Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid conducts a risk assessment

There is some guy called standing by my desk with a clipboard. He is ticking boxes furiously. Erm, can I help you? I ask. He frowns and holds out a hand reluctantly. I’m Ben, senior health and safety consultant, he tells me. That’s a relief, for a minute I thought he was someone assigning heads for the next redundancy programme.

It turns out he has been engaged by the work environment team (aka facilities) to help us create a safe place to work. Good luck with that one, I think. How can we feel safe when the Higher Beings (the executive management team) are poised to terminate our employment contract at any moment? You may notice I am getting a bit paranoid about this; it is that time of year.

Ben comes back from lunch and steps into Big Bad Boss’s office. They close the door. I’m still worried Ben might be in disguise, and that he is culling jobs after all. When he reappears, he marches straight over to me. Gulp. I’m almost relieved to discover I’ve been nominated (dumped on) to fill in the health and safety risk assessment for this floor. Really? I mean I’ve got actual work to do.

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Completing the risk assessment

Ben tells me this is part of an important quality accreditation exercise and all employees have to get involved. I look around. My colleague Lazy Susan hasn’t come back from lunch, and most of the HR team are on holiday. That makes me the only employee to get involved. All I have to do, the consultant says, is walk around the floor and fill in the risk assessment form. I am so shocked I don’t even argue.

The first section is all about desks. When was the last time we had a display screen equipment assessment? I have a distant memory of something, but certainly not in the last few years, and we’ve had new laptops since then. No then. I look at the rest of the questions. Is the screen free from glare? Only when I’m not glaring at it.  Is the chair stable and adjustable? Well, like me, it was once. Now it lists to one side and refuses to roll on its casters. I make copious notes on my own work area.

I can’t give that level of attention to everyone’s space, so I just walk around writing down where there is a desk drawer or cabinet open. Lazy Susan’s area, I note, is particularly unsafe. Further around the department floor, I report trailing wires and patches of torn carpet that people could trip over.

The organisational development team has piles of dangerously stacked files and papers. Why am I not surprised; a tidy desk is a tidy mind. I am having so much fun critiquing everyone’s space, that it is a good hour before I realise I’ve been asked to do the consultant’s job. Surely Ben should be the one walking round doing all this?

Fire procedures

The form moves on the fire procedures. Actually, as a company we are pretty hot on that, and we’ve even had special training drills for terrorist attacks just in case. However, I don’t actually know where the nearest fire extinguisher is, so that is worth finding out though I’m not sure I’d know how to work one if it came to it. And I’ve no idea who the first aider is or where the accident book is kept (if there is one). You can see the company has paid particular attention where the safety of the building is concerned, but not to the safety of its employees. No surprise.

Ridiculous as it seems, there is a whole two pages of risk assessment about the coffee machine. We’re not doing too well there I soon find; employees are subject to potential scalding every day. And we don’t even use plastic tops for cups to avoid spills. I rather hope they don’t introduce them, because it would just be more landfill waste.

Things start to get a bit surreal when the form asks about personal protective equipment. There is a whole section including questions on steel capped boots and ear defenders. It is tempting to request both when dealing with the Higher Beings. I’m sure Big Bad Boss in a rant can reach above 85 decibels. I rather like the section on thermal comfort too, because it suggests the company should provide protective clothing when employees are required to work in extreme temperatures. The air-con here is fierce, I can tell you, so make mine a cashmere.

Driving conditions

There is a section on hazardous driving conditions, and while this certainly applies to anyone crazy enough to commute here by car, I don’t think that’s what they mean as the form goes on to talk about forklift trucks, lifting equipment, and ‘shunters’, whatever those are. I tick ‘not applicable’ rather angrily. This is seriously wasting my time.

It is clear that Ben has not tailored the form for our business and has merely printed off a standard template. Shoddy work I’d say. Perhaps I should retrain as a health and safety consultant. You get paid for getting other people to do your work for you. Rather like my colleague Lazy Susan, who saunters back from a three-hour lunch just as I am finishing the assessment. Grr.

It isn’t long before we are all sent a link to an online display screen assessment. A couple of weeks later, I am thrilled to come in to find someone (Ben?) has replaced my chair with a whizzy adjustable one. Although I am still not convinced my job is safe, I can at least rest assured that I am all healthy and safe in my seat.

Next time… Candid is looking at contracts.