Safety Matters August 2021
COVID-19 safety-Spotlight on ventilation
Although mandatory COVID-19 safety measures have now been lifted in England (face coverings are still required in some settings in Scotland and Wales), the government provides detailed suggestions on steps which can be taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. Of course, there is still overarching health and safety law which sets out legal obligation to keep workers safe too.
Many COVID-19 safety steps will be second nature by now – regular cleaning of communal areas, turning people away if they have symptoms, but there is one aspect of recommended COVID-19 safety that has become increasingly prominent – ventilation.
The law has always required employers to provide adequate ventilation. Since the pandemic, this has become even more important.
The main way of spreading COVID-19 is through:
- Close contact with an infected person;
- When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles (droplets and aerosols) containing the virus that causes COVID-19. These particles can be breathed in by another person.
Social distancing and cleaning can help to reduce droplet and contact transmission, but adequate ventilation is the only way to defend against aerosol transmission.
When thinking about your workplace you will be able to identify two types of ventilation which may be present – natural and mechanical. Natural ventilation is the air that circulates through open doors and windows. Mechanical ventilation refers to fans and ducts that bring in air from outside or recirculated air. In most cases, natural air circulation will be enough to ventilate an indoor space.
Look around and see if you can identify any poorly ventilated areas. Things to watch out for include:
- Communal areas with no open windows or doors.
- Mechanical ventilation systems that only recirculate indoor air rather than bringing in fresh air from outside.
- Parts of the building that feel stuffy or have a bad smell.
CO2 monitors are a good way to gauge ventilation on an ongoing basis.
Also take into account the nature of the space. Larger rooms may require less ventilation because aerosol droplets have more room to disperse. Rooms that are frequently crowded or are home to strenuous activity will need more ventilation. Remember to include non-working areas such as changing rooms and canteens.
If you identify that ventilation needs to be improved, there are several simple actions to try before considering any more costly installations. Natural ventilation can be improved by –
- Opening doors and windows during the day (excluding fire doors).
- Allowing staff to wear extra clothing in winter so that windows can be left open.
- “Purging” unoccupied rooms by opening all doors and windows.
You can improve the efficiency of mechanical ventilation systems by making sure that all equipment is regularly inspected and properly maintained. In addition to this, adjust your system to maximise fresh air intake and prevent recirculation of air.
For advice on ventilation or any other aspect of COVID-19 safety, contact your local H&S Dept.
Pain in the neck!
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as back pain and arthritis affect almost 19 million people in the UK. They are also a leading cause of poor health in the workplace, accounting for 30% of all work-related illness and 27% of sick days.
Employees working in physically demanding industries such as construction are at particular risk. These sectors are covered by specific legislation, such as The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations. These make it the duty of employers to limit the damage caused by long-term exposure to vibrations from vehicles, machinery or hand tools.
For most businesses though, the risks will be less specific. MSDs thrive in an office environment. Many injuries are caused by lifting and carrying objects incorrectly. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations require you to carry out a risk assessment on all manual handling tasks that could cause injury. You can also offer manual handling training to show your employees the safest way to perform manual tasks.
Poor posture is another major cause of MSDs. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations require you to carry out a DSE assessment on all workstations and provide training to staff on correct posture. You could also consider purchasing an ergonomic chair, keyboard or mouse if an employee is complaining of discomfort due to a medical condition confirmed by their GP.
Workplace fatalities up
The HSE has just published its annual figures on workplace fatalities. A total of 142 workers were killed in the twelve months leading up to March 2021, sadly an increase of 29 compared with fatalities in the previous year. It is worth noting that deaths in 2019/20 were unusually low. The impact of multiple lockdowns, sudden changes in working practices and factors like the furlough scheme in 2020/21 also makes it difficult to compare this year to others.
Unsurprisingly, the mortality rate is much higher in certain industries. As in previous years, construction, forestry and manufacturing accounted for the majority of deaths. This also explains the most common causes of death – falls from height and accidents involving vehicles.
However, this does not mean that other employers have nothing to worry about. Last year there were 11 deaths of those working in administrative or support roles, an increase of three from the previous year. Without going into the details of these deaths, we can say that consistently following good health and safety practice will reduce the likelihood of a serious accident in the office.
Regular risk assessments are vital and must be reviewed on a regular basis e.g. on an annual basis. In these, you should pay particular attention to tripping hazards and heavy objects stored above head-height. You should also make sure that fire safety training is up to date, and that fire exits are unobstructed.
It is worth noting that older employees are disproportionately vulnerable to workplace injuries. Well prepared risk assessments will always reflect the need to identify and protect vulnerable people.
Cross-border H&S in the UK
COVID-19 safety guidelines are being relaxed across the UK, but each nation is taking a slightly different approach. Facemasks are a good example. With a few exceptions, masks are no longer compulsory in England. However, they are still a legal requirement in Scotland and in some settings in Wales.
There are also specific variations when it comes to workplace health and safety. All UK employers are required to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, but each nation has published its own guidelines. If you operate in more than one nation, be aware that official advice may differ.
Of course, this is nothing new. National variations in health and safety law have long occurred. For example, Scottish fire safety legislation has been distinct from the rest of the UK since the introduction of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.
If you operate across more than one country in the UK and you want to ensure your health and safety policy is compliant in each nation, contact your local H&S Dept.
Mythbusters: summer edition
Last month’s heatwave may have been a bit much for some, but there’s still plenty of summer left to enjoy. As the country enjoys large outdoor celebrations for the first time in months, we thought we’d take a look at some seasonal attempts to scapegoat health and safety legislation.
In a previous summer, a borough council celebrated the Tour De France by hanging 20,000 knitted jerseys on lampposts. It was asked to remove the jerseys by the county council, who claimed that they were compromising the structural integrity of the lampposts. It turned out that the problem was not the jerseys themselves, but the wire used to attach them. So an alternative display method would allow the jerseys to be displayed without health and safety cancelling the celebration.
In another unusual turn of events, concertgoers were told that they couldn’t bring umbrellas to an outdoor performance “for health and safety reasons”. The idea that umbrellas are too dangerous in an outdoor setting is ridiculous. After all, the outdoors is what they’re designed for! The real issue was a concern that those at the front would obscure everyone else’s view. Surely “No umbrellas in the front row” might have been a better rule…?
Safety Matters June 2021
Back to the office: your safety checklist
The end of lockdown may have been delayed, but it buys further time to plan a safe return to work for you and your employees. The important thing is not to rush the transition. Even when restrictions are lifted, COVID safety measures will still be necessary for the foreseeable future.
These are set out in the government’s secure guidelines for offices and contact centres. The guidelines include eight steps that all employers should take when reopening an office:
Complete a COVID-19 risk-assessment
As always, your first step should be carrying out a risk assessment. This should consider the safety of both employees and visitors, paying special attention to vulnerable people. Be sure to share this risk assessment with colleagues and give them an opportunity to flag up additional risks you may have missed.
Cleaning remains an effective strategy against COVID-19 transmission. You should clean the office regularly, focusing on communal spaces and frequently touched areas. Hand sanitiser should be provided for colleagues and visitors, and regular hand washing should be encouraged.
Enforce mask wearing
Mask wearing is still compulsory in indoor public spaces for anyone who isn’t medically exempt. You may want to put up signs to remind visitors of the law.
Maintain social distancing
The current guidelines still require people to stay at least 2m apart unless further control measures are in place. Consider putting up signs or implementing a one-way system to help enforce this.
COVID thrives in enclosed spaces so it’s important to provide adequate ventilation. You can create natural ventilation by opening doors and windows, or you can use fans and ducts to circulate fresh air from the outside mechanically.
Take part in Test and Trace
You should record the names and contact details of all staff and visitors and pass them on to the NHS Test and Trace team if asked. These details should be destroyed after 21 days.
Look out for symptoms
Any employees with a high temperature or a persistent cough should be sent home and told to self-isolate. Any visitors with these symptoms should be turned away.
Consider the mental health of your employees
The prospect of returning to work will be a daunting one for some employees. Talk to your staff about their anxieties and try to calm their fears. If employees are continuing to work from home, be sure to make regular contact to prevent feelings of isolation.
Please don’t rush your return, make sure it is done safely. These are only the minimums you should be considering and certain scenarios will require specific control measures. If you need advice on reopening safely, we’re here to help.
