When a hazardous situation arises at work, some country's regulation allow employees to exerce his right of alert and withdrawal. It's the case for example in Singapore. A procedure is then started. Can such a situation be avoided? If yes, how ?
Once in their lifetime, any employee may face a hazardous situation in the course of the exercise of his function: equipment failure, high risk intervention in a sensitive zone, absence of safety features on a construction site... These situations may be external to the company as with a risk of attack, or an event likely to generate in the workplace itself.
In these conditions, how to react? What are the risks incurred by the employee who decides to leave his desk?
While Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Act (Chapter 354A, Section 27 and 65 on Workplace Safety and Health (Incident Reporting) Regulations clearly states in its part II and part III that the employer is obligated to report in the occurrence of a hazardous incident and/or the presence of hazardous situations in the workplace, the right (and obligation of employees), although not specifically expressed, is definitely implied since they would be the ones who are obligated to immediately alert their employer in the case of any work situation that presents a serious and imminent danger.
So keep in mind that the business manager has obligations when it comes to the health and safety of their staff. Their criminal responsibility is at stake. Several departments within the company, such as the Committee for Health, Safety and Working Conditions (CHSCT), participate in the protection of employees at their workplace.
Concepts of danger and imminence
The danger is a threat to life or health of the employee, that is to say a situation that may cause damage to the physical integrity of the worker. This danger must be serious and therefore likely to have serious consequences (fatal accident, fatal illness, permanent or prolonged work incapacity).
Imminence describes the occurrence of an event in the very near future.
There is a serious and imminent danger when the employee is faced with a threat that could cause serious injury to his physical integrity within a very short time. "(Source: http: //www.officiel-prevention.com)
It can come from an external cause to the employee (for example, a defective tool), or from a cause specific to the workplace (the employee is allergic to a component in the environment).
Right of alert: how to exercise it?
In case of a serious and imminent danger, the employee must immediately report it to his employer or his supervisor. Second possibility, the employee can go to the Safety Committee to exercise his right of alert. This authority is then responsible for notifying the management of this alert through mail. The Safety Committee can also exercise a right of alert in person.
An investigation is then launched by the company management pairing with the Safety Committee to identify the nature of the danger in question.
It would be wise when doing these surveys to set up risk analysis associated with action plans. When such events occur, care must be taken to gather as much evidence as possible. This requires secure management of the documentation.
Any employee has the right to give a verbal alert, but the written record is imposed as evidence. When it comes to the members of the Safety Committee, they must record their opinion in a special register: the latter is dated, signed, and contains various indications on the hazard in question (workstations concerned, nature of the hazard, cause of hazard, name of the exposed workers).
The right of withdrawal: consequences
The right of withdrawal requires the prior implementation of the alert procedure. However, every alert procedure does not systematically involve a withdrawal. Everything will depend on the outcome of the preliminary investigation and the nature of the hazard in question.
Once the notice of a serious and imminent danger has been proclaimed, the employer or his representative cannot ask the employee to resume his activity.
It is up to the employer to do everything possible to remove the cause of the danger. The right of withdrawal is intended to prevent the occurrence of such an event in the future. Indeed, if an accident occurs while the alert procedure was initiated by the employee, it’s the employer’s fault.
The duration of the withdrawal depends on the nature of the serious and imminent danger and the preventive measures that will be put in place by the business manager. When the latter considers that the danger has been removed, he may point the employee to resume their job.
Rely on EHS Management System
The rights of alert and withdrawal are proclaimed, the investigation has been carried out and the serious and imminent danger is averted. Good news. However, is it possible to avoid any reocurrence? Here are 3 areas for further consideration ...
Collect information during audits
To avoid any reocurrence, it is now necessary to complete the risk analysis and ensure that all the actions carried out during the procedure which has been initiated are treated. Conducting an upstream internal audit in the field can be useful in order to detect possible anomalies within the system. Analyzing the causes, understanding the sequence of what led to the situation, will allow to search and implement concrete actions to prevent this from happening again.
The entire procedure must be tightly monitored by the EHS service. They will be guaranteeing a successful implementation of the actions.
Set up an early alert system?
At the company level, this is an avenue to pursue to increase responsiveness and anticipate a classic alert procedure. EHS digitization solutions are already available on the market.
Everything will depend on the nature of the incident and its frequency. However, an automated alert system offers increased reactivity. This will be even more true if this system is accessible to all staff in the form of a light application ideally on mobile devices. This modern alert device, less formal than a procedure to follow, is suitable for field use. The advantage of such a system is to allow any employee to report a danger (and even anonymously, and perhaps develop the culture of learning from mistakes for example ...) and to alert in real time the people directly involved, the EHS department, members of the Safety Committee etc., based on geo-tracking and via a distribution channel.
Communicate during EHS Toolbox Talks
Beyond immediate prevention measures, it would also be important to address these topics downstream during specific Toolbox Talks. These can be weekly meetings of 15 to 30 minutes, where everyone could share the pressures they encounter on a daily basis and which can be hazardous in the course of their duties. The life of an employee may be at stake.
Relying on your EHS management system and developing a safety culture are core issues for companies to consider, avoiding as far as possible exposing employees to hazardous situations. Even if there is no such thing as zero risk, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure ...