A quick thank you to the Pettit Group for featuring me as Wednesday’s Woman of the Week. In particular I appreciate this sort of nod as it encourages the right people to go into the industry no matter their gender.
Some would say that my background in the NHS and an outspoken nature have helped me many times. The thing is I was not always like I am today. You build confidence as you go through life by accepting challenges like those that construction presents.
I have had a lot of help from all sides and acknowledge the great people I have met without reservation. To any woman looking at a move into a previously male dominated occupation I’d say this:
If you think you can do it…Go for it.
Everyone, man or woman, feels the fear especially when young. The thing is you never know what you might have missed out on if you let that fear put you off.
Some would say so, however. I would like to think they would be in the minority. As is the case with many official regulatory bodies the money squeeze has been tightening on the HSE. Budgets have been reduced for sometime and the cuts are not finished yet. For the more, shall I say, casual operators less HSE inspections might be seen as a gift.
I Fought the Law and the Law Won
The courts show that there is no winning. All of the progress made in health and safety has come alongside the raft of legislation that has not been reduced. Even though inspections have dropped by 14% in the last year( with a 4% fall the year before) that liability has not changed. The worse a safety culture is the more likely there will be an event that has the HSE arriving.
As much as it is natural to curse those high pressure days when on top the HSE comes knocking, a figure that can’t be quantified is how many lives have been saved by the knowledge that they could show up.
This has not been seen yet and fingers crossed it won’t be. Fatal injury numbers have still been falling with other categories levelling off. Unite, the main construction union, used a freedom of information request to collate the figures. In some areas the figures are frankly alarming for the future. The North East of England for example saw a 22% reduction in visits with the Midlands worse at 26%.
Unite Seeks Consultation with Government
A Unite spokesperson said: ‘The government has slashed funding for the HSE and it is clear that it is increasingly struggling to make ends meet. With a new secretary of state in place Unite and our members need to know what plans he has for the HSE and safety laws.
We also need answers from the HSE about whether they are taking steps to redress this fall in inspections and whether there are specific reasons for these reductions.’
Holding My Breath
I wish experience had told me that less big brother in safety would mean individuals rising to the best standards. Experience hasn’t told me that. I mean I hate speed cameras, I hate the idea of the fines behind them but do I believe all motorists would behave of their own accord? Does anyone believe that?
The same goes for industrial safety. Most will do their best because they don’t want to see people hurt, many will do it because they don’t want lost production, sadly some will gamble with both factors. Only visits can deal with the latter group.
The horrific fire that destroyed people and the Grenfell Tower they lived in has had only one positive result. So far 75 tower blocks have been identified as being at risk.
The instant blame that followed this awful event surprised me in one major way, the cause talked about within hours turned out to be accurate. Normally assumption is the mother of all…mess ups. I have been around industry long enough to not be surprised that combustible material was used. I’d hoped it wasn’t but when it was confirmed there was no shock for me or many up and down the country.
I certainly would like to believe it was an oversight, that somewhere between the plans and the execution of the Grenfell refurbishment someone screwed it up. Yeah I know how that sounds and I ‘m going to leave it there in the slim hope the inquiry sheds a more humane light on the circumstances.
75 Tower Blocks Below Code
All over the UK teams have been taking hastily put together advice from the government and scouring buildings with aluminium composite insulation. Samples have been taken and tested. Not all cladding is as risky as that which killed all those people but much is close to the line. In this atmosphere I am surer of action than I am about my hopes for an innocent mistake having been made on Grenfell.
Well that is going to be frantic and the price tag absolutely immense. The 75 suspect buildings are as it stands now with the search continuing for more. All of it has to be done yesterday with logistical reality slowing progress. Meanwhile the local authorities and fire services nationally are reviewing safety procedures. All I am left with is a lesson that I know but there is never harm in being reminded. The devil is in the detail. That is a saying as old as the hills. I wonder when we can have it engraved on every office wall, mug and written on every letterhead.
In a recent HSE case the circumstances of a workers injuries were examined. It was a simple enough process for Weymouth Magistrates Court. The worker was hit by falling scaffolding poles that were being lifted up on a stillage attachment.
The attachment was not up to the load, 1000kg, there were deficiencies in the planning of such operations and the whole thing cost two firms fines, one of £145,000.
I am not being glib, nor am I micro assessing in hindsight. The worker was hit in the shoulder and head. Fortunately her injures were not life changing but with that weight dropping from over 10 metres survival was just a matter of centimetres.