RIDDOR: Why it is vital to report accidents
A recent prosecution has shown how important it is for employers to report accidents to the HSE. The head of a construction company was jailed for 24 weeks after failing to report an incident in which an employee’s leg was crushed by an excavator. As well as failing to notify the HSE, the employer had also failed to provide adequate safety training.
As you probably know, the reporting of accidents is covered by RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). Employers must report serious accidents, occupational diseases and certain types of near miss within ten days. You can do this through a form on the HSE website.
Reporting accidents is important for two reasons. It helps you to identify areas of risk in your own workplace and introduce safety measures to manage them. It also allows the government to spot recurring dangers in certain industries and create legislation in response.
Does your equipment meet health and safety standards?
The HSE recently prosecuted a Nottingham metal manufacturer for failing to keep one of its forklift trucks in good working order. This led to an accident in which an employee was trapped between the truck and a rack of metal pipes. The company was found guilty of breaching the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and fined £80,000.
PUWER doesn’t just apply to heavy machinery. It covers work equipment of all kinds, whether you own it or simply use it. The definition of “equipment” is broad, encompassing everything from power tools to computers. Even if you work in a low-risk environment, you need to make sure that everything is properly maintained.
The full regulations are highly detailed, but the basics are simple. You must ensure that all equipment is in good repair and is checked regularly. Equipment should only be used for its intended purpose, and only by those who are properly trained. If the safety of a piece of equipment depends on its correct installation, you should inspect it after it is installed and before it is used, this includes an accompanying safety measures – for instance guards on machinery.
If you have any questions about PUWER and how it applies to your workplace, don’t hesitate to ask us.
Returning to the office? Don’t forget about fire safety and first aid
Despite delays to the end of lockdown, many employees will be returning to the office over the summer. This will create a number of challenges. Both the layout of your office and the working patterns of employees are likely to have changed. Desks will have been rearranged to facilitate social distancing and staggered shifts may have come into force. This means you may need to modify some of your existing safety measures.
This is especially true in the case of fire safety. You should perform a new fire risk assessment to make sure that evacuation routes are still clear, and to spot any new fire risks that may have been caused by rearranging the office.
Workplaces are still required to appoint fire safety wardens to assist the designated “responsible person”. You should check your shift patterns to make sure that there are sufficient wardens. Official guidance acknowledges the need for some flexibility. You may consider consolidating workers in one area to reduce the number of wardens required, if social distancing permits.
First aid may also be affected. In this case, your legal obligations are the same as ever. As a minimum, all workplaces should have a first aid box and someone in charge of restocking it. More hazardous workplaces may require first aid-trained colleagues on site. Once again, a risk assessment is the place to start. This will help you identify any gaps in first aid cover and find ways to fill them.
Mythbusters – back to the office
With employees set to return to the office over the summer, health and safety guidelines will be more important than ever. H&S legislation does not reach as far as some people like to make out though. Here are two office-based myths that were submitted to the HSE myth buster panel, where H&S law was wrongly cited.
An HR manager refused to buy weights for the company gym on the grounds of “health and safety”. There is nothing in health and safety legislation that prohibits the use of weights in a gym. In fact, the provision of workout equipment is likely to have a positive effect on employee wellbeing. There may have been a good reason for the decision, but it had nothing to do with health and safety law.
Breath of fresh air
In another case of H&S scapegoating, office employees were forbidden from opening third floor windows. It may be necessary to lock high windows if there is a genuine risk of someone falling out, but these windows were safe. Instead, the decision seems to have been an attempt to hide problems with the office’s air conditioning system. It is better to have an open conversation about an issue rather than just blame health and safety.
Safety Matters April 2021
How to deal with near misses
in the workplace
Crossrail has announced the introduction of a new health and safety directive after the project suffered five near misses in the space of a month. All five incidents took place in February and were classified as HPNMs (High Potential Near Misses), meaning that they had the potential to cause serious harm
The most worrying of these was the derailment of an engineering train. The other four incidents included the unsafe use of a saw, the cutting of a potentially dangerous wire and a test train being sent in the wrong direction.
This is not to say that Crossrail is failing to protect its employees. In fact, Crossrail has an improving safety record with no reportable accidents in February at all. This story just goes to show that near misses can happen in any workplace. The important thing is responding to them correctly. So, what is a near miss?
The HSE defines a near miss as an event that did not cause harm but had the potential to do so. In this case, “harm” includes both physical injury and illness. An example of a near miss would be someone losing their footing at height but managing to steady themselves.
The reporting of workplace injuries and accidents is a legal requirement under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013).
Generally speaking, you do not have to report near misses to the HSE. However, some near misses may also fall into the category of “dangerous occurrences”. These are specific incidents which must be reported under RIDDOR. A full list of these can be found on the HSE website.
Even where it may not be a legal requirement, recording near misses has several advantages for employers:
- Recording near misses allows you to spot patterns. Several near misses in the same area are a sure sign that something is wrong.
- Investigating near misses allows you to avoid more serious incidents by implementing the necessary safety measures at an earlier stage. Averting potential accidents will improve efficiency and could even save lives.
- Near misses can form the basis of safety training. Relating safety measures to a recent near miss can act as a wake-up call for employees, ensuring that they pay attention.
If you would like to introduce an internal near miss reporting policy to improve your culture of health and safety, get in touch.
Do you operate in a high-risk sector
A new report from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IACC) has concluded that in a number of sectors COVID-19 significantly increases the risk of death for workers. The study found that the mortality rate had doubled for those working in nursing, social care, retail, food processing, security and bus and taxi driving. The danger was especially great for male workers, but women also faced an elevated level of risk.
Despite these findings, the IIAC stopped short of recommending that COVID-19 be added to the list of “prescribed diseases” covered by Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. This is because there is not currently enough data to prove a definite link between contracting COVID-19 at work and long-term disability.
Despite the fact that COVID-19 will not be classified as an occupational disease for the time being escalating further the response to it, it is essential you go as far as you reasonably can to minimise the danger if you operate in these sectors.
If you work in a high-risk sector, you should be carrying out regular, thorough risk assessments. These should acknowledge the heightened risk that you and your employees face as well as setting out measures to reduce the danger.
Many of these measures will already be familiar to you, but once the policy has been devised it is particularly important to ensure you have a culture of health and safety compliance within your organisation. Check in with your staff regularly to make sure that policies are being followed.
Section 44 extended to workers
As more workplaces begin to reopen, you’re sure to be doing everything you can to protect your staff from coronavirus. However, some staff may be more anxious than others. So what should you do if an employee refuses to come to work?
Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 states that an employee may leave the workplace or refuse to attend work if they feel that their safety is under threat. As long as this belief is genuine, the employer cannot punish them for their actions.
A recent High Court ruling has extended the same protection to those with “worker” status. From 31st May, both employees and workers will have the right not to be penalised if they leave or refuse to return to the workplace. For this protection to apply, they must believe that the danger is serious and imminent, and cannot be reasonably averted.
This situation is, of course, best avoided. Reviewing health and safety policies to ensure they reflect this change is a sensible first step, followed by clear communication with your whole team. If an employee or worker still feels unsafe and acts under section 44, you’ll need to work with them on health and safety to find an appropriate way forward. Any detriment they suffer could expose you to litigation. If you want to discuss this in more detail, please get in touch.
Unlimited fines for some breaches
of fire safety regulations
You may remember our recent article on the proposed Fire Safety Bill. The bill, which is currently working its way through the House of Lords, is an amendment to the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO). It aims to improve fire safety by clarifying aspects of the FSO relating to external walls, communal areas and building structure, as well as providing a platform for secondary legislation.
At the same time, the Building Safety Bill is being developed, which contains further fire safety measures. These aim to improve fire safety risk assessments and increase accountability. One thing in particular to highlight is that anyone who impersonates or obstructs a fire safety officer can now face an unlimited fine as could those breaching fire safety regulations laid out in the FSO.
The fire and building safety bills have relevance to commercial as well as residential premises, so it’s important to know your responsibilities. As well as raising the quality of fire risk assessments and the proficiency of people completing them, they intend that for regulated buildings, important fire safety information will in future be retained throughout their lifespan.
Sport and health and safety have always overlapped to an extent. While some rules are necessary to avoid injury, being overcautious can suck all the fun out of a game. Now that outdoor sport has resumed in the UK, we thought we’d take a look at some unsporting attempts to scapegoat health and safety legislation.
