When you talk of falls being potentially deadly it shouldn’t be a dry subject, it is though. We as humans have to face the uncertainty of each day no matter what job we do. If it isn’t falls that could kill us it is a range of other accidents plus our own weird biology. It is better to have a few incredible tales at hand to sprinkle into the same old training. The highest work place fall survived by anyone was the fate of Vesna Vulovic .
On the 26th January 1972 Vesna greeted passengers on the ill fated JAT Flight 367. It should have flown to Belgrade from Stockholm, however, over Czech airspace it broke into two as the result of an explosion. There is still controversy about the cause. What is not in doubt was that Vesna was pinned into the severed rear section of the DC 9 by a waitress trolley. When they found her Vesna had crushed vertebrae, broken legs and a fractured skull. The 22 year old was in a coma for 27 days and had no knowledge of the incident.
The crash killed everyone except her and has been officially blamed on a bomb planted by Croatian terrorists. In total it is thought this young stewardess fell 33,000 feet. She was presented with a Guinness Book of World Records award by Paul McCartney in 1985.
Since then it has been suggested that a Czech fighter jet mistakenly shot the passenger plane down as it tried to complete an emergency landing. If true the fall would have been around 2600 feet. That might not be a record but it is still way over the normal safety limit. As it stands the fighter jet story is only circumstantial so Vesna still holds the title.
Heroics on the Ground
Rightly this lady was seen as something special in her home country of Yugoslavia. She was brave about flying again and heroic when she stood up against nationalists and Slobodan Milošević throughout his awful time in power. She died in 2016 at the age of 66 and try as I might I cannot find a cause.
I have been at sea when it is frankly scary. I have been out in gales that make you dream of home, wine and box sets. There are near misses that are planted in my mind as well. What I don’t have is experience of being charged by a bear while at work. There are two reasons for this.
First I live in the UK and work in Kent. There are no bears roaming free. The second reason is I am not completely stupid like the guys in the below video. Have a look.
The Daily Mirror carried the story. It said 3 workers and the dog were attacked when the mother bear charged. There were rumours that the story was hyped, however, I can see the cubs, then the mother. I live in Liverpool, England. We have a few predators you should be aware of but no bears. The point is even I know cubs bring mother, mother is bigger and when it comes to bears they attack to defend their young. So what were those guys laughing at? Why were they not grabbing the dog and heading for the van?
The other day I read of a mysterious bug killing workers in Indonesia and the threat from sharks to fishermen. It is possible that my reaction to such risks would be extreme because I have not dealt with them. Is it a case of familiarity breeding contempt that causes workers in Siberia to reach for their camera rather than taking to their heels?
I’ll take the opportunity to work anywhere, but in many ways I am glad of my British experience of work place risk. I will leave you with some North Americans showing a more respectful approach to work place bears. A very big work place bear at that.
These days I think quicker, even to the point of moving my hands than this computer. My day starts at 04.45 hrs and will end when it ends. I can’t be bothered with endless logins. I am not saying that I am hard done by. I enjoy what I do but when it comes to specialist, niche news I often want to scan a well laid out, up to date website without hassle. World Oil takes some beating.
As you know, if you have read my landing page, I currently work in construction in Kent. I love it and I like the people. The project is a fine one, but along with this industry I have an active interest in all Health and Safety areas. I don’t mind paying for my news it is just that time is often an issue and many sites change their styles and requirements for reading. I don’t want to be bothered cancelling out a half dozen subscriptions every year as trends fade and new kids come onto the block.
World Oil lets you browse through global news on projects, trends and the various peripheral governmental strife that influences how much bread you can put on the table. When I was looking at decommissioning ( see article on opportunities click here) I got a nice concise article about the Brent operations. From there I could browse on but instead went to look at how Australia was doing, then what was going on in the controversial shale gas developments of New York state. Hey each to his or her own hobby eh?
The point is World Oil ticks the boxes for being quick, knowledgeable and a nice bonus is it is free. Click here to have a look yourself if you have not tried the website. Time is money as they say and World Oil saves time and cost nothing.
Steve Hoskin Construction Ltd (SHCL) was fined £20,000 for health and safety breaches at a construction site in Dawlish, Devon. Along with Cavanna Homes (SW) Ltd ( who had the primary contract) SHCL were found at fault for not designating safe pedestrian/ vehicular separation.
At around 4 pm on 28th June 2013, 47 year old John Small was walking next to a reversing telehandler when he was crushed. An air ambulance was dispatched but despite him being rapidly taken to hospital doctors were unable to save him.
