Big Fine for Ignoring HSE and Local Council Warnings

I do these pieces to highlight cases in court to spread the word, not jump in and beat on firms or individuals. In this case a company was hit with a big fine for ignoring HSE and local council warnings.

In the aftermath of the fire at Grenfell Tower it would be easy to focus on one aspect of residential construction. The reality is when building in a residential area or constructing  a residential project you have to cover many bases.

screen shot of construction enquirer. Link below
Original article and a good source of other construction news. Link below

Hatchmere Park Ltd are down £90,000 plus another £25,000 in costs after pleading guilty to HSE breaches. The issue seems to be one of poor site security. This allowed access to the project and there was risk of falls where walls had been constructed creating drops of over 2 metres.

Ignoring Notices

When the HSE or local council turn up ‘spot checking’ it is often to follow up on a complaint. That should be a big clue that any notice they serve will not be forgotten. It is also a well known fact that whenever a project is commenced many people will have objected. These people and well intending citizens who see issues will report them and follow them up.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Helena Allum said: ‘This company has a history of failing to comply with Health and Safety enforcement notices, in this case putting residents, some vulnerable, at risk of an accident, which was not acceptable.This case highlights the importance of properly managing construction work from the outset and demonstrates what can happen if companies fail to take action when issued with enforcement notices.’

Take care

Chris Hodge

 

Source: Construction Enquirer. Click here.

 

 

Crash Course in Pollutants and Industry

I love YouTube as anyone reading this site knows. I especially like it when various people unwittingly produce HS education material. We have all been in  training sessions that have some Z list actor and a dodgy script video. These sort of presentations are largely counter productive. In the old days they were accompanied with equally lousy music. Well here is a crash course in pollutants and industry, for free and with an interesting format.

YouTubers have to entertain, there is no revenue without subscribers. This allows a bit of creativity and that engages groups.

I will be the first to suggest that they are not seen as a be all and end all on any issue. I do suggest that they are great for introducing any HS subject.

This one runs through the top 11 ( according to the creators) pollutant threats.

 

Take care

Chris Hodge

 

Beards are Hazards, You Have Been Told

I have no axe to grind or dog to fight when it comes to beards for obvious reasons, but Mears has a problem with them. The property maintenance group has told its workers that they cannot work if they have a beard.

Recently they announced that unless you have a medical reason not to shave or a religious reason for sporting a clump of chin hair you should find work elsewhere. The reason behind this is that the tight fitting face masks they provide will not achieve an adequate seal.

This has not pleased the Unite union:

‘The arrogance of Mears is hair-raising. This is a highly delicate issue, which has huge cultural, religious and personal issues and where sensitivity should be the watchword. Instead members have been handed a decree from on high. This is clearly a case of Mears going for the cheapest option and amounts to penny pinching stupidity. Other forms of masks are available and these should be offered to existing workers. Unite will always put the safety of our members first and creating huge resentment and anger among your workforce is never the way forward. Mears needs to withdraw this decree and enter into a proper consultation with Unite and the workforce.’

I like the hair- raising line for a start, very droll. Other than that this does seem like a bit of a storm in a dusty room. The exceptions are there straight off. If for medical or religious reasons you need a beard you can be exempt if you provide proof. Mears does say there is no guarantee but anyone in the real world knows that hell would be to pay if they got in to that social and political argument.

Their HSE guy is not having much of the unions objections. Mark Elkington said: ‘We are pretty surprised that Unite, who claim to have the safety of workers at heart have taken this disappointing stance. Every employer in the UK has a legal responsibility to ensure that employees working in dusty or otherwise potentially hazardous environments are properly protected and in recent years employers have been prosecuted for failing to fulfil this duty. The simple fact is that no dust mask can work effectively unless it forms a seal against the skin. That is not possible with a beard or even heavy stubble. If the Health & Safety Executive did a spot site visit and found workers wearing dust masks that were not sealed against the face then we would be liable to prosecution.’

He then goes on to point out that there are some practical difficulties with the other solutions Unite mention. He also said that assessment of individuals who could not wear a standard face mask might well result in hoods etc being offered.

The Correct USE of PPE is a Legal Must. So What Motivates Unite in Objecting?