The players at a rugby club were told that they couldn’t play in wet and muddy conditions for health and safety reasons. The reality was a little more complex. The club had recently suffered serious flooding, meaning that a proper assessment was needed before play could resume. The risk of contamination from flood water was likely to have been as much of a factor as the risk of injury. Simply blaming “health and safety” meant that the players didn’t receive a satisfactory explanation of what was happening.
In an even stranger case, a golf club refused to post the minutes of its committee meeting on a bulletin board “for health and safety reasons”. It is possible that they had confused data privacy with health and safety but, more likely, it was another attempt to shift the blame for an unpopular decision. We call that foul play.
Safety Matters February 2021
Spotlight on COVID safety in the office
We’re sure you’ve been doing everything you can to reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak in your office. This is more important than ever now recent findings suggest that offices have become transmission hotspots.
Records from Public Health England show that there were more suspected outbreaks in offices during the second half of 2020 than in restaurants, supermarkets, construction sites and warehouses combined. This trend continued into 2021, with over 60 office outbreaks reported in the first two weeks of the latest lockdown.
Although you probably know the basic safety advice off by heart, it’s worth refreshing your memory on some of the finer points. Under the current lockdown rules, all employees should work from home if possible. However, there will be times when coming to the office is unavoidable. For these cases, the government has outlined eight key safety measures:
1. Complete a COVID-19 risk assessment. This should be shared with all staff so that everyone understands their responsibilities.
2. Clean the office regularly, focusing on frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and lift buttons. Provide hand sanitiser for all staff and visitors and encourage frequent hand washing.
3. Ask all visitors to wear face coverings unless they are exempt.
4. Maintain social distancing for all staff and visitors. You can make this easier by rearranging desks, putting up signs and introducing a one-way system.
5. Ensure the building is properly ventilated. You can improve natural ventilation by opening doors and windows, but remember that you need to keep staff warm during the winter. It may be a good idea to relax your company’s dress code so that employees can wear extra layers. Mechanical ventilation systems can also help, but you should avoid those that recirculate air rather than drawing fresh air from outside.
6. Keep an attendance record of all staff and visitors for 21 days. This will allow you to assist the NHS Test and Trace team if necessary.
7. Turn away people with symptoms and send sick employees home. Any visitor or employee with a temperature, persistent cough or loss of taste or smell should be told to self-isolate.
8. Pay attention to mental health. Check in regularly with remote employees and make it clear that anyone who is struggling can come to you for help. The government has published detailed advice on mental health during the pandemic, so be sure to read this and share it with your employees.
What does the Fire Safety Bill mean for workplaces?
The Grenfell Tower disaster shocked us all and led to widespread calls for more robust fire safety legislation. A new Fire Safety Bill has followed, which recently had its third reading in the House of Lords. The bill clarifies certain aspects of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, particularly those relating to communal areas, external walls and building structure.
Some aspects will apply to commercial premises as well as residential ones. This means that it could have implications for your existing workplace health and safety practices.
Confusingly, a “responsible person” known from fire safety regulation (such as a building owner or an employee given fire safety duties) may have duties which overlap with an “accountable person” as described in the new Buildings Safety Bill which is also being prepared. Under the existing Fire Safety Order, the responsible person is the employer as long as they have some degree of control over the premises. This is likely to remain the case when the new bill comes into effect.
This means that it’s essential to clarify who is responsible for what. It will be more important than ever to put everyone’s duties in writing, and make sure you know where the line is between the “responsible person” and the “accountable person” if both are relevant for your building. If you have any questions, we’re here to help.
Managing the health & safety of lone workers
The COVID-19 outbreak has greatly affected working patterns. With the arrival of staggered shifts and widespread remote working, you may have employees working alone for the first time.
If you employ roles like cleaners or security staff you will already have some experience with managing lone workers. For many though, this will be uncharted territory. It is therefore important to be aware of the unique dangers of lone working, and to understand your responsibilities towards solitary employees. Although many remote workers are technically lone workers, it’s important not to forget staff who may be unfamiliar with working alone on site.
The HSE categorises lone working as high-risk. Specific lone working risks include accidents, sudden illness and the threat of criminal intruders. There are also psychological dangers to consider such as loneliness and stress. This means that to remain compliant you must take extra precautions.
Start with a full risk assessment. You can adapt your existing risk assessments to fit the profile of lone working. This assessment should outline all potential risks and the ways to mitigate them. If you need help producing it, ask us.
One way of protecting lone workers from physical harm is by providing staff with monitoring devices or personal alarms. If you choose to do this, it is important to clarify who is responsible for maintaining and monitoring these devices.
In terms of mental well-being, regular check-ins may be a good way to combat feelings of loneliness. You should also make it clear that lone workers can approach you if they are struggling.
One in eight employees are going into work unnecessarily
As we’re sure you know, government advice is that employees should work from home whenever possible. However some employers aren’t taking this to heart. A recent poll by the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce found that one in eight employees had been forced to attend work when they could have worked remotely.
It is important to be sure that nobody is coming into the office unnecessarily. The HSE are continuing to conduct phone interviews and inspections, and will notice if a workplace seems overcrowded. Between 6 and 14 January alone, the HSE received 8,427 COVID-related complaints, 81 of which led to enforcement action.
The best place to start is with your existing COVID risk assessments. These should allow you to weigh up the safest place for each employee to work. In many cases, this will be from home. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Like many industries, construction was hit hard by the pandemic. But a record decline in March and April 2020 was followed by record growth in May and June, setting the industry on course for an inspiring comeback. We’d hate to see this progress hindered by incorrect health and safety information, so here are a couple of examples of health and safety being pursued just a little over-zealously.
A few years back a major civil engineering contractor insisted that all routine heavy lifting operations had to be directly supervised. This meant that an additional member of staff had to be present whenever anyone was using a lorry loader crane. When put to the HSE myth buster panel, they decided that this was unnecessary as long as the lift operator was properly trained. Unusually complex or dangerous lifting may require additional supervision, but the contractor must be able to justify their decision.
In a separate case, a building site operator told employees that they couldn’t wear shorts, insisting that they wear plastic waterproof trousers instead. It is true that certain tasks will require building site employees to wear PPE. For example, working with wet cement can cause skin irritation if legs are left uncovered. However, most of the time, shorts are completely acceptable. Not that we imagine many workers will be showing up in shorts during this February freeze.
Safety Matters Q4 2020
A steer from the courts on vicarious liability
Most people enjoy a laugh, but practical jokes are best avoided in the workplace. From a legal point of view, they carry risk of vicarious liability for the employer if things go wrong and somebody is hurt. A recent case involving a practical joke on a construction site helps to demonstrate the issues and where a line may be drawn.
The incident took place on a site operated by a construction firm. One employee brought two “pellet targets” to work and placed them near the ear of a contractor working on the site. The perpetrator then hit the targets with a hammer, causing an explosion.
The victim suffered a perforated eardrum and long-term hearing loss. The culprit was quickly sacked, but the victim decided to bring proceedings against the company. He alleged that it had breached its duty of care and was vicariously liable for the perpetrator’s actions.
During County Court proceedings, the victim claimed that he had previously informed the company of tensions between employees on the site. He argued that the company should have separated the employees before the incident could occur. He also alleged that it failed to provide adequate training or supervision to prevent practical jokes.
The company argued that the practical joke was completely outside the remit of the perpetrator’s employment, and therefore impossible to foresee as part of a risk assessment.
The court was sympathetic to the victim, but ultimately sided with the employer. The judge concluded that the workplace had “merely provided an opportunity to carry out the prank that he played, rather than the prank in any sense being in the field of activities that the company had assigned…”. He added that the perpetrator’s actions were so clearly unacceptable that the company could not have been expected to warn him against them. The victim took the case to the Court of Appeal but the original verdict was upheld.
As an employer, vicarious liability is a worrying concept. Some relief can be taken from this example and at least one other recent court case which ruled against vicarious liability where, among other factors, the employee was not acting to further the employer’s interests or under instruction.
That said, the clearer you are about what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and the more controls put in place, the less likely an incident is to occur.
Workplace fatality statistics
Every year we study the HSE’s workplace fatality statistics with interest. This year’s numbers are encouraging, but you should be wary of reading too much into them.
