Health & Safety at the Workplace

INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK PARNIS

We catch up with Patrick Parnis, an accomplished professional consultant with over twenty years experience in HSEQ Management, who speaks to us about the importance of the implementation of high-level health, safety, environmental and quality management systems in every industry. Patrick Parnis took home Best Health & Safety Consulting Firm of the Year, Best Health & Safety Professional of the Year and awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Malta's Real Estate, Development & Architecture Awards 2021.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED IN THE HEALTH AND SAFETY INDUSTRY?

I have been involved in compliance management for over twenty-four (24) years when I joined Merit/Methode Electronics in 1997 as Quality Management Facilitator, responsible for the implementation and maintenance of International Management Systems ISO9001, QS9000, TS16949 and ISO14001 Standards. I had to further focus on the Health & Safety Management Systems when I joined VAOS Ltd, a multinational oilfield services company with over 1000 employees, which was heavily involved in the construction and maintenance of the Libyan Oil & Gas Infrastructure. For 12 years, I have led the company through the implementation and certification programs of ISO 9001 and OHSAS 18001 Management Systems Standards. 

Due to the civil war in Libya, I returned to Malta in 2014 where I set up my own consultancy company Parnis & Associates Ltd (P&A). My initial Health & Safety Advisory services in Malta started in the construction industry supervising multiple project sites. Other industries followed and I am now engaged in various Health & Safety jobs from Energy, Film Productions and Events. 

DO YOU SPECIALISE IN ANY PARTICULAR ASPECTS OF HEALTH AND SAFETY?

I started my technical career as an apprentice at the Malta Shipbuilding Co. Ltd which exposed me to Heavy Industry Projects from an early age for 7 years. When I joined Methode Electronics, I continued my studies and intensified further my development on ISO Management Systems where I was exposed to high precision engineering processes working in fast changing environment and demanding automotive industry. 

Implementing Management Systems involves the development of policies and procedures, communication and awareness, training of employees, auditing and monitoring of processes and facilities, and conducting regular management reviews completing the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle. 

Today, I am heavily involved in the construction and film industry which requires for me to spend a great amount of time monitoring safety at construction sites or on a filming location.

I enjoy both aspects, I can be the officer monitoring and enforcing safety on the shop-floor, construction site or film set as well as being the Executive at the office developing protocols and documents, auditing and monitoring company level key performance indicators.

CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE SERVICES YOU OFFER?

P&A provides a complete suite of HSEQ Management Systems Advisory Services ranging from: 

HSEQ Management Systems Advisory Services (ISO / Local / Industry Specific)

This service is for any company having an interest to embark on a continuous improvement program by standardising their operations. Our services begin by conducting a Gap Analysis to identify the existing level of compliance against the local or International Standard Requirements. We will then assist companies to develop new or perhaps even improve on existing processes to the required standard. In general, we manage and lead our clients through the whole journey of ISO Certification.

Risk Assessments

Risk Assessments is a legal requirement for Employers. The employer is responsible to identify any risks generated by their processes, facilities and their operations in general and implement the necessary control measures to reduce the risk as low as reasonably practical. The development of Risk Assessment is required whenever there are newly introduced or changes in process, machinery and equipment, material and surrounding environment. Risk Assessments is one of fundamental requirements for implementing effective Health & Safety Management systems.

Inspections & Audits

Audits are part of the appraisal process for Management Systems. P&A offers internal and second party auditor for those companies wishing independent auditors looking into their documented management system and operations. During audits, auditors will interview management and employees, review documents and observe activities. An audit report will be issued to top management highlighting the level of compliance and any improvement opportunities required to the management 

systems. Generally, the Audit Cycle will be completed with a Follow-up Audit to confirm and verify the implementation of corrective actions. 