This is a conversation rather than just me spouting an opinion so by all means come back at me. My view is if the dust is such that it is assessed as hazardous PPE must be worn. Crucially it must be worn in a way to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. In the full article, referenced below, Mr Elkington says that if HSE spot check and see dust masks ineffectively used they will be in trouble. If illnesses result from Mears neglect then Mears are in trouble again.

It doesn’t matter if it is a beard that causes the worker to not wear a face mask or because they hate them. If the risk exists then Mears have to deal with it.

I became more entrenched in this view when I read the counter argument by the Unite union HSE chief.

Susan Murray said: ‘An employer should first assess the risks presented by exposure to hazardous substances, then identify the steps needed to adequately control the risks; put them into operation and ensure they remain effective. The use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) may be one of the control measures, but the wearing of face masks should be a last resort and priority should always be given to eliminating the risk. Before any policy is introduced there should be full and proper consultation. It is crucial that the policy recognises the diversity of the workforce and the principle that workers should be consulted and given a choice of several correctly specified types of RPE so they can choose the one they like.’

Well yes and no. The risk will be diverse as this is a maintenance company not a factory etc. In a stable environment involving such risks extraction is an obvious choice, not so when using a drill or a sander on site. Some jobs will need RPE some not. Some jobs will need it for an hour of work, others all day.

original web page
Click on the above for the original source article. The Construction Index

The risk has been identified as of now. You can’t claim that you did nothing while awaiting a consultation period and offset any liability. The final paragraph of her argument is the best yet. She says Mears have to recognise the diversity of the workforce. They did by allowing evidence based exemptions and offering to assess the worker for an alternative.

If the RPE does not fit because of a beard then a solution must be found. It appears that even saying something about an obvious risk is enough to have conditions and rather spurious arguments dragged up for very little reason other than to argue. What do you think?

Take care

Chris Hodge

 

Solar Power Floating in the Sun

I wrote another article on why I agree that electric transport still has a hill to climb. However,I should not be confused with someone so dipped in support for the oil industry that I can’t appreciate renewable energy. One of the problems for solar power (apart from the obvious gloomy British one) is space. The Chinese seem to have found a solution.

Sungrow Power Supply have constructed a solar panel park on a flooded ex coal mine.

China needs renewable energy more than many nations. I guess I could phrase that better, but seriously their smog issues make ours look like nothing. In addition, they have a ravenous population that is developing its need for industrial and domestic power.

mass panels for solar power serviced by tug sized boats.
40MW Floating PV Power Plant (PRNewsfoto/SUNGROW Power Supply Co., Ltd)

The project produces about 40 mega watts  which could power about 15,000 homes. Larger land based projects exist but thinking of the converted use of this space does make the imagination run for the future. How many countries have such places? Often the waters are not the best for other purposes, this seems ideal.

Here is a link to the firms website. Encouraging, that is all I will say for now.

Project company: Click here

One of the source articles: Click here

Regards

Chris Hodge

 

The Things We Do For Fun or Self Destruction

Today there is a trend that produces extreme selfies. These are where someone hangs off the edge of a building or natural feature in order to get ‘likes’ on social media. Another use of these crazy stunts is to increase the number of subscribers for a YouTube channel. A terrible indictment of egotism in the modern age?  I’d say not. The things we do for fun or self destruction have not really changed.

The Daily Mail has a good article that documents the publicity stunts (or just plain larking) that went on during the building boom in the US almost 100 years ago. Who has not seen this image?

iconic line of men in 1932 eating lunch.
Iconic picture of workmen 840 feet above the ground. Picture Bettman Archive

That was in 1932 and the men were obviously not required to have their sandwiches there, it was a stunt. Here is more spontaneous shot and one that surely takes away the criticism that the selfie crowd are purely an invention of the modern generation.

worker holds onto a girder with one hand and waves with the other while at dizzy heights.
Taken from the Daily Mail article this guy was working on the Empire State building in 1931.

Five men died during the construction of the Empire State building and looking at the above I can’t image how. They were obviously so safety conscious.

Have a look at the article, I have referenced it below.

Now to the modern age and here is Russian climber, Angela Nikolau.

girl in bikini in a shot where she lies on a ledge many 100s feet of the ground sort of sunbathing.
Angela Nikolau showing her insane disregard for height, despite having a troublesome knee by the look of it.

Glorifying Stupidity?