Both firms were fined £20,000 plus the same again in costs. This case is a good example of the need to look at different sources of information. In some you get the impression that there was no safe traffic plan at all, which is obviously a risk gone unheeded. In other sources a broader set of risks is identified. This is important because if we don’t look at the whole picture valuable lessons could be lost. If we lose valuable lessons more people are likely to die.
The Full Picture
I will put up my sources as usual below. Drawing on all of them I have found so far, Mr Small was the victim of several factors. Originally there was a full plan of safe traffic management put in place. All was well but then some storage containers were added. These containers, on this day, had both Mr Small and heavy machinery moving equipment into them. Devonlive.com says that the victim suffered from tunnel vision but that was not known to his employers. The site had been reassessed regarding the change in safety when the containers were placed but this had not been written down. Mr Small was struck by the rear wheels despite the klaxon sounding and the mirror and cameras being operational.
The judge said:’This is really an unexplained accident. It is quite unexplained why Mr Small should have been walking so close to this dangerous vehicle, why the driver did not see him in his mirror or the reverse camera, and why he did not hear the klaxon which sounded as it reversed or see or hear its movements.’
‘Everyone sympathises with the family of the deceased and any sentence I pass cannot bring him back and is not a recompense for his life.’
Despite a high standard of safety in the past both firms admitted failings and one thing was clear no-one anticipated such an accident.
Telehandlers are big. The visibility available to the driver is restricted despite the technology applied. In addition, you have a driver operating a vehicle with a load so attention is necessarily divided between the manoeuvre going back and the situation to the front. They are also noisy even without klaxons. So how do you end up under the wheels of one?
Sadly, as is often the case we never know for sure what happened. Mr Small was seen walking alongside the machine next thing the accident happened. Did he drop something and swiftly lean in the path of the telehandler to pick it up? Did he stumble? Did the telehandler deviate ever so little from the path Mr Small anticipated?
As there are no definite answers, the judge says that clearly, we can only apply ridged rules based on the terrible consequences.
Big machinery v pedestrian will see the pedestrian lose.
Unmarked and unprotected separation between vehicles and people is a recipe for disaster.
We have to write stuff down and adapt to changes on the site.
Finally, last but not least. I am getting older and it is horrible to admit it yet I have too. If we have some problems with eyesight or mobility we should make others aware of it. At the very least we need know our speed or even just our stability is not what it was. Hear a big machine, see a big machine… Step back and let it go by because it might not see you, step for step and second to second.
Greatest sympathy to Mr Small’s family and I am not apportioning blame to anyone. I just hope that lessons can be learned by me and everyone else from these awful events.
My role in health and safety is not a precise science. It can’t be, it is a blend of personal experience, training and law. A precise science is engineering for example. That bridge has to be able to carry X weight, needs to be X long and X wide. In addition it has to be X high over whatever it is clearing. That is maths, plus a range of other talents. As I am not tethered by those rules I say, gently, I am sorry but age counts when it comes to health and safety.
I was looking at the fatality list for 2015/2016. There seemed to be a large number of the 40 plus age group represented. So I counted them. Out of the total number of employees killed that audited year (128) 89 were over the age of 40. I would like to make it clear that few were early 40s. The following year, the latest we have the figures for, showed a total of 94 employees ( including self employed) killed, 65 of which were over the age of 40.
Statistics Can Say What You Want Them Too
Well first I have to say this was a quick scrolling count. I didn’t add people of exactly 40 because I wanted to keep that under 40 category clearly separate. I simply rolled the names up and jotted the ages down. The HSE figures include members of the public killed as a result of workplace incidents so I tried to rule them out.
People would point out that some industries have way more 40s, 50s and 60s involved than younger workers, I accept that. They could also say that any health and safety factors that lead to older workers being killed could have been the fault of younger workers. I would have to go through case for case as they were investigated on that one. However, as I said mine is not a precise science. From my own and others experience I suspect we are kidding ourselves a bit. The figures are not good.
Health and Safety at Work Article
healthandsafetyatwork.com is a source of information I go to often. In December 2015 Bridget Leathley wrote a brilliant article on the subject of risk and older workers.
The peak risk group is apparently 35-54 years and she says correctly that they are the bulk of the workforce in many occupations. She goes through all the factors, pros and cons, of older workers in great detail and I commend her. On the plus side older workers often have a good grasp of their work and what it entails. They have survived that long so they must know something and they adapt well to changes in physical ability. On the negative side they might not always toe the safety line, they can be over confident and miss the more subtle instructions when undergoing health and safety training.
