The horrific fire that destroyed people and the Grenfell Tower they lived in has had only one positive result. So far 75 tower blocks have been identified as being at risk.
The instant blame that followed this awful event surprised me in one major way, the cause talked about within hours turned out to be accurate. Normally assumption is the mother of all…mess ups. I have been around industry long enough to not be surprised that combustible material was used. I’d hoped it wasn’t but when it was confirmed there was no shock for me or many up and down the country.
I certainly would like to believe it was an oversight, that somewhere between the plans and the execution of the Grenfell refurbishment someone screwed it up. Yeah I know how that sounds and I ‘m going to leave it there in the slim hope the inquiry sheds a more humane light on the circumstances.
75 Tower Blocks Below Code
All over the UK teams have been taking hastily put together advice from the government and scouring buildings with aluminium composite insulation. Samples have been taken and tested. Not all cladding is as risky as that which killed all those people but much is close to the line. In this atmosphere I am surer of action than I am about my hopes for an innocent mistake having been made on Grenfell.
Well that is going to be frantic and the price tag absolutely immense. The 75 suspect buildings are as it stands now with the search continuing for more. All of it has to be done yesterday with logistical reality slowing progress. Meanwhile the local authorities and fire services nationally are reviewing safety procedures. All I am left with is a lesson that I know but there is never harm in being reminded. The devil is in the detail. That is a saying as old as the hills. I wonder when we can have it engraved on every office wall, mug and written on every letterhead.
In a recent HSE case the circumstances of a workers injuries were examined. It was a simple enough process for Weymouth Magistrates Court. The worker was hit by falling scaffolding poles that were being lifted up on a stillage attachment.
The attachment was not up to the load, 1000kg, there were deficiencies in the planning of such operations and the whole thing cost two firms fines, one of £145,000.
I am not being glib, nor am I micro assessing in hindsight. The worker was hit in the shoulder and head. Fortunately her injures were not life changing but with that weight dropping from over 10 metres survival was just a matter of centimetres.
Managing a Site
In this case there were problems of managing risk between firms on the same project.
It isn’t easy. Lessons learned in this case about lifting loads above people were not remembered and it is dangerously easy to do. What people on the outside do not get is that a project is like a machine consisting of a huge number of parts. Unfortunately these parts are independent minded, they are not bolted together, they do strange things.
Apart from the organised chaos the phone rings, problems occur and visitors bend your ear. When it comes to contractors their activities fall under your responsibility but the moment to moment stuff is in their hands.
As a contractor the same applies to your crew. Overall you know what is going on and any falling weight that hits workers is your problem. That said the phone rings, a problem comes up and it is easy to take your eye off the ball.
As a worker your safety and that of those around you is your problem during all work activities but the boss is on your back, a problem occurs or someone commences work in a risky place while you are concentrating on your task at hand.
What Makes the Difference
Well sadly if someone is setting up a lift or is lifting with people under the load and you don’t see it only one thing will keep the fines away…risk assessments, records and associated action. It is all about keeping people safe first but you can’t control all these moving parts every second. The paperwork and implementing risk assessments is a pain but £145,000 plus lost time, plus court time, plus possibly being responsible for a death?
Clear underneath any lifting. The HSE rep in this case said, where ever possible, I say just don’t do it. That was 500kg falling 10 metres, it happens so we have to plan for it happening and show we did so. A good implemented plan might mean someone going home that night and a bit of a clear up and cursing. I’ll take that over what happened in the below article any day.
Healthandsafetyatwork.com article on above case. Click here
Lone working happens in all industries. In construction I am thinking of site visiting, administration after hours and lone contractors specifically.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, set up following the awful disappearance of a young estate agent in 1986, were recently at the ExCel Safety and Health Expo.
Code for the Safety of Lone Workers
It is easy to think of what happened to Suzy Lamplugh as a totally different set of circumstances to those found in construction, manufacturing or even off shore.
People do work alone and some distance from the nearest available help. By definition the general public are kept away from many of our workplaces. Sometimes the places we work are pretty isolated.
Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety says organisations should:
‘- Implement a buddy system (so colleagues always know each other’s whereabouts and contact details. This should include checking in and out when meeting arriving at and leaving the property, including out of normal office hours)
– Have a system in place for colleagues to raise the alarm back at the office in case of an emergency while working alone
– Have a clear procedure to follow if someone does not return or check in when they were expected
– Where possible, arrange for viewers to visit the office before meeting them at the property so that colleagues have also seen them
– Offer all staff a personal safety alarm and have discreet lone worker devices available. Before conducting a viewing, find out who else will be present in the property (current tenant, contractors etc.) when you visit
– Finally, make sure all staff are aware of and have access to the personal safety measures available’
Looking Beyond the Threats in Specific Industries
Generally our sort of work has a reputation, one that it is hard to get around even when we read the above. Not all construction workers, oil workers or engineers are tough to the point of fighting two burglars who wander onto a site. Our workers are not immune to sexual assault ( sorry to those who haven’t heard- I mean both sexes) none of us are immune to falls or other accidents or finally medical emergencies.
Going through the points in the code our work is covered by all of them at some stage. In addition there is that responsibility to watch out for those working for you. If push comes to shove and horrible people hurt your staff questions may well be asked about assessments that should have been made.
Stay Macho by All Means but Heart Attack!
We could debate all day as to who is vulnerable or who could take on a young Mike Tyson (probably no-one). a medical emergency can happen to anyone, end of debate. So even if you can’t see such and such as being vulnerable in any other way then the above code covers tragic sudden illness.
If I can help with any of the above then please contact me in the comments .
Wessexmoor Ltd were running a project that involved roof work in Glycena Road, London. Ali Mucoj, 56, fell of the rear section of the roof where there was no guard. He suffered bleeding on the brain and a broken leg.
Southwark Magistrates imposed the fine and costs of £7000 because it held the company had breached HSE regulations regarding safe working at height.
Mr Mucoj, will have to live with the effects of the injuries for the rest of his life.
I am not being holier than thou, this is another example of something that is all too common when it comes to roof work and in my experience workers themselves are just as culpable. I am not referring to this specific case. I say quick job or protracted job, if it involves height the safety rails etc are not an optional extra. It is the law and even though people I respect curse at the inconvenience the above is what happens when things go wrong. £160,000 would sink many firms I know. At least the insurance premiums would knock them to one side the following year. Not worth the risk to life, limb or bank account in my book.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.