No, not I. Actually I’m pointing out that back then, in the days of booming New York, your main safety equipment for working at height was a strong grip. If you were a bit of a wimp you would tie a rope to your ankle. Also, back in the day there was little appreciation of the public when it came to safety in construction.

Most of the time people had a bit more about them than now. In addition, there was so little chance of compensation that the best thing to do was to watch yourself if someone was working above. Remember the superstition about walking under a ladder? It wasn’t really a superstition it was a method of stopping people from having something hit them or them knocking the ladder out of place.

What is Our Excuse Today?

There are harnesses and enclosed working at height. When it comes to thrill seeking, there is no need to do it other than for self promotion. To organise a safe stunt to the general wonder of all is to entertain safely. These people don’t, they just do it without regard for anyone else.

If you fell from a height of 1500ft ( 400m) you would reach terminal velocity in about 12 seconds. That is a speed of  120 MPH but there are other factors that can change it.  At the end of that fall is some poor person walking down the street. Hardly fair huh? Here is a picture of a tormented young woman who jumped from the Empire State building and hit a passing car.

 

Crumpled roof of a car with a young woman in the middle. She does not appear injured. In fact she had just died.
The body of 23-year-old Evelyn McHale rests atop a crumpled limousine minutes after she jumped to her death from the Empire State Building, May 1, 1947. Fair use photo by Robert Wiles

I doubt it would make any difference to thrill seekers or their viewers but that was not a modern vehicle. Those limousines were of a heavy construction. The lady in the picture was a tortured soul. I am addressing the issue of careless workers and climbing egotists. Imagine what that sort of fall would do to a teenager walking with her pals when some inconsiderate person slipped?

Source article: Click here.

 

Best regards,

Chris Hodge

 

 

 

Council Routinely Removed Safety Guards

At a recent hearing Nottingham city council admitted fault when one of their workers suffered hand injuries. According to healthandsafetyatwork.com one of their employees was trying to unclog a lawn mower when his right index finger was severed and other fingers on his hand were damaged.

Screen shot of the source article
The 22 year old worker was on site at a Seagrave Primary School on 21 August 2014.

During an investigation the HSE found that safety guards were routinely removed by council staff in order to access blockages more readily. This was against the recommendations of the manufacturers. In short, a flared guard that covered ejected clippings was replaced by a simple hinged gate much closer to the rotating blade. Granted you had to have the blade rotating in order to get any serious injury.

The council was fined £33,000 with an order to pay £12,000 costs. They were also criticised for failing to supervise apprentices and failing to properly train people in using the lawnmowers.

There are pictures of the modification but I am not sure of the permission to use issue. Below is the source reference. The lessons should be obvious. If you pick up a bit of kit that has been modified be suspicious. Never trust electric tape, duct tap, bolted on bits or empty bolt holes…ah, if it looks messed with leave it to the idiot that messed with it.

Source: Click here. 

Regards

Chris Hodge

 

Curtain-Side Trailer Death Could Have Been Prevented

63 year old, William Price, was converting a curtain-sided trailer into a flat bed when the frame he was removing fell. Mr Price suffered injuries to his head and died. Wolverhampton Crown Court was told that  ATE Truck and Trailer Sales had commissioned the scrap metal dealer to remove the excess frame. It was while Mr Price cut the roof off that the 500 kg structure collapsed.

The firm defended the allegation that there had never been any risk assessment of such activities. They pointed out that in the past the operation had been successfully carried out using two workers and a sling. The judge felt that not formally conducting a risk assessment was a sufficient breach in order to convict. The firm was fined £475,000, plus £20,000 costs and this was in addition to the £100,000 price tag of their defence.

picture of aman with long hair in his 60s
On 21st Feb 2013, Mr Price, 63, died while converting a curtain-side trailer. Click the picture to link to the original article.

Judge Barry Berlin, said: ‘The requirement of a risk assessment in circumstances like these is not just good practice but a fundamental and mandatory legal requirement. This was a plainly hazardous activity.’

The lack of a formal risk assessment is a factor that runs through so many of these cases. It is almost as if there is a degree of belief that self employed people are not subject to the risk assessments of the employing firm. I am not saying who was at fault, the court case was specific to the incident. I am saying that while self employed people are on site they must be aware of any risk assessment the employing firm has undertaken. If there isn’t a written assessment they shouldn’t commence the work.

Take care,

 

Chris Hodge