Emergency Preparedness

In anything we do we are exposed to various risks. The employer is also responsible to ensure effective emergency protocols are implemented at the workplace. This involves the development of Emergency Response Plans consisting of Emergency Response Protocols for Medical, Fire and Environmental Emergencies, Establishing Emergency Response Team, Training of ER Team and conducting regular Emergency Response Drills. Emergency Preparedness will involve the setting up of Fire Protection/Fighting Systems, Signage and Plan Layouts, Emergency lightings systems, First Aid Provisions going into First-Aid Training, Fire Fighting and Chemical Spillage Training as required.

Incident Investigation and Reporting

Incidents are unfortunately considered as the main source of great knowledge and information for safety protection. It is very important that all incidents at the workplace are reported and addressed whether it is a ‘near miss’, ‘small injury’ or ‘fatality’. P&A provides the necessary resources for independent incident investigation and reporting for companies wishing to investigate incidents and deploy preventive measures to eliminate recurrence of similar incidents. 

HSEQ Training

P&A will assist companies in developing their own Health & Safety Training Needs Analysis by developing a Training Matrix. The matrix will define the necessary Health & Safety Training Programs/Sessions required for each designation within the organisation, whether it’s the company’s CEO, or the shop-floor cleaner. The provision of HS Training is a legal requirement and operator licences such as fork lift trucks operators and crane operator are mandatory. Same goes for operatives performing high risk tasks such as scaffolders etc.

Employers are to ensure that operatives have the necessary safety training to operate equipment and machinery as well as perform their routine tasks safely preventing injury to themselves, colleagues and the public or cause damage to machinery, plant and environment.

All newly engaged employees shall go on an Induction Training & Awareness program. Normally this induction training is given within the first days of employment where the employees are informed about the company policies and procedures, operational & facilities hazards, do’s and don’ts, time and attendance, welfare, incident reporting and emergency response protocols in general. 

P&A provides the necessary guidance and assistance to companies ensuring the right approach in provision of Health & Safety Training to its workforce. 

Project Supervisor Services

Parnis & Associates provides supervision services in H&S matters at design and construction / execution stage as per LN88/2018 – Work Place (Minimum Health & Safety Requirements for Work at Construction Sites) Regulations. At design stage, P&A will develop a Project Health & Safety Plan addressing the project safety requirements, risk assessments and control measures to be enforced throughout the whole project. Throughout the construction phase, P&A will monitor Health & Safety Practices on site by regular visits. Any hazards noted will be communicated directly with management and/or contractors and corrective measures will be tackled and enforced. The client will be notified of each visit with a Site Inspection Report.

HSEQutive (Saas Cloud Base Solution)

One of the reasons why Parnis & Associates has developed this innovative solution is to offer a cloud-based Health & Safety, Environment and Quality Management Systems Platform providing HSEQ professionals with online tools they require to implement best HSEQ Management practices in their day-to-day operations (www.hsequtive.com)

CAN YOU TELL US IN MORE DETAIL ABOUT THE ROLE OF A SAFETY OFFICER?

The role of the safety officer is to ensure the implementation of Health & Safety Practices in the Workplace. This is done with some preparatory work in advance when establishing the Top Level Health & Safety Plan defining and laying out the Health & Safety policies and procedures at the workplace. The HS Plan shall be communicated to the operatives in the form of training sessions or toolbox talks on site, and provided to all subcontractors working on the project. Apart from the Health & Safety Plan, the Safety Officer is involved in the development and review of Risk Assessments. 

The Safety Officer will ensure that the necessary resources and control measures listed in the H&S Plan and Risk Assessments are effectively implemented at the workplace. H&S Officers shall review method statements and operating instructions to familiarise themselves better with the work plans. The safety officer is also responsible for observing ongoing works to ensure operations are carried out safely and in a planned and coordinated manner.