Driving occupations were a good example. Older drivers have experience but their reaction times are slower than younger ones. They tend to compensate for this by slowing down and in an emergency they might not be lightening, however, the actions they take are more likely to be accurate and best for the situation.
In an age of longer life and comparatively better health, not to mention some woeful international scamming older, people are likely to be working beyond the retirement age so the above is good news?
The Anecdotal Evidence
I believe there is a political reason for promoting the plus side of older people working. I’m not saying it is all cynical. Many people hate retiring. It can bring on social isolation and we all know of great people who have been pushed out by the mandatory age limit only to then go into sharp decline.
No, my suspicion is that in order to justify ever increasing the pension entitlement age the risks in the workplace could be downplayed. I’m in my early 50s. I know how things have changed for me. I carry injuries from the decades that have gone before. I know other people well, all in heavy industry, all will say the same.
A Simple Scenario and You Judge
I know a guy who was really quick with his hands, quite agile and who is still above average in strength. He has worked shifts most of his life, particularly night shifts. He now sports damage to both knees that results in rather unpredictable pain. He should wear supports when working in order to avoid the ‘twinges’ that can make him instantly forget what he is doing all be it for a second. He wears glasses grudgingly having been lucky enough to reach 51 before he had to wear them regularly.
He has hip pain on the left side, neck pain if he has to look down for any length of time, his fitness is above average for his age but still he is carrying some weight and his diet is poor. He has to work and he has to compete with younger people for that work so he doesn’t mention most of the above. Another issue is he used to work a night shift and then come home, gather the family and head into the outdoors for a few hours before snatching a couple of hours rest. Now he is the first to privately admit he is wrecked by night work and hates to get less than 6 hours sleep in the day.
So ask yourself with the changes, the natural changes age has brought this guy, is it any surprise that so many older workers make up those horrible figures?
Anecdotal Evidence, Imprecise?
I recently looked at the cases of several workers injured and killed from this age group and found that several had undisclosed issues that might have contributed to a tragic incident.
Eyesight, hearing, balance, poorly managed blood pressure, and some cognitive impairment. I don’t want to pile on the misery but for example look at dementia. I have known people have to leave jobs when they were diagnosed. The progression of these illnesses can be gradual though so how long did they unknowingly suffer? How long were they forgetting things? How long were they increasing their risk at work?
Our Own Worst Enemy
The guy I gave a list of ailments for no longer works with heavy machinery. I can be frank about his normal issues with age because he said it was okay to do so. Even now in the workplace he doesn’t mention any of the creeping effects of time and tide. Also why would he? In most industries everyone is in the same boat and in the older generation at least there are some vestiges of ‘can’t complain.’ Yet in 10 years? What about 15 plus years from now. How will he deal then?
Another reason to minimise age effects on top of the obvious desire to appear efficient and dependable at work is self worth. I knew another man, mid 50s, newly retired with a good pension who died while turning his trailer around. He had been advised by his son that he would be there in half an hour to help but the man went to drag the thing around in a tight circle unaided. He had a heart attack. I could go on, but it comes down sometimes to pride. If you were able to do a task 10 years ago it is a hard thing to admit that the passing decade has left you less capable. You can laugh at walking football if you like yet it was invented for a reason. It came into being because of the same issues that killed the man with the trailer.
Not All Doom and Gloom?
Bridget Leathley is right throughout her article. She quotes exhaustively from HSE data and I find no fault with her assertions. Older people make up an increasing percentage of the workforce and are invaluable. We are living longer, we are a force to be reckoned with. We adapt to our changing physical abilities and get on with the job.
All I am saying is there is, in my opinion, an additional lesson to be learned from the statistics when compared with years of experience. Look after yourselves, be aware that you don’t move as quick as you did. Allow yourselves to take a physical back seat sometimes. Let a younger one climb on the roof or down the hole if you get the chance. Look back on your working life and know yourself. You have nothing to prove. You are there working when so many others have quit. Take pride in that.
From a critical standpoint. Times change, health and safety can be finicky but it is based on tragedy. If there is new equipment make sure you know it well. If there is a new way of safe working try it and give it a chance. Finally, if you get ill and it will affect your work be honest with yourselves and your employer. Better to swallow a bit of pride and take the financial hit rather than end up as one of those damn statistics.
The advantage of writing up your own site is that when you are relaxing at home, you know watching health and safety videos as I do, you come across some quirky stuff. This one highlights the dangers of H2S.
