Kirkcaldy Sherriff Court heard a particularly sad case recently that underlines the need for adequate fencing. Don’t get me wrong any work place death is awful but somehow the end that met an 83 year old man in January 2015 struck a cord with me.
Houses were under construction in Kirkcaldy’s Chapel Level. John Philbin was suffering from a number of age related illnesses when he strayed onto the site. There was no-one there due to the holidays. he fell into an excavation that had filled with water and drowned.
HSE presented evidence that the firm in charge, Sandford Park Ltd, had not erected a sufficient fence and they were fined £110,000. A spoke person said,’We accept that there was a failure here for which we apologise unreservedly.’
The Lesson Not the Hindsight
When we look at site security we tend to dwell on thieves and older kids. Both these groups climb. If it is felt that they would be difficult to stop attention turns to securing valuables by removal or placing secure storage. It is easy to miss the fact that someone like Mr Philbin may be vulnerable and as a result be at risk of hazards unlikely to affect a more robust person. All it took was a water filled excavation.
Environmentalists have a cosy notion that you could ditch all the old and dirty and carry on into the sunset powered by water or wind generated electric. One day maybe, but now or even soon? Well we are learning that just because lots of people say a thing is certain that does not make it so. A Russian oil expert makes some good points to support the argument that electric cars might not have a medium term effect on the oil industry.
I’ll state my interest in this. I am a HSE adviser. In some regards it makes no difference if I work on a project constructing windmills, nuclear reactors or an industrial worm farm. I started out in the North Sea on the rigs and many of my friends still work there. It is important to them, their families and the economy that predictions for oil production are as accurate as they can be.
If the Western world turned to electrically powered vehicles in the medium term the oil industry would take a hit it can ill afford. I am not talking about the giants, I am talking about the people putting bread on their family table. If predictions are wrong and oil companies diversify, particularly into developing regions, as a result it is bad for Western oil workers and Western economies.
Tesla Criticised for Uncertain Sales Predictions
Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s oil giant Rosneft is quoted in Bloomberg as saying: ‘The unconditional truth remains in the fact that the hydrocarbon power industry has been and will be in demand. The market’s assessment of the prospects of electric car producers, in our view, is significantly overestimated.Until the electric transport industry becomes as user-friendly and attractive for consumers as the cars with internal combustion engines, the prospects for electric vehicles remain largely uncertain.’
Sechin was talking to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum recently.
The logic behind this seems sound to me. Electric cars are impressive in comparison to only a few years ago, no doubt. What Sechin doubts is that they can compete with combustion driven vehicles. The infrastructure supports traditional cars, the advances in performance and economy have been equally impressive. The combustion engine allows for greater diversity in design, size and range. That is of course now, not in the future. So could an aggressive sales campaign globally force adaption of support services so that electric is just as convenient as oil powered?
I don’t think so and Tesla was singled out as not having the best future business model when it comes to sales predictions. Sechin pointed out that sales are still relatively small with only Norway showing an increase of any note. To balance this it has to be noted that Norway subsidises electric car ownership to a significant degree. Sechin says, and I agree, that for the electric car to make up ground on the internal combustion energy these subsidies have to continue.
If I look at the UK. If I put the current demands for public funding on the table and think of the issue of electric cars one thing is clear. Increased subsidies and increasing financial support for companies to provide recharging stations etc! I’m very doubtful of Tesla achieving the success they desire. It will be interesting to see how things develop but government coffers need filling, especially now. I cannot see masses of people taking on the inconvenience of electric transport in the hope that soon it will be as easy to use as their old car.
Money is a motivator for both good and bad health and safety working. If you cut corners enough and get lucky with the law and potential tragedy you can save a packet on any project. The problem with that, even if you have no conscience, is that big fines await those that get caught. If a sense of humanity or the fear of a financial penalty is not enough to ensure due diligence then maybe a manslaughter conviction might work.
Mike Holland and his foreman Grant Oakes will find out their fate when they appear at Lewes Crown Court on 21st July 2017. Both were convicted the other day of manslaughter in the case of David Clark.
Mr Clark, 55, had been working on a stable conversion when he fell through a gap in the first floor. He was there working as a carpenter and died a month after the incident in September 2014.
Holland is the sole director of Cherrywood Investments Ltd, he and Oakes were found to have been grossly negligent to the point that it qualified as manslaughter. The prosecutor said it had been a complex case to bring to trial and evidence was heard of previously ignored HSE warnings.
Gail Purdy of the CPS said: ‘ From the evidence gathered, it became clear both men visited the site regularly and would have seen the conditions, which included work being carried out with voids that someone could fall through, but they did nothing to prevent this happening.’
Evidence was also heard that after being inspected in 2013 the specific dangers to those working at height had been raised with Holland and Oakes. Oakes attended training in safety on the subject as a result but little had changed.
Mr Clark suffered head injuries in the fall and died in hospital. The company was also found guilty of associated breaches in health and safety legislation.
The obvious one about not being able to escape your responsibilities if tragedy strikes. Another obvious one about not ignoring HSE warnings and finally for us as workers if it doesn’t seem safe then maybe the paycheck is not worth it. The latter point is all to easy to say yet when the mortgage payment is due? It is valid nonetheless. Simply put, these things should not be happening in 2017. Murphy’s Law springs to mind, I would have thought that at least would be ingrained by now.
That is not strictly true. I do have an opinion on the subject generally and that is that the lessons of the past mean we should wait. We should not wait for long but as the fire was still going strong it was widely declared that the cause and effect had been identified. I don’t accept that.
It is rare, people who know me will say it to my face, that I have nothing much to say on any issue. When it comes to the exterior cladding and its alleged acceleration of the flames up the London residential tower block, it looks highly likely but not proven.
The fire experts say the materials used were substandard, the manufacturers and suppliers insist it was legal to use but in among the media hype and counter claims by the government I am left with questions. Those questions will only be answered in a bit of time. Meanwhile, one thing is clear this stuff is on other buildings, sufficient history exists to call it into question therefore immediate action to remove it seems logical. It is a nightmare logistically i admit but it needs to come off.
Declaring an opinion on that is still withholding one on the specifics of this fatal blaze. There are serious political reasons for skewing the facts in this case and plenty of media commentators with axes to grind. I will wait on the search for evidence and that will apparently take several weeks.
I don’t know how everyone feels about this situation because at the time of writing I am unsure myself. In an article in the Construction Index, CSCS head of communications Alan O’Neile attempts to give guidance on the carding scheme regarding none construction workers.
Catering, Delivery and Cleaners
Of course there are other related occupations that could require access to an active building project and they would not need any qualifications in construction. It seems logical that they should not require a card. Then again, rightly, Alan O’Neile points out that without some qualifications it is up to the site manager to ensure they are escorted or at least inducted on safety in order to stay safe.
How many people would that be on say a project like the Spurs stadium? Yeah it is common sense not to turn everyone without a card away from a site if their roll is not construction. The flip side to the coin is without some knowledge of construction safety how could they be left to go about their business if it meant accessing several parts of a site?
‘CSCS has stopped issuing cards for these and many other non-construction related occupations’
As the article states some sites are still operating a strict 100% card policy and that is causing problems because of the CSCS change. If managers don’t restrict access in some cases and something happens are they liable? The answer to that is yes.
Alan O’Neile continued:’We are not asking site managers to allow just anyone on site. If a worker is there to carry out a construction related activity then a card is required as proof of their training and qualifications. If they are there to perform a non-construction related activity it becomes the responsibility of site managers to induct and escort these people to ensure they remain safe at all times when on site.’
I see what they are saying but I would prefer some clarification for large sites. What do you thing?
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?