British Safety Council Article – September ‘10
Read some of the statistics on the number of housing officers injured at work, and you soon realise why Housing Associations cannot afford to treat Health and Safety as a “wee bolt-on”. So says Ark Housing Association’s Chief Executive Tony Ruddy. He and Ark Housing’s Business Services Manager, Vincent Lavery are trying to effect a health, safety, welfare and environmental sea change across Northern Ireland’s social housing sector. And if their own operations are anything to go by – they are the winners of the “Developing Skills and Capacity Award” and overall winner across all categories in this year’s Chartered Institute of Housing Northern Ireland Housing Awards – then they will be successful.
In 2008, when Vincent stepped aboard at Ark, which has been enjoying steady growth in terms of staff and its number of properties since 2002, they looked at ways to minimise the safety risks to the 28 staff directly in their employment, as well as to their tenants. In effect, this means properly maintaining properties for the safety of those living and working there, hazard awareness training and crucially fostering a positive safety culture in which people feel free to report incidents or address risks.
Vincent states: “One of the main risks we have is to lone workers, who may feel quite isolated from the mainstream office environment.” According to figures from the HSE obtained by sector-specialist magazine Inside Housing, major injuries and those requiring more than three days off work numbered 94 in 2002/03. By 2008/09 that number had more than doubled to 206. However, the increase, in part, could reflect the erosion of that reticence to report across the social housing sector.
Vincent continues by stating, “In order to continually improve the safety culture at Ark we took the business decision that every member of staff would be trained to minimum Level 1 in Health and Safety.” And by everyone, he means everyone from the Chairman of the Board of Management to the housekeeping staff. And so it was that they brought the British Safety Council on board. The Association, which views its commitment to social responsibility as seriously as its safety and environmental duties, is now a Health and Safety training centre for smaller Housing Associations, delivering the British Safety Council’s training programmes to others totally free of charge.
To further this aim, Ark Housing has developed its own bespoke Institute of Leadership and Management approved Development Course in Corporate Responsibility and the Management of Health and Safety for Board Members and Senior Management. This is another first in the social housing sector. Ark Housing provides information and advice, as well as copies of its Health and Safety policies and procedures to others in the sector. They aim to become leaders by example, and they have set a very high bar.
Vincent, Tony and the team’s conscientious efforts to be a leading light in the Northern Ireland social housing sector extends to environmental management as well. From little things like ensuring they print on both sides of paper to bigger waste disposal issues, good environmental management makes good business sense. This says Tony, while always important, particularly matters as public funding for social enterprises such as Ark Housing looks set to be cut back as the Coalition Government looks to rein in the UK deficit.
Whatever the future has in store, one thing above all else is certain. Ark, which has an annual turnover of about £1.4 million and an 8-10% surplus to meet its ongoing costs, will always put the Health and Safety of its people – staff and tenants – first.