Managing a Site
In this case there were problems of managing risk between firms on the same project.
It isn’t easy. Lessons learned in this case about lifting loads above people were not remembered and it is dangerously easy to do. What people on the outside do not get is that a project is like a machine consisting of a huge number of parts. Unfortunately these parts are independent minded, they are not bolted together, they do strange things.
Apart from the organised chaos the phone rings, problems occur and visitors bend your ear. When it comes to contractors their activities fall under your responsibility but the moment to moment stuff is in their hands.
As a contractor the same applies to your crew. Overall you know what is going on and any falling weight that hits workers is your problem. That said the phone rings, a problem comes up and it is easy to take your eye off the ball.
As a worker your safety and that of those around you is your problem during all work activities but the boss is on your back, a problem occurs or someone commences work in a risky place while you are concentrating on your task at hand.
What Makes the Difference
Well sadly if someone is setting up a lift or is lifting with people under the load and you don’t see it only one thing will keep the fines away…risk assessments, records and associated action. It is all about keeping people safe first but you can’t control all these moving parts every second. The paperwork and implementing risk assessments is a pain but £145,000 plus lost time, plus court time, plus possibly being responsible for a death?
Clear underneath any lifting. The HSE rep in this case said, where ever possible, I say just don’t do it. That was 500kg falling 10 metres, it happens so we have to plan for it happening and show we did so. A good implemented plan might mean someone going home that night and a bit of a clear up and cursing. I’ll take that over what happened in the below article any day.
Healthandsafetyatwork.com article on above case. Click here
Lone working happens in all industries. In construction I am thinking of site visiting, administration after hours and lone contractors specifically.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, set up following the awful disappearance of a young estate agent in 1986, were recently at the ExCel Safety and Health Expo.
Code for the Safety of Lone Workers
It is easy to think of what happened to Suzy Lamplugh as a totally different set of circumstances to those found in construction, manufacturing or even off shore.
People do work alone and some distance from the nearest available help. By definition the general public are kept away from many of our workplaces. Sometimes the places we work are pretty isolated.
Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety says organisations should:
‘- Implement a buddy system (so colleagues always know each other’s whereabouts and contact details. This should include checking in and out when meeting arriving at and leaving the property, including out of normal office hours)
– Have a system in place for colleagues to raise the alarm back at the office in case of an emergency while working alone
– Have a clear procedure to follow if someone does not return or check in when they were expected
– Where possible, arrange for viewers to visit the office before meeting them at the property so that colleagues have also seen them
– Offer all staff a personal safety alarm and have discreet lone worker devices available. Before conducting a viewing, find out who else will be present in the property (current tenant, contractors etc.) when you visit
– Finally, make sure all staff are aware of and have access to the personal safety measures available’
Looking Beyond the Threats in Specific Industries
Generally our sort of work has a reputation, one that it is hard to get around even when we read the above. Not all construction workers, oil workers or engineers are tough to the point of fighting two burglars who wander onto a site. Our workers are not immune to sexual assault ( sorry to those who haven’t heard- I mean both sexes) none of us are immune to falls or other accidents or finally medical emergencies.
Going through the points in the code our work is covered by all of them at some stage. In addition there is that responsibility to watch out for those working for you. If push comes to shove and horrible people hurt your staff questions may well be asked about assessments that should have been made.
Stay Macho by All Means but Heart Attack!
We could debate all day as to who is vulnerable or who could take on a young Mike Tyson (probably no-one). a medical emergency can happen to anyone, end of debate. So even if you can’t see such and such as being vulnerable in any other way then the above code covers tragic sudden illness.
If I can help with any of the above then please contact me in the comments .
Wessexmoor Ltd were running a project that involved roof work in Glycena Road, London. Ali Mucoj, 56, fell of the rear section of the roof where there was no guard. He suffered bleeding on the brain and a broken leg.
Southwark Magistrates imposed the fine and costs of £7000 because it held the company had breached HSE regulations regarding safe working at height.
Mr Mucoj, will have to live with the effects of the injuries for the rest of his life.
I am not being holier than thou, this is another example of something that is all too common when it comes to roof work and in my experience workers themselves are just as culpable. I am not referring to this specific case. I say quick job or protracted job, if it involves height the safety rails etc are not an optional extra. It is the law and even though people I respect curse at the inconvenience the above is what happens when things go wrong. £160,000 would sink many firms I know. At least the insurance premiums would knock them to one side the following year. Not worth the risk to life, limb or bank account in my book.
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.