Category Archives: Health and Safety

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

 

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

The Highest Work Place Fall Survived

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.

White DC 9 in a colour shot from 2009. Seen here climbing at a 45 degree angle.
Wikipedia shot of a DC9 climbing sharply. Thanks to Wikipedia, Anthony92931

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.

black and white passport type shot showing a pretty light haired girl.
Vesna Vulovic when she was 23.

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.

Regards

Chris Hodge

Main source article The Daily Telegraph

 

Other Places and Their Weird Work Place Risks

Two bear cubs play fighting

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.

Take care out in the woods,

Chris Hodge

Reversing Telehandler Kills One and Sees Firm in Court

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.

orange telehandler the long arm collecting material.
Telehandler. The image is with thanks to Calibas Wikipedia

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.

Watch out for yourselves out there.

Regards

Chris Hodge

Sources. Devonlive.com Click here

Construction Index Click here

Related articles on here:

Australian Firm Fine in Power Line Accident

Trench collapses injuring worker

The worst health and safety fail that looked safe. Watershed worker killed in New York.

Age Counts When it Comes to Health and Safety

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.

Regards

Chris Hodge

Source article at healthandsafetyatwork.com Click here 

In year HSE fatalities at work Click here

Quirky Video Highlights the Dangers of H2S

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.

Anyway I will get on and wish you a good day.

Chris Hodge