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.
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 .
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.