Making Whisky isn't risky

13 Dec 2016

I have worked at The Scotch Whisky Association for over 23 years and during this time I have seen a dramatic improvement in health and safety performance across the industry.  So what has led to this?  We have an active Health & Safety Committee, we produce a large number of health and safety publications. including a regular Bulletin, run workshops on a range of issues and even organised a children's health & safety poster competition.

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I can't put my finger on one thing in particular, and believe the improvement stems from a combination of positive changes in attitude towards health & safety as well as collaborative work.  The Scotch Whisky industry's accident incidence rate has decreased year on year since 2008 and is consistently better than the 'all manufacturing' and 'all beverage' manufacturing rate.  But accidents still happen from time to time and our ultimate aim is zero harm in the workplace.  More and more we need to look at new approaches and one of these, behaviour-based safety, is seen as part of a natural progression to gain further improvements.  Behaviour-based safety is about everyone's behaviour, not just the frontline.  But this isn't a 'quick fix'.

The SWA has recently been invited to join the Food & Drink Manufacture Forum which is a partnership between the HSE's Food Section, key food/drink trade associations, including the SWA, and the main food industry trade unions.  Meetings are held twice a year to discuss, prioritise and drive forward a range of health and safety initiatives, with members working together to reduce injuries and occupational ill health.  The revised 'Recipe for Safety' booklet remains the Forum's core publication and this sets out priority health and safety issues for the food and drink industries, gives benchmarks for performance, suggests how the issues can be tackled and includes a management action plan.

I am delighted that the Association has pledged support for the Forum's Common Strategy for 2016-2021.  The revised five-year strategy sets out a challenging plan of action to help reduce the number of accidents and injuries across the sector and focuses on delivering measurable improvements against occupational health, musculoskeletal disorders and slips and trips.  Strong health and safety leadership, a focus on continuous improvement and the sharing of good practice will be required to achieve the objectives.  It is clear that Forum members are all at different points on their health & safety journey and a collective approach is therefore needed to improve performance across the whole sector.

As a first step to delivering the objectives set out in the Common Strategy, we have issued a short survey to members and non-members of the Association to understand what steps companies are taking to manage occupational health in the workplace. The feedback will help the SWA's Health & Safety Committee develop an action plan which companies will be encouraged to promote and implement.  We will keep companies updated on progress through our Health & Safety Bulletin.

A proactive health & safety culture remains our priority - in the words of one of the children's posters 'Making Whisky Should Not Be Risky'. 

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Alison Galbraith is head of industry resources at the Scotch Whisky Association