The latest report shows that 111 workers died in workplace accidents between July 2019 and July 2020. This is 38 fewer than the previous year, making it the lowest annual number on record.
With many workplaces shut down for several months, you would expect fatality numbers to fall. That said, deaths in the months before the pandemic were slightly down from the previous year. This suggests that safety is still improving, although perhaps not as quickly as the figures initially seemed to show.
Every workplace fatality is a tragedy and has far-reaching consequences. For example, earlier this year, a transport company was fined £5,000 (limited due to liquidation) after a driver was crushed to death by a pallet of stone tiles. The company was found to have exceeded the pallet weight limit by 400kg, and had failed to provide the driver with proper training. As well as the human cost, the company went into liquidation.
We all want to help drive the numbers down further. If you have had any near misses and need external H&S consultancy, contact our team.
Protecting staff from abuse by customers
If you work in a customer-facing business, you’ll be well aware that 2020 has been a challenging year. From long queues and panic buying to the ongoing implementation of social distancing guidelines, retail workers have had a lot to deal with.
Sadly, the public has not always been supportive. A recent survey of the UK’s top 100 retailers found that a third had experienced customer abuse during the pandemic. This rose to 70% for food and grocery retailers.
The November lockdown has forced consumers to leave their Christmas shopping until December, so busy stores and frayed tempers are likely. This makes it more important than ever to ensure the safety of your employees.
If you haven’t reviewed your risk assessment for work-related violence recently, now might be a good time to do so. By identifying the situations where staff are most vulnerable to customer abuse, you can introduce precautions to keep them out of harm’s way.
Do I need to report COVID-19 cases under RIDDOR?
As you probably already know, RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) is the law requiring you to report serious injuries and deaths in the workplace. But how does this relate to COVID-19?
You are not required to report infections or deaths of members of the public who have entered your premises. RIDDOR only applies to occupational exposure. So reportable infections or deaths must be the direct result of an incident at work. These fall into three categories:
First, the virus has been, or may have been, released into the workplace as a result of an incident or accident. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence. In these cases, it is not necessary to carry out any tests or analysis. It only requires a reasonable judgement that the incident caused actual or potential exposure.
Second, an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and this can be attributed to workplace exposure. It is up to you to judge whether an infection was the direct result of occupational exposure. You should fill out the “case of disease” report form and specify exposure to a biological agent as the cause.
Third, an employee’s death can be attributed to occupational exposure. If there is reasonable evidence that an employee’s death was caused by occupational exposure to COVID-19, you should notify the enforcing authority immediately and send a report within ten days. You should use the “case of disease” report form and specify exposure to a biological agent as the cause of death.
If you need more help understanding or complying with RIDDOR, please contact our experts.
We hate to see health and safety legislation used as a scapegoat, especially when it’s accused of ruining everyone’s fun. In this edition of myth busters, we set out to prove that health and safety is not on a mission to spoil your celebrations at Christmas.
Crossed off the Christmas card list
A card shop put up a sign saying that trolleys weren’t allowed due to “health and safety and the size of the store”. The sign makes it clear that space restrictions are the real reason for the rule – something completely separate from health and safety. Presumably, the manager felt that mentioning health and safety gave the rule more authority, but in reality it only created confusion.
Candle in the bin
In an even stranger case, a pub refused to light all of the candles on a birthday cake “for health and safety reasons”. We can promise you that there is no legislation limiting the number of candles on a birthday cake, or any other type of cake for that matter. Either the pub was being overcautious, or perhaps they had lost some of the candles.
From all of us at the Health & Safety Dept, have a happy Christmas and light as many candles as you want – as long as you do it safely!
Safety Matters Q3 2020
What to do if there is a COVID outbreak in your workplace
While overall cases of COVID-19 have fallen significantly across the UK from their peak, workplace clusters are catching the headlines: food processing businesses in particular, where several sites have reported dozens of cases.
As an employer, you will be as keen as anyone to do your bit in preventing an outbreak. Taking the necessary precautions will help you to avoid the costly disruption of an outbreak on your premises.
So what should you do if one of your staff develops symptoms? The first step is to send them home immediately. They should self-isolate for 10 days and members of their household or support bubble should do the same for 14 days.
After a symptomatic employee leaves the building, you are advised to clean the premises thoroughly. You should sanitise the workplace with disinfectant, paying particular attention to door handles, lift buttons, and other frequently touched areas.
Your employee will need to order a COVID-19 test by calling 119 or visiting the NHS website. If they test negative, they can return to work straight away. If they test positive, they must complete their 10-day isolation period.
They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace who will ask for the details of anyone they had close contact with in the previous 48 hours. Some of these contacts are likely to be colleagues, so expect the Test and Trace team to tell more of your staff to self-isolate. If more than two lab-confirmed cases are linked to a particular setting, Public Health England (PHE) deem it an outbreak.
If a cluster of cases is identified in or around your workplace, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) may wish to carry out an inspection, and PHE or an equivalent devolved body may investigate and offer specific support. This should be viewed as an offer of help rather than a punishment.
If the HSE identifies necessary changes, you will be given time and support to implement them. Although fines and closures can be imposed, this will only happen in cases of persistent non-compliance.
We are all resigned to COVID-19 being with us for some time. So review your risk assessments to ensure you are prepared for an outbreak. Employees should be consulted throughout this process and you should share the final version with them to gain their buy-in.
If you have any questions about COVID-19 safety, give us a call.
Returning to work: the risk of Legionnaires’ Disease
As workplaces reopen, employers face a new set of health and safety challenges. With many buildings left unoccupied for months on end, your returning employees could be at risk from an old threat: Legionnaires’ Disease.
Also known as Legionella, Legionnaires’ is a bacterial lung infection caused by breathing in water droplets found in stagnant water. Symptoms of Legionella include coughs, muscle pain and even pneumonia. It can be fatal.
Since many workplaces were forced to close in a hurry, you may not have had time to consider water safety. That’s why it is especially important to carry out adequate checks before reopening. Although there are no specific laws regarding the control of Legionnaires’ Disease, you are likely to have a legal duty to take the necessary steps. The Legionnaire Control Association (LCA) says:
“Simply reopening a building that has stood idle, without addressing the safety of its water system, is unacceptable and is likely to be in breach of the law.”
We’d advise a risk assessment for all premises that were closed during the lockdown, especially those reinstating a water system or restarting an air conditioner. Checks can be performed by a competent person within your business or an external contractor. If you have more than five employees, you must also make a note of anyone who may be particularly vulnerable to Legionella, such as those with respiratory conditions.
Remember that some of the symptoms of Legionnaires’ and COVID-19 are similar, and an employee who appears to have Coronavirus may actually be suffering from Legionella.
Do your COVID-19 risk assessments include vulnerable staff?
Millions of people have been affected by COVID-19, but not everyone has been affected equally. It is important to acknowledge this when carrying out your risk assessment.
Research shows that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) workers are disproportionately likely to die of COVID-19, especially if they work on the frontline of the NHS. One report showed that 75% of NHS workers who have died from the virus were from BAME backgrounds.
Yet long after this was known, it was reported that only 23% of NHS trusts had explicitly recognised this in their risk assessments. Many risk assessments also neglect to mention workers from other at-risk groups. These include older males, people with a high BMI, and people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes.
So when reviewing your risk assessments do acknowledge these discrepancies and set out measures to protect workers from vulnerable groups. It is not always obvious, so decide on how such people could be identified. These could include prioritising them for remote working, changing their tasks (within the scope of their contract), providing enhanced social distancing and hygiene measures in their vicinity, and making it clear that they can come to you with any concerns.
For help getting the nuance right in your risk assessment, give us a call.
What does the new school have in store?
Schools have been on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 from the very beginning. You and your colleagues have been put under immense pressure to ensure the safety and education of the UK’s children, all while managing the risks to your colleagues.
With the government committed to a full reopening of schools in Autumn, this pressure will only increase. Class sizes will return to pre-COVID levels, allowing less room for social distancing. Parents will be concerned and it may fall on you to reassure them by communicating the processes you have in place.
While newly reopened businesses are encountering safety issues for the first time, you have been dealing with them for months. You don’t need us to tell you about the importance of handwashing or social distancing, but the unexpected can still occur. If you are affected by a new issue such as a local lockdown, don’t hesitate to ask us for advice.
