhaust vents for cutting machines, or using a different process that reduces the emissions. I've worked in the steel industry and for me, this video made a huge difference in understanding the need to install good LEV.

#4 Adapting the work environment to the individual

With regards the design of workplaces, the choice of work equipment and the choice of working and production methods, we must adapt the work to the individual to reduce their effect on health.

This should be broken into three elements:

  • Communicating with staff: When designing work areas and safety procedures. It is our responsibility to communicate to staff what is required. We also need to communicate behavioural safety approaches. This guide explains more about behavioural safety.
  • Alleviating monotonous work: We’ve all done that one job that doesn’t inspire us, and because of this, we go into autopilot and put ourselves more at risk of injury. This article by Dr. Rob Long explains more about the risks of going into autopilot in further detail.
  • Employee control: This is very important for both employer and employee. Studies suggest that giving the employee an element of control over their work and the design of their workplace can have a positive impact on employee engagement and performance. This article by Diane Coles Levine discusses the negative impact and consequences to your employees by NOT giving control to an employee.

#5 Adapting to technical progress

With businesses looking to use more technology in the workplace, it can give us solutions that make us safer or more productive. Examples of this could be GPS (Global Positioning Systems), which has provided us with live data allowing us to get from A to B quicker, or provide support in areas we don’t know. Lone working is now a little bit safer as we know where our staff are when travelling alone.

#6 Replacing the dangerous by the non-dangerous, or the less dangerous

There could be many examples here but we commonly call this “Substitution”, whereby we substitute a hazardous substance for a less hazardous one.

#7 Developing a coherent overall prevention policy

This could cover technology, organisation of work, working conditions, social relationships and more. This one speaks for itself but reinforces my point that a company needs to take control of the management of safety itself and not left to an external body or consultant.

#8 Giving collective protective measures priority over individual protective measures

For some reason, most people when asked “what does safety mean to you?” answer by simply stating that they provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) regularly, as if this discharges their safety responsibilities. PPE rarely does this as it only protects the individuals and no-one else.

Here, the Principles of Prevention state that we should consider everyone affected and not just the individual. We use this a lot in the construction industry when working at height. This article by Gary Gallagher (MD at Turner Access Ltd) makes for an interesting read as he considers the role of collective protection in the context of the Work At Height Regulations.

#9 Giving appropriate instructions to employees

Providing clear and understandable instructions is an art. Here we place importance on ensuring that all the instructions both written and verbal are understood by the person receiving it. Engagement expert Alice Dartnell provides her insight on how to give understandable instructions to staff in this useful guide to giving clear and understandable instructions.

The principles of prevention like many other parts of health and safety allow us to make decisions and provide a framework of support mechanisms and not just hurdles to overcome. If you need to ask any questions, we are here to help.