H2S ( Hydrogen Sulphide ) smells like rotten eggs and is nasty. You come across it in the gas and petroleum industries and it occurs naturally when human and animal waste is broken down. The right thing to do is to wear respirators if there is even a chance you might breath it in. This is one of those no ifs, no buts sort of deals.
The awful safety risks of this substance extend further. If you have a casualty who has suffered in an incident involving H2S don’t give them a drink of water, actually keep water as far from them as possible. If you don’t you can make this substance into an acid and as we know acid has little consideration for humans.
What I like about this video is the graphics ( especially the way the animations walk) it is nice and concise. Training in health and safety specifics, like the hazards of H2S, should be brief. Here the makers illustrate also the need to be aware of others. The character who inhales the gas ignored the warnings, fair enough, but an occasional glance around looking for the ‘hard of warning’ is a good idea.
Currently on Netflix is a documentary about the forest fires that devastated North Western areas of the USA in 1910. I like to connect our understanding of health and safety with those that gave us the knowledge we enjoy. The program is a salute to early forestry workers and their incredible bravery when they fought The Big Burn.
After a season of 1000s of fires the newly formed forestry service thought they had contained the worst of them. Back then there were only about 500 such rangers working to establish an idea of conservation in rugged public lands. Their efforts were often resented by miners and loggers who knew that these backwoods were not theirs to work, but a long tradition gave them a sense of entitlement.
President Teddy Roosevelt, a big time fan of the wilderness, saw the need to preserve natural resources for the future. In the early 20th century unregulated production of timber was slowly exhausting the vast forests and the effects of mining were poisoning it. Enter young men dispatched to tame the disorderly industries that relied on nature.
Some of these guys had a patch of 300 square miles. In there could be boom towns with accompanying violence. In the woods were few roads and a scattered group of operators understandably after profit for hard work. Government interference was not a flavour they took to.
Trains belched smoke and sparks as they thundered through the wilderness. Storms would spit lightening out of the skies and steam machinery in the woods threatened to ignite the world all around.
The summer of 1910 was a dry season. The fires that spread were combated by men with days of hiking to do before tackling them. There were no respirators, no air support or for that matter no special tools.
They did understand how to create fire breaks and until the 19/20th August they were doing well. They had to appeal for federal funds to recruit men just for the purpose but it was crucial work. In the valleys that were surrounded by these dense forests were wooden towns. Worse, this still being a frontier type environment, a lot of the settlements were constructed out of canvas and tar paper. As embers fell it took little to see a town go up like a gigantic firework.
Nature Ups the Stakes and Creates the Big Burn
The worst thing that could happen took place that August. A storm accompanied by 70 mile an hour winds. The programme concentrates on an area around Wallace, Idaho, but in the end 3 million acres were incinerated. That is about half the size of the UK.
87 people, mainly firefighters, were caught in flames that progressed faster than a horse could run. They were high in the hills and overtaken. Many more were injured. Buffalo Soldiers saved one town in a titanic effort after they were trapped. Other places, Wallace among them, were evacuated by rail at the last moment.
The bravery of those people puts us to shame when we complain about trivial events. The survivors hid in mine workings or stumbled frantically out of the path of the flames. Lives were destroyed yet out of the charred aftermath came positive things
What We Know Now About Forest Fires
Apart from the progress in firefighting and safety came an understanding of the wilderness. Ironically we now know that without occasional fires, the forests themselves suffer. Nature has its way sometimes and it is better left to it where possible.
Have a watch of this PBS production if you get a chance. All our safety started with heroics and mistakes and to all that went before I am grateful.
Further to the piece I did last week, Wood Group continues to work with Shell in the North Sea. They have just announced they have the contract to decommission the Brent Bravo platform.
I was writing about the future of this line of oil and gas work recently and further evidence of the opportunities now pops up on my news feed. Click Here
Wood Group, CEO Dave Stewart, said, ‘We have over four decades of experience supporting Shell’s Brent field and this new contract clearly demonstrates our client’s trust in our consistent delivery of innovative and efficient technical services that have been designed for offshore decommissioning challenges.’
The plan is to prep the platform for a single lift removal. This continues the Shell trend of beginning the onerous and absolutely massive headache of clearing up redundant operations. This multi billion pound task will take up to ten years.
The iconic Brent field rigs were built in the 1970s and at one time produced 10% of Britain’s North Sea oil. The field underwent an extensive upgrade in the 90s which extended production, but all good things have to come to an end.