Too often, health and safety is used as a scapegoat for unpopular decisions. With the COVID-19 crisis making us more risk-averse than ever, it seems like a good time to bust a few old myths.
Throwing health and safety under the bus
Back in April, Colombia and Peru trialled lockdowns which permitted men and women to go out on alternate days. Both schemes proved unsuccessful and, fortunately, nothing similar was ever suggested in the UK!
But looking back through HSE myth buster cases we did see that a school bus company once cited health and safety laws as the reason for separating boys and girls on its buses. There is no such law, although bus drivers can separate pupils as they wish, in order to curb rowdy behaviour.
Health and safety or water cooler gossip?
A gym owner received a customer complaint about gym goers filling up their own bottles from the water cooler. The customer claimed that, for health and safety reasons, they should only use the paper cups provided.
At the time, there was no basis for this being a health and safety issue. Of course, we live in a very different world now. When gyms reopened on the 25 July, many had removed water coolers altogether to prevent the spread of germs.
Safety Matters Q2 2020
Covid-19: updating your risk assessments
With companies finding themselves in uncharted waters, many existing risk assessments will be rendered incomplete by the pandemic. So it’s important you review your risk assessments and update them in line with government advice on minimising the impact of coronavirus.
So what does a covid-19 risk assessment look like? As with any risk assessment, your covid-19 strategy should include facets like defining the risk, highlighting the people who are most vulnerable, laying out the steps that can be taken to minimise the risk, and assigning the responsibility for managing the risk.
For businesses where remote working is not an option there will be a general risk of spreading covid-19, and we’ll focus on that here as a useful example. You may also identify more specific risks that are relevant to your business. The content of your action plan will depend on your workplace, but there will be general actions that you should include:
Handwashing – In recent weeks, handwashing has gone from being a matter of basic hygiene to a matter of life and death. Your risk assessment should be altered to reflect this. Ensure that staff are provided with adequate handwashing facilities with soap, hot water and hand sanitiser. Paper towels or hand dryers should also be made available. Employees should be reminded to wash their hands regularly, both verbally and through the displaying of posters and leaflets if possible.
Social distancing – The public are being advised to minimise contact with others to prevent the spread of covid-19. A two-metre gap should be maintained between staff members, which might mean altering your ways of working to reduce the number of people on site. Your risk assessment may include strategies such as changing shift patterns and encouraging home working to reduce contact between staff. Employers should regularly remind employees of the importance of social distancing and check that the two-metre rule is adhered to.
Protective equipment – Although gloves and masks are not recommended as a general precaution, they are necessary in some industries. If RPE (respiratory protective equipment) is required, your risk assessment should reflect the need for masks to be tight-fitting and properly cleaned. Staff should be taught how to correctly disinfect protective equipment, and how to remove gloves in a way that prevents contamination.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have any questions about designing or implementing a covid-19 risk assessment, get in touch today.
Retail: Thinking beyond the shop floor
With almost all retail given permission to open for business, the size of the task of getting COVID-secure is becoming apparent. In a retail setting, much of the focus is on the shop floor and managing interactions with customers safely. Don’t neglect your supply chain from your COVID-19 risk assessment though.
In one sense this will be simpler, because you don’t have the X-factor of dealing with the public. But there are still human interactions to manage, and as with everything else social distancing and good hygiene practices should be at the heart of what you do.
What your plan includes will depend on the nature of your premises. In terms of the physical environment, review where drop-offs and pick-ups are made. Is it the best place available to you for managing social distancing? Have hand sanitiser available here and clear signage explaining how deliveries should be carried out.
From a staffing perspective, can deliveries be managed by one person? Or if not, have a dedicated pair or team of people to perform the task to reduce the number of possible interactions. If it is safe to do so, you may consider asking delivery drivers to stay in their vehicles, although you should also provide them safe access to welfare facilities if they need them.
Another quick win which may be possible is to streamline the number of deliveries you receive by ordering larger volumes less frequently. Taking the time to consider every step you can take to make your workplace safer is essential. As the nation’s largest retailer states: Every little helps.
How to look after your employees mental health when they are working from home
In just a few short weeks, the covid-19 outbreak has transformed us into a nation of home workers. Many employers have found themselves thrown in at the deep end, suddenly faced with the challenges of managing a remote workforce. Health and safety considerations are a part of this.
While managing physical risks is an important aspect of remote health and safety, it is also vital to consider the effects of lone working on your employees’ mental health. Feelings of isolation and an absence of clear lines of communication can be damaging too. So keep an eye out for red flags.
If you have more than five employees, update your written risk assessment to reflect this. Frequent contact is a must. Regular conference calls between you and staff are a great way to check up on the well-being of your employees and maintain a sense of team spirit while you are separated. And also encourage collaboration between team members to reinforce this.
Tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams make this easier than ever. Even if, as viral social media posts have shown us, you do run the risk of turning yourself into a potato or making some other faux pas by not understanding how fun filters and virtual backgrounds work. You do not have to include this in your risk assessment!
Relaxed driver hour regulations – but H&S still applies
As the covid-19 outbreak continues, delivery drivers have become more important than ever. With panic buying and staff illness leading to shortages of many essential supplies, the government temporarily relaxed EU and UK laws covering the hours that drivers can work. These changes allow drivers to work longer shifts if they are delivering food, personal care products, or pharmaceutical supplies. While many drivers will be keen to pitch in, as an employer your health and safety obligations still apply.
This is something that the government and HSE have emphasised.
Existing risk assessments dealing with driver fatigue are still applicable, but you may need to update them to address the risks of extended hours. If drivers are working longer shifts and taking shorter breaks, you must acknowledge the increased risk and find ways to mitigate it. It is important to remember that driver fatigue isn’t just a threat to the driver; it puts all road users at risk.
All the relaxations are temporary and under review. While some may have already expired, they demonstrate how risk assessments must be seen as adaptable to be fit for purpose. If you have any questions about updating or implementing your risk assessments in light of covid-19, don’t hesitate to give us a call.
Mythbusters: Covid-19 edition
Some companies are only too keen to use health and safety legislation as a scapegoat for their own unpopular decisions. The HSE has long been a defender of H&S integrity by dispelling such misconceptions. Here are a couple of previous examples that are especially relevant to the covid-19 outbreak.
The postman always texts twice
As key workers, delivery drivers are on the frontline of the fight against covid-19. A few years ago, a courier claimed that its drivers were not allowed to carry mobile phones due to health and safety legislation. This is untrue. Under the Road Traffic Act, couriers are subject to the same laws as any other motorists. They can use a mobile phone at the wheel but only with a hands-free device.
Buying paracetamol can be a headache
Since it was announced that paracetamol can be used to treat the symptoms of covid-19, there has been a distinct lack of it on our shelves. In January 2013, a supermarket customer was told that they couldn’t buy three packs of paracetamol at once “because of health and safety”. While UK law does limit the amount of paracetamol or aspirin that can be purchased in a single transaction, this has nothing to do with health and safety legislation. The law is governed by the MHRA (Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency) and is intended to prevent overdosing.
Safety Matters Q1 2020
Beyond COSHH when dealing with
In some industries, working with hazardous substances will be the mainstay of your business. You’ll be familiar with the law, with assessing risks and fulfilling your responsibilities. For others, this won’t be so clear – hazardous substances won’t be part of your core operations, but they may still be present on site. So it is important to be clear on what is expected of you.
COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) is the law requiring you to control hazardous substances. It regulates the labelling and handling of substances and lays down the principles of good practice.
As a business, you are required to find out what your health hazards are, provide control measures to reduce harm to health and ensure that those controls are used and in good working order. You also have a responsibility to educate and train your employees, protect those visiting your site and provide monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases.
But it’s not necessarily just COSHH that you have to consider, as these following two prosecution cases highlight. Depending on your sector, there may be other legislation relevant to you.
The HSE recently investigated and prosecuted a bio-sciences company for being in possession of a large quantity of infectious avian influenza and West Nile virus without licences.
The regulation dealing with these biological agents requires a licence under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008 (SAPO) and is necessarily strict to protect the UK livestock economy from exotic animal diseases. This particular company admitted to two breaches of Section 73(a) of the Animal Health Act 1981 and was fined heavily – £40,000 and they had to pay costs of £80,000.