Emergency Response Planning is also part of the Health & Safety Officer Responsibilities. The risk assessment exercise shall identify the major hazards and risks and relevant control measures hence assist in defining emergency response requirements. In general, every workplace shall be equipped with a basic First Aid Box as minimum and adequate Fire Protection Systems. The safety officer shall ensure that an emergency response plan layout is developed, communicated to all employees and 

posted in common areas for all workers to see. The layout shall provide safe route directions leading workers towards the nearest assembly point, and marking the locations of fire extinguishing equipment, first aid box and emergency equipment, and spill kit location. 

The Safety Officer will also lead the Emergency Response Team who will be acting specific tasks and duties in case of an emergency situation. Emergency Response Plans and Teams are to be regularly tested by means of an emergency drill where a simulation of emergency situations will be carried out to familiarise employees with emergency protocols and identify any failures/malfunctions and other emergency response improvements. 

The safety officer is also responsible for investigating and reporting of incidents at the workplace. The safety officer will carry out investigations at the site of incident, interview injured persons and other witnesses. He/she will also look into machinery maintenance records, operator training records and other process related documentation. Based on his/her investigation, the safety officer will identify the root cause of incident and recommend the necessary corrective and preventive measures to eliminate recurrence of similar incident. 

WHAT ARE THE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?

The first common misconception is that people think that the OHSA in Malta is inexistent and not effective enough in its regulatory and enforcement obligations. Let me assure you that with its very limited resources OHSA is giving its best possible attention to the construction industry. They have a shortage of personnel and I strongly believe that this is where much technology is needed for OHSA to be able to cover 2000+ construction sites yearly.

The second misconception is that ALL developers are greedy and do not care for the health & safety of their workers. Reality shows that there is a greater amount of unsafe contractors than those who consider Health & Safety seriously and provides the necessary resources to comply to requirements. I believe this misconception of ‘ALL Developers are greedy’ is a very unfair statement on those contractors who are truly diligent and complaint.

Industry Contractor HS Audits and Contractor Safety Performance Classification Systems can be the way forward to evaluate the level of Safety of Contractors.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN YOUR ROLE?

We face various safety challenges in the construction industry. The latest and most worrying issue is that of ‘communication’ and ‘introduction of new unsafe practices’ at construction sites. We have seen a drastic influx of foreign workers in the construction industry bringing in a lot of challenges for the locals and foreigners alike especially in communication. This for me is very concerning especially if one needs to communicate any special safety measures for the task at hand.

Another related challenge we are also facing is the fact that foreigners are bringing in their own method of working, which may not always be considered as safe at this side of the world. We witness a great amount of imaginative makeshift platforms and stages that are unsafe. We also see people working without giving any protection or respect to the public. These are all attributed to the lack of control of professionals in the Construction Industry. BICC’s Skill Card can play a great role in the regularization of Contractors, Self Employed and Professionals, however same with OHSA department, the resources are limited to control the overwhelming growth of the construction industry.

I trust that the new Building and Construction Agency – BCA will eventually deploy the desperately needed contractor regularization in the Construction Industry.

WHERE DO YOU THINK MOST CONTRACTORS FALL SHORT IN TERMS OF HEALTH AND SAFETY?

I believe that some contractors lack health & safety practices due to some old attitudes stating that safety is only creating additional costs and hindering work progress. These are very limited in number but somehow considered as a high risk. 

Contractors must take Safety into account at quotation and budgeting phase. Missing this consideration out from project budget will only give way to some ‘surprise’ costs. Sensible contractors always budget for safety and ensure safety costs are effectively in use on site.

I also believe that there is a lack of general construction safety training programmes, which contractors can provide to their workforce. This lack of general training is attributed to the mentality of loss of production and an additional cost.

We are also still facing the old village mason working on alterations and additions who still works in old traditional unsafe ways. These people are now being phased out however they must realise that safety must be adhered to at all times whether you are working at a construction site or carrying out a small job at home. 

I believe that businesses fall short of health and safety because they are solely focusing on their core business activity – producing and selling their product – forgetting the safety aspect of their operations.

Article courtesy of Mediatoday Co. Ltd which was published on the Architecture & Design Magazine.

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