The best of good planning to all involved in the decommissioning.
I know well that statistics can be manipulated to prove almost any point. So when I was looking at the provisional total of fatal workplace injuries I was aware of the variables. I scanned the figures for 2015/16 and was pleased to see there had not been an increase in incidents. It was as I looked at an EU comparison I found something curious. When it comes to health and safety, what is going on in France?
I had made a presumption that the relatively wealthy nations would score well and those moving up financially would lag behind. I was wrong, at least wrong because of France.
The British figures for 2015/16 will be confirmed in July this year, however, the average is taken over 5 years so we can lean on that. Obviously if a single horrific incident fatally injures a large number of workers the average would spike, hence that 5 year standard. Currently 2015/16 here is projected to stand at 0.42 per 100,000 while the 5 year average is 0.52.
When I delved into the EU figures over the last decade the British safety record compares very well with other nations. All EU nations have seen a steady reduction in fatalities, without exception, but many of them had a worse record than we had to start with. For example if we look at the deaths that occurred in 1996/97 our 5 year average is half what it was back then. However, France? I still don’t get it
France keeps company with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and is one place behind the Czech Republic. In 2013/14 ( the last Eurostat figures I could find) France returns a rate of 2.94 deaths per 100,000 workers, with an average that is slightly higher over previous years.
Again I know that figures can vary but there was no apparent spike that year. France is the 5th biggest world economy, they built the Eiffel Tower I mean they are sensible people overall so what is going on? No comfort is to be found in the figures for none fatal injuries either, they topped the table there with rivalry from Portugal and Spain.
Naturally enough the rate in which injuries required time off work was also high. In the same period 1.4 per 100,000 workers needed time off after injury in the UK whereas across The Channel 3.1 were laid up.
In conclusion I can find no reason for the increased risk to workers in France. This obvious issue is hardly mentioned. Across the board in the EU figures France stands out time and time again when it comes to injuries to workers. Across nationalities if say one nation was working in great numbers in France and their home figures showed large numbers of worker injuries then you could say that bad practise had been imported. That isn’t the case, however, because going back to 2002 ( before major EU worker movement) the UK still had less than a 3rd of the fatal accidents its neighbour had.
My own opinion from this brief study is that so long as a single worker is killed or seriously injured then there are no laurels to be awarded to the UK or anyone else. That said I think we apply safety legislation and standards better than many countries. Globally a rate of 20 plus per 100,000 is sadly not unusual so in comparison criticising EU nations seems a bit silly. However, once you factor in the financial stability ( and while we are at it the political stability) of France with the worst record holders world wide their death rate is still best described as concerning. Yet there is no concern to be found. Unfortunately for now I will have to leave it there. I will keep digging and let you know if I find the golden variable that explains this apparent issue. Meanwhile working in France? Take care.
Below are some of the references I found on this subject and as always I would be interested in your comments.
International comparison of work place deaths 2002 Click here
Various bits and pieces of the media have reported on the 140% increase in profit claimed by Shell this week. Shell’s financial chief, Jessica Uhl, said the North Sea remains important even though streamlining in future will leave the company with less of a presence in the area.
Since writing this , as of today, it looks like the deal has gone through. Click here.
This follows the January sale of half its UK production assets to to Chrysaor for upwards of $3 billion. According to the Chrysaor website the deal has not quite been finalised but looks on course to make this independent player one of the biggest in the UK.
Of course that is not necessarily great news for the return of the jobs lost. When the deal was announce Phil Kirk, Chrysaor chief executive said:
‘Chrysaor is acquiring a high quality package of assets which combine low cost production, a substantial reserves and resources base with strong cash flows and a highly competent and skilled workforce. These assets, combined with our own experience and the outstanding team who will transfer from Shell, provide an excellent platform for change and growth in the North Sea.’
After dealing with any health and safety issues, words like strong cash flows are what I want to hear, however, we will have to see where that cash flow goes if indeed it ever comes back with any strength at all. Much has been made of the rally in oil prices over the last year but globally oil stocks are still high and continue to threaten uncertainty in the barrel price.
In comparison the development of gas production off Shetland is more encouraging and of course Shell has a big hand there. Broadening the picture slightly is the interest the company has in deep water projects off the Brazilian coast.
1700 people in the North East Scotland and will be subject of this Shell/ Chrysaor deal. Maybe the first indicator of real confidence will be if all of them retain their jobs when the transaction is completed in the second half of this year.