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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That is a bold statement and to be honest I would accept arguments on other cases without much protest. For me, the worst health and safety fail that looked safe happened to Archie Tyler in 2001.
Mr Tyler was a watershed maintenance worker in the Bronx, New York. This 43 year old guy was dispatched with colleagues to the Jerome Park Reservoir. Jerome Park is in the Bronx and the reservoir is about a football field in size. It was built in 1906 as part of the water supply system for the New Croton Aqueduct.
By the time Mr Tyler arrived on that awful day the water was about 2 feet deep and it was seen as a risk. Not that it seemed a risk to the workers. The concern was that mosquitoes would breed and spread the West Nile River Virus. At 08.30 am the three man crew took to a small boat and paddled out to where the central drain was located. This had become clogged with debris and needed clearing. Mr Tyler got out of the boat and using a rake began to move the obstruction.
The drain, which had no grating, led to a 20 inch pipe. Once it was cleared the water surged into the new opening.
So there was the scene. Mr Tyler was held by his colleagues as the pressure tried to force him into the pipe. What could they do? They were in a boat and could lend no purchase, the bottom of the reservoir was algae covered and slippery.
Fire service personnel found Mr Tyler’s body when they accessed the drain via a maintenance hatch. He had been sucked down 15 feet and then into a connecting pipe, he had then been dragged 200ft until his body was lodged at a bend.
Union local President Ed Bennett said, ‘ If you saw the drain and the water, you really wouldn’t expect that cleaning the drain could put your life at risk. Still, DEP ( Department of Environmental Protection) had a responsibility to evaluate the job for any possible hazards, which could have prevented this tragedy.’
The Tragic Fact: Water, Fire, Weight, Height and Electricity Kill
It is the terrible consequence of being taken into that pipe that haunts me a little bit. I am not going to speculate on exactly what happened after Mr Tyler went under. I have looked for the findings of the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau investigation and I cannot locate it online. At the time the local DEP were criticised for not providing a tripod support for harnesses and for providing no information about the risks involved ahead of time. I can’t comment on if they were finally found at fault. I can say that in 2 foot of water nothing usually looks dangerous.
Now I have heard this story of course my approach would be cautious. Unfortunately that is how health and safety has progressed. Our own safety has often been assured because of people like Archie Tyler. Honestly speaking? If I had been on that crew on that day in 2001, I might have been the one with the rake, all the while thinking, ‘ This won’t take long.’
Does anyone recall the hilarious debate that Monty Python did about the Romans? A room full of Zealots were being stirred into a frenzy against the empire. The speaker was in the end defeated because instead of the Romans being seen as a negative, the room kept listing the benefits they had brought. That is how I feel sometimes. What has Health and Safety ever done for us?
It HAS given us three words most likely to have people dozing off, I will concede that. It has also provided a host of people who take the goals of health and safety and make bizarre and extreme demands in the work place.
In one instance a health and safety inspector was at a training business and was shown into the training room. It was not large, about five metres by five. It had a single double pair of doors and two ground floor windows. The woman looked around and was overall satisfied then she asked the trainer if he thought there was one improvement that could be made.
He couldn’t think of any. She smiled in a friendly way but with an air of tut tut.
‘ A fire exit sign over the doors would be a good idea.’
In order to walk in to see the sign they had to go through those doors. That is what gives us a bad name in this business.
On the plus side, and I would argue there is an overwhelming plus side, I’ll simply address THE reason that my job exists at all and I will do it not with words but pictures. Take a look at the below.
The vast majority of people will apply common sense to all manner of work place tasks. It is the minority that cost them and others their lives, it is the few that make your business a headache and can catapult a reputation into tabloid heaven. In the above I can only identify a couple of the examples as being from the UK and the reason for that is health and safety law. We can laugh at other countries featured here but we used to do the same things and given the chance would do them again.
What Could Go Wrong?
It isn’t that anyone does things like the above thinking it will go wrong. That has to be the one issue I deal with most onsite. It is usually a case of the goal and time pressure becoming the priority. The problem is that when a hasty solution fails it normally costs more time than it was meant to save.
No-one wants to stand in the way of progress out of sheer obstinacy, okay maybe some do, in my case I want to get the tasks done, I need that success as much as anyone. However, I can’t allow unreasonable working practise because I know that bad things can happen. It is all part of understanding how industry works, wanting it to work while at the same time applying practical, justifiable safety codes.
Those dull old health and safety standards that summon the Sandman for some people have given countless others their lives and business the opportunity to achieve goals while staying out of court.
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