A manufacturer of agricultural trailers received a 10-month suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 37 and 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
He was judged to have deliberately put his workers at risk of developing severe lung disease by regularly using aerosolised paints containing isocyanates and solvents without proper controls. At least one employee suffered a life-changing condition. The manufacturer also had to pay more than £5,000 in costs and carry out 20 hours of unpaid work.
In both instances, the companies were deemed to have paid insufficient attention to the use of the substances or care for the consequences of misuse.
You may be an expert on hazardous substances in need of a little clarification, or maybe you don’t know where to begin. Whatever your situation, we can help give advice and guidance to ensure you are following best practice and complying with all legislation relevant to your operations.
Scalding criticism for train operator
failing to go green
Protecting your employees and others from health and safety risks is generally accepted as an essential responsibility of an employer. But what happens when implementing necessary safety measures elicits criticism from other quarters?
This is exactly the dilemma faced by an Irish train operator which banned reusable cups on its trains. Safety concerns arose when the cups customers were bringing on to the train failed to fit underneath the nozzle of the hot drinks machine, so creating a risk of scalding. Train speeds exacerbated this concern and the company decided to stop the practice of filling up customers’ own cups.
This decision, made for sound health and safety reasons, had unanticipated consequences, however. The company faced vociferous criticism from its passengers for what was perceived as a retrograde, anti-environmental stance. In response to the backlash, the rail company began trialling its own reusable cup designed to fit under the nozzle – an innovation adopted to satisfy all parties.
If you are facing a dilemma like this when a health and safety measure creates bad PR, ask us for advice. We can help you navigate the complexities and reach a solution that placates those concerned whilst retaining health and safety standards.
Make mental health a priority in 2020
Mental health awareness is taking centre stage in 2020. Mounting evidence of the devastating impact of poor mental health, and widespread advocacy against stigmatisation have put the spotlight on this long-neglected issue.
Many businesses are reacting to this sea-change by putting mental health first aid on the same footing as physical first aid. The recent inclusion of ‘mental health trained first aiders’ in the HSE’s first aid needs assessment for employers reflects this priority, and is a reminder to employers of their duty of care. More than just a moral imperative, this duty of care is, of course, a legal requirement under the Health and Safety Work Act 1974.
There are also sound economic reasons to address mental health issues in your workplace. Recent data from the Department of Work and Pensions revealed some 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. It has been calculated that this issue costs employers up to £42 billion a year.
So, if you are looking to improve mental well-being in your company, there is plenty that you can do. Training up mental health first aiders with confidence and knowledge is a great start. We offer several industry-specific, e-learning courses designed to promote understanding and offer practical support to manage day-to-day mental health. Just ask us.
Creating a mentally healthy organisation is an investment definitely worth making. So make 2020 the year to double down on mental health first aid and you’ll definitely reap the rewards!
With the new year upon us, we are no longer blinded by the twinkly lights of Christmas and can reflect on the festive season with more clarity. It’s easy to cast the figure of ‘Health and Safety’ in the Grinch role, the ultimate party pooper; but perusing the HSE’s Myth busters may encourage you to think differently.
The drinks are on us! Not anymore…
An employer stopped paying for alcohol at a Christmas party citing health and safety.
An employer may have due concerns about overindulgence. Or might be trying to find a scapegoat for a decidedly un-festive miserliness. But don’t be fooled. There is no health and safety legislation stopping employers paying for drinks at a Christmas party.
No Santa hats for refuse collection workers. Bah humbug.
Refuse collection workers in Colchester were banned from wearing Christmas hats on the grounds of health and safety. The council stated drivers and other road users could be distracted.
There is no legislation preventing refuse collectors from donning a bit of festive adornment. Naturally, a bit of common sense needs to be applied. Decoration that impedes a driver’s vision is not a good idea. But otherwise workers should be free to channel Santa and enter into the festive spirit!
No material change to health and safety
law after Brexit
It certainly won’t be the last we hear of it, but Brexit has finally happened! It’s understandable to feel trepidation about the potential changes for your business after Brexit, but you do have reassurance on health and safety law.
That’s because health and safety law and guidance will not be materially affected. The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 ensures that we can provide certainty on health and safety for duty holders across the UK. All rules will remain the same. All that will change is that the legislation will now refer to the UK rather than to the EU.
There are three HSE-led statutory instruments supporting the Act which convert current EU regulation into domestic law. Ask us if you want to know more.
Safety Matters Q4 2019
Are you taking fire safety seriously
enough in your school?
A leading education insurance provider recently surveyed 1,000 UK schools to see how they’d cope with a fire.
The results were not overly promising. Two-thirds of schools across England don’t have a proper system for dealing with fire. And only 5% of schools received an ‘excellent’ rating in the survey. Scottish schools fare better with about 30% being rated excellent.
In Scotland, sprinklers are a legal requirement in the new and major refurbished schools. But since 2011, 673 UK schools opened and only 15% of them had sprinklers installed. The insurer is pushing the government to introduce legislation so that sprinklers become an integral part of all UK schools.
The obvious substances most likely to cause a fire are unlikely to be found in schools. However, the less obvious, such as packaging materials or dust from flour, sugar, or wood, are very common.
The study also outlined five main risks. These were:
- Shortcomings in fixed fire protection
- Deficient fire detection systems
- Modern construction procedures and how combustible a building is
- Smoking controls and general housekeeping
There are more than 1,000 school fires each year. The risk to health and life speaks for itself. The average financial cost is almost £3million for more serious incidents, but there is an educational cost too. Premises could be closed for extended periods of time while repairs are carried out. Classes are disrupted as they are moved to alternative premises. And groups who usually use the school out of hours are unable to.
The good news is that the majority of fires can be prevented.
When it comes to overall fire safety, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 looks after England and Wales. Generally, local fire and rescue teams are responsible for ensuring the majority of buildings abide by this legislation. In Scotland the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 brought in changes to fire safety law and repealed previous fire safety legislation. And in Northern Ireland it is The Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.
Fire drills and safety risk assessments should be carried out regularly. Both are mandatory for UK schools. A health and safety risk assessment adopts similar methods, so they can either be conducted together or as separate assessments. Beyond this, it may be time to review your fixed fire protection.
The survey suggests many schools are not as prepared as they should be. If this includes you, it’s what you do next that counts. If you need to review your risk management procedures or fixed fire protection, but don’t know where to start, we can help. So give us a call.
Unclear allergen labelling
Sometimes a simple case of customer miscommunication can result in a simple mistake. But occasionally, the consequences can end in tragedy.
You’ll probably have seen in the news that a teenager paid with his life after reading from a restaurant’s misleading menu. He chose the chicken burger. Neither the menu nor staff had made it clear the burger was coated in buttermilk. Milk is one of the 14 main allergens.
An hour later, he was dead. In an earlier high-profile case, a fifteen-year-old girl, Natasha, also died after suffering a fatal allergic reaction from a sandwich.
New laws are set to be introduced to provide further protection. Under ‘Natasha’s Law’, mandatory allergen labelling will be extended to cover food prepared, packed and sold all on the same premises. Previously this “pre-packed directly for sale” food was exempt from allergen labelling.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is clear that anyone eating out or ordering takeaway must have access to written allergen advice. This might be through a menu or at the very least, written instructions detailing how they can find out. Relevant legislation includes the Food Safety Act 1990 and the European Food Information to Consumers (FIC) Regulation 1169/2011.
If you work in the food industry, we can help you undertake a risk assessment and develop effective training. We’ll ensure you comply with the law and even go beyond it, to keep your customers safe and protect your reputation.
Every breath you take
Have you heard of ‘sick building syndrome’?
It might be a headache, runny nose, or throat irritation, but you’ll only get it while in a certain building. It’s usually an office and one of the causes is poor air quality.
Some workplaces have a legal requirement when it comes to ventilation and extraction systems. But even those that seem safe may be riddled with hidden pollutants including fungal spores, carpet fibres and photocopy residue.
Without proper cleaning, maintenance and ventilation, harmful particles are likely to build up.
If the building is older, there may be inherent issues with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.
For instance, if you have an air conditioning system which isn’t properly maintained, it may produce daily swings in temperature. The system could create extreme levels of humidity and bring in chemical pollutants and dust particles from the outside, all of which can contribute to illness.
New partitions may offer more privacy, but they can also encourage stagnant air and pollutants to build up. So it’s a good idea to consider air quality when having work done.
