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When an inspector calls

This article first appeared in On Course - Issue 27

Alan Plom, Head of Safety Section in HSE's Agriculture & Food Sector helps reduce your stress by anticipating what an inspector will want to see and discuss. Alan coordinated HSE's input for the new "Health and Safety in Golf Course Management and Maintenance" publication.

The most common answer to the above question usually is "PANIC!".

The 'Inspector calling' will be from your local authority Environmental Health Department, unless you are managing a local authority owned course in which case the inspector will be from HSE. Even more worrying, it might be an advisor or assessor from your insurance company, which probably means that someone has reported an accident and is making a claim against you.

Alan describes a typical scenario: You have just sat down in your office with a cup of coffee expecting a quiet day to catch up with your paperwork, when "the Health and Safety Inspector turns up!" In a panic, you try to remember any accidents that might have prompted the visit.

Be advised. Inspectors will not be overly impressed by large volumes of risk assessments, detailed safety policies or method statements outlining safe  systems of work etc. We really want to know if the control measures identified in your risk assessment are being applied to reduce more significant risks. This is 'sensible health and safety'.

Good communications are vital and we will probe to see that all relevant staff (and managers!) know what they should be doing to protect themselves, players, contractors and others who might be exposed to hazards at the course. Everyone at work has a duty to protect themselves and others, but it's important they understand why actions are specified, i.e. not just because "it is the law" or "the manager says so". It's more effective if everyone is on-side and playing the (right) game. Involving staff and regularly updating your risk assessments is time well spent.

Inspectors can use a range of tools to achieve compliance, ranging from verbal advice and letters through to enforcement notices (requiring certain improvements or prohibiting particular activities) and, ultimately, prosecution. (Note: fines can be unlimited for more serious offences).

However, an accident to anyone can be very costly in other ways, i.e. to your club's reputation as well as your finances. You may need to hire or buy new equipment to replace damaged items, or employ contractors if one of your key workers is off at a vital time e.g. to prepare for a competition.

These days, Inspectors do not look at everything during an inspection or
investigation but will 'test' your arrangements by focusing on those hazards and activities which cause most injuries, ill health and days lost off work. In greenkeeping these will include slips, trips and falls, transport and manual handling. However, we must not forget the well-known hazards from working with machinery and pesticides.

A quick look around will reveal much to an experienced eye, but there is a growing awareness of the risk of suffering from less-obvious hazards such as handarm or whole-body vibration from certain equipment commonly used in greenkeeping. Reports and claims for injury or ill health from excessive exposure to noise and vibration as well as hazardous substances are increasing. Inspectors and insurers will therefore be particularly interested in records of operator training, equipment use and maintenance, as these are all vital to ensure safe and efficient use.

Relevant (free) information is available on HSE's website to help you carry out assessments and produce suitable records, but you are very lucky in having advice and a plethora of guidance tailored to greenkeepers available through the GTC. This will all help you to ensure you have in place all that is deemed reasonable to ensure a safe working and playing environment for your staff and golfers.

David Golding GTC's Education Director adds: "It has been a pleasure to work with Alan Plom from the HSE as he is a real practical man with a sense of reality when it comes to health and safety matters. A health and safety wall chart is also available via the GTC website. Another useful tool is the BIGGA/GCMA Safety Management System (SMS) also available via the GTC, BIGGA, and GCMA websites. Please take advantage of the "tools" the GTC have made available to you, the employers and greenkeepers, to make the golf course and the workplace as safe as is practically possible."

"Health and Safety in Golf Course Management and Maintenance" is available as a download free or a snip at £20 in hardcopy via the GTC website - www.the-gtc.co.uk

Alternativley please visit the health and safety government website at www.hse.gov.uk

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