A recent YouGov survey found that nearly 70% of office workers consider the air quality detrimental to their productivity and well-being. Pollution outdoors is already linked with respiratory tract infections and lung disease. What could the long-term effects of poor indoor air quality be?
It’s not always easy to identify the problem. Try simple things first. You may even be able to tackle a pollutant at source. Well-placed ventilation or advanced carbon-activated air purifiers can certainly help.
If you have an air-quality problem, talk to us about getting to grips with it and arranging an occupational hygienist to check the correct standards are being met.
HSE Myth Busters
Most people are not fans of repair and maintenance, but it does prevent things from sliding into disrepair.
Whether its through laziness or a simple misunderstanding, no business or institution should make a scapegoat of health and safety as an easy excuse. But unfortunately, it’s still being given a bad name. Today we’ve got two great examples we dug up from the HSE Myth Busters.
Light bulb moment?
How many handymen does it take to change a lightbulb?
None, apparently, because health and safety is stopping anyone but a qualified electrician from doing it. At least that’s what a property management company said in a bid to protect themselves from a negligence claim. It doesn’t! And unhelpful attitudes like that simply obstruct necessary work being done.
On the verge of despair
As a newspaper reporter drove through the South Downs National Park, she could hardly believe the piles of litter at the side of the road.
Of course, the council chucked her an excuse around health and safety. Understandably, the reporter was shocked the regulation didn’t cover British wildlife.
The truth is – there is nothing stopping a council from clearing verge litter provided they ensure traffic risks are properly managed. In the end it would have been much better for them to have admitted their real reason, whatever that may have been.
Time to safety-check your equipment?
Usually, hindsight can be a wonderful thing.
But what if there are implications for health and safety?
Well then, it’s always better to prevent than try to fix it later on. The number of workplace injuries owing to unsafe equipment suggests that it’s worth seeing whether safety-checking needs to go up your to-do list.
In one recent HSE prosecution, for example, a furniture manufacturer learned the hard way that they should have placed a guard on their drilling machine. They not only landed a £14,000 fine, but the poor worker involved lost two of his fingers.
Technically speaking, they breached Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. This legislation is designed so that you, the employer, can make sure your workplace equipment is fit for purpose and most importantly, safe to use.
If you manage a company that operates potentially dangerous machinery, ensure you conduct regular equipment inspections. If you need outside help setting up a review process, get in touch.
Safety Matters Q3
Take the wheel on managing
moving vehicle risk at work
Managing the risk of moving vehicles at work is not something that every business has to contend with. But in warehouses, large retail stores, and airports, for example, it is a key area of health and safety. Poor procedures and systems of work present risks to the employee and customer alike. As an employer, you are legally required to be aware of such risks and take steps to eliminate or reduce them.
Much of this is governed by general health and safety legislation such as The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. But be aware that there may be more specific legislation to consider too, including the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998.
A moving vehicle risk assessment is essential to build a clear picture of where vehicles are, why they are there and what they are doing. This will help you identify potential vehicle hazards so you can take mitigating action.
Every year there are over 5,000 incidents involving transport in the workplace. And around 50 of these are fatal, so the risk is very real.
Common types of accidents involving moving vehicles include: people being struck or run over by a vehicle, people being hit by something falling from a vehicle, people falling from vehicles and vehicles overturning.
A court case following the death of a worker who walked in front of a moving lorry was recently reported on. While the driver had checked his mirrors, he did not see the employee and moved forward resulting in the fatal injury. The grain store company where the accident occurred was fined £180,000, as well as having to pay costs of £20,000.
In this instance the HSE found that pedestrians could not move safely around the site, as they had not provided measures to prevent employees walking into areas where large vehicles were moving. The company’s failure to implement simple H&S measures was cited as the cause for this avoidable incident.
Stop such potential disasters before they occur by managing the risks of workplace transport. Good practice measures include:
● Keeping people and vehicles apart
● Having clear site rules which are communicated to all staff members
● Avoiding the need to work at height on vehicles
● Ensuring your employees only operate vehicles when authorised to do so.
If you need help carrying out a moving vehicle risk assessment, or think your staff may need some extra training, contact us.
Is your care home heatwave resilient?
If you own or manage a care home, how well prepared are you and your staff for rising temperatures this summer? A study of four care homes found the heating was left on 24 hours a day, even during the summer months. And in a previous major heatwave, back in 2003, care home deaths related to heat increased by 42% that August.
“Heatwave resilience” is a term being used by MPs after last summer’s heatwave, to describe the best practice care homes should be seeking. Long-term trends suggest that UK summer temperatures are rising. So there is likely to be a smaller margin for error in managing this risk as the years pass. You’ll want to look at how temperature is controlled with both heating and cooling systems. Consider also the hydration and nutritional requirements of the people under your care during extremes of temperature.
Warning signs, aside from the obvious increase in temperature, could include a rise in incidents of urinary tract infections, dizziness and falls. Heatwave resilience is sure to move up the agenda of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) when they are inspecting care homes for safety and the effectiveness of their care. Regularly carrying out a heat risk assessment not only feeds into delivering the highest levels of care, but also helps you stay compliant with regulations.
If you operate a care home and have concerns over your staff’s readiness for a heatwave, or need help carrying out a heat risk assessment, get in touch with us today.
Extracurricular work in schools
Summer holidays are the time when schools get major building work done. Although there won’t be children around, you’ll still want to ensure health and safety regulations are followed if you have responsibility in this area.
Your schedule of work may range from a few thousand pounds for play equipment, to hundreds of thousands of pounds for major developments like roofing works. However big or small your project, you’ll have responsibilities under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. Classified as a client, you’ll be responsible for ensuring your project is suitably managed, considering the health and safety of anyone who might be affected.
Building activities over the summer holidays aren’t quite “business as usual”, so don’t get caught out. There may be fewer or no children about, but ensure you plan for other people on site, including contractors and your teachers coming in to prepare their classrooms for next year.
Make sure your shop is
hot on fire regulation
A member of the public has been banned from every branch of a popular homeware store in the UK, after arguing in the carpark with a manager that the store breached health and safety laws. The customer, Derek, raised concerns over the fact that staff were locked into the store for 15 minutes at the end of the day. He also criticised the store’s covered fire extinguishers.
Despite his ban, Derek raised some important fire safety issues. If you own or manage a shop, you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of them. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates that emergency doors must not be locked if they cannot be easily and immediately opened in an emergency. It also states that they must be kept clear at all times.
It was reported that the front door of the store was its main fire escape. The locking of fire doors presents a clear obstacle to an immediate exit. If you want to signal that your shop is closed for business, but still have employees inside, consider hanging a closed sign or have an employee at the front door to turn customers away, or specifically to open it in the event of an emergency.
When it comes to fire extinguishers, you must ensure they are maintained and ready for immediate use. The regulation doesn’t mention covers specifically, but they should be fitted properly (for example not used to prop open a door), and easily accessible.
HSE Myth Busters
When we are off on a plane for our summer holidays or relaxing in a pool, being denied a reasonable request due to health and safety will not cut the mustard. Here are two examples of summer holiday businesses which did that and earned a place on the HSE Myth Busters panel. The lesson is: don’t blame management decisions on health and safety without a good explanation.
Something to chew on
One adult passenger was forced to put up with popping ears after an airline refused to provide boiled sweets on the grounds of health and safety. They claimed that because children could choke on them, they were banned outright. While it is sensible to avoid giving hard sweets to young children, there is no health and safety legislation that prevents the provision of boiled sweets on flights.
Sink or swim
One swimming pool banned inflatables and other items that people enjoy in swimming pools on the grounds of health and safety. Health and safety law does apply to the management of public swimming pools but does not explicitly ban these items. They may have had a good reason, like impeding a lifeguard’s ability to have complete sight of the pool, but it would have been better to say this rather than making health and safety legislation the killjoy.
Safety Matters Q2
Don’t let changes on your shop floor
trip you up
Almost all businesses will have to consider visitors on their premises as well as employees, when assessing health and safety risks. But if you run a shop, or group of stores, and you are hoping for a large customer footfall, understanding the risks to the public will take on heightened importance. When they are getting some retail therapy, or picking up a few essentials, your customers will expect to be safe.
Local authorities enforce health and safety law on retail premises, and they will expect you to have assessed the risks in your business and taken precautions to manage them. Bear in mind, as you will see below, that this is not a one-off exercise.
The most common risk to customers in retail is of slips, trips and falls, so this must be properly assessed and controlled. Wet or dirty floors, spillages, damaged floors and other trip hazards are the most likely causes of an accident, but your business might have its own particular risks too.
Other health and safety considerations that are likely to be relevant to retail include manual handling, violence, working at height (if ladders are used), and workplace transport e.g. deliveries.
And then there are the hazards that are very specific to your store. Be especially aware when you introduce new equipment, fixtures, furniture or furnishings to your shop floor. Even though a change may be ad hoc, it’s essential to update your risk assessment.
In January 2019, the owners of Top Shop, Arcadia, were fined £450,000 when part of a queuing system barrier fell on a ten-year-old girl and fractured her skull. The barrier was successfully used in flagship stores but had been deployed to a smaller store which were not accustomed to using them.
The barrier should have been fixed firmly to the floor but was installed incorrectly. So when the young girl swung on it, it toppled over causing the serious injury which led her to miss eight weeks of school and left her with a permanent scar. In court, Arcadia admitted breaking health and safety laws, and has since put processes in place to reduce the risk of such an accident happening again.
If you are planning changes to your retail space, are opening a new store or just think your staff may need some extra training, contact us for expert health and safety support.
Failing to design an adequate process for maintaining machinery and checking it’s operating safely is a reason for HSE prosecution should an accident occur.
This spring, two waste companies were each fined tens of thousands of pounds for accidents which resulted in severe limb injuries. Parallels can be drawn because the injuries were inflicted when workers were trying to remove blockages and waste material from machinery.
In the first case, the worker had his hand crushed between a conveyor belt and a drive roller. A few weeks earlier guard plates had been removed. A main part of the prosecution was that there were no adequate procedures for checking guard plates were in place. Additionally, adequate training for using the machine and suitable supervision of operatives had not been provided.
In the second case, a worker fell three metres into a compactor chamber, activating the ram which crushed his legs. He had climbed into the infeed hopper and jumped up and down on a blockage with a colleague. When it cleared, he fell through with it. In particular, the HSE noted that there was no safe system for isolating the system from power when dealing with blockages.
For a review of your maintenance procedures, get in touch.
Adequately documenting procedures and keeping records are often an essential part of complying with health and safety law. In schools, this is particularly sensitive. And also, more likely to be publicly exposed as inadequate if you are not doing it properly – because of the routine Ofsted inspections and ratings.
An independent school in Yorkshire had to accept the bad PR consequences of this earlier in the year, when they were stripped of their “Outstanding” rating and declared “Inadequate”. Among other things, safeguarding was found to be ineffective and they had not met the standards for ensuring all necessary checks were carried out on adults working in the school.
Whilst apologising and confirming the issues had been addressed, the head teacher explained that the safeguarding issues related to record checking and keeping, and that safety and security of pupils was not directly put at risk.
Away from this specific case, and aside from the fallout from Ofsted reports and the potential to employ someone who would do harm to children, how else could poor record checking/keeping impact health and safety in schools? One example is in first aid.
If you don’t have a record of which team members are qualified first-aiders, you’ll lose track of when certificates expire and when staff with the qualification leave. This will make it likely that you don’t comply with your own first aid policy.
If you need help independently reviewing your record-keeping and checking procedures call The H&S Dept and one of our experienced local consultants will help.
We like to wrap our children in cotton wool to protect them from danger, and very often from themselves. Most of the time this is entirely sensible and helps to prevent harm. But sometimes people go too far. Or businesses give health and safety a bad name by claiming a rule is because of H&S when in reality there’s a different underlying reason.
Sock it to ‘em
More cotton socks than cotton wool, but a soft play centre insisted that all children wear socks for health and safety reasons. While there is a public health need to cover feet infected with warts and verrucas, there’s no health and safety law mandating that socks are worn in soft play centres by all. The sock policy may meet this need, but it’s not specifically a health and safety requirement.
Don’t be a dummy
A café manager’s prohibition of baby’s dummies forced a family to leave prematurely. As with the case of the socks, the ban was blamed on the catch-all term health and safety. You can probably guess that there’s no health and safety legislation which stops babies being pacified with dummies in cafés. Digging deeper it was the café’s own strict internal food hygiene rules behind the ban. Better to just say that to begin with.
Is your work equipment
fit for purpose?
Failing to stay on top of seemingly innocuous maintenance issues on your premises can lead to tragic outcomes. That was the case at a Scottish care home, when a failing door lock led to the death of a resident.
After going missing, the resident was found with fatal head injuries at the bottom of a staircase leading to a boiler room. The staircase was kept off limits by a locked door, but the locking mechanism did not always work.
The death and a £60,000 fine show why even minor snags should not be left to lie. The technical breach was of Regulation 4(3) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. This places a duty on you to ensure that equipment at work is suitable for the reason it is provided.
If you operate a care home and have concerns that your staff may not be carrying out the necessary control
Safety Matters Q1
Caring during a cold snap
It’s not too often each year that we have to contend with snow and the disruption it brings. But recently it has been one of those times. It sure has been cold, although not quite to the extent of the polar vortex in the States.
Extremes of temperature present particular problems to the care sector, where you are often dealing with very vulnerable people.
A report was published in December 2018 which found that a pensioner died in a freezing care home in 2016. The central heating had broken three weeks previously and had not been fixed. The 1960s heaters were known to be in poor condition before they broke down.
Already unwell with a chest infection and without medication because the care home had faxed the prescription to the wrong chemist, the 95-year-old was stuck in a room in which the window did not close properly, letting in a freezing draft. Early one morning staff became concerned and called the emergency services.
The ambulance crew found the pensioner with a body temperature 9°C below normal levels at just 27.5°C and sadly she passed away. The inquest found the cause of death to be bronchopneumonia and hypothermia.
In England the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the enforcing authority for patient and service user health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) takes this role in Scotland and Wales. The CQC rated the care home as inadequate and it shut down in 2017. The manager or care home owner may yet be prosecuted under the Health and Safety Act.
Clearly, during cold weather it is vital to have heating equipment appropriately functioning to keep the premises at comfortable temperatures. And that your property is maintained so that windows close as they should. Annual servicing and regular maintenance checks are important to achieve this – just waiting for problems to show themselves during a deep freeze is not acceptable.
The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 is relevant here. These state that premises and equipment must be properly maintained which means holding a sufficient budget for such maintenance.
A good risk assessment will help to identify where things could go wrong and put suitable contingency plans in place to address them.
While temperature control may be particularly important in a care setting, maintaining heating equipment is also relevant to all workplaces.
Movement of goods risk assessments –
A must have for all businesses?
From offices to warehouses, pubs to shops, most businesses will handle or receive goods. It may be a key part of your daily activities, or it could be more occasional. Either way, it’s essential to have carried out a movement of goods risk assessment.
Because there are so many types of organisation (and therefore issues) to regulate, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities coordinate a national Moving Goods Safely project. Either the HSE or your local authority could be the enforcement authority, depending on the nature of your business. And it can be costly if you get it wrong.
Colchester Borough Council successfully prosecuted the fourth largest pub company in the UK for health and safety failures in this area.
In October 2017 an accident whilst unloading a drinks delivery left an employee with broken fingers. The injury was caused by an unsecured cellar door falling shut. The local authority found that gas struts designed to allow the door to open and close safely had been removed and not replaced the year before. Moreover, there were no controls in place to stop someone falling down the cellar shaft.
As you might imagine, appropriate risk assessments were found not to be in place for the delivery of goods. Showing the severe consequences of getting this wrong – beyond the harm that came to the employee – the company was fined £100,000 plus costs and a victim surcharge. If you need help preparing or reviewing your movement of goods risk assessment, call The H&S Dept today.
H&S concerns impact
In a reminder of how health and safety can impact organisational growth plans, the University of Chester may have to move its Faculty of Science and Engineering from Thornton Science Park. The site opened in 2014 and 500 students are based there.
This follows an intervention from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the university applied to change the site’s use from business to educational in order to aid future planning applications.
However, the HSE consider there is a risk to students as the science park is situated within the inner zone of a hazardous installation – The Stanlow Oil Refinery. The HSE classify students as members of the public, bringing in extra health and safety considerations. The university want them classed as employees and subject to site security procedures.
Whether you are an academic institution or another organisation with big growth plans, ensure you do your H&S due diligence before implementing expansion plans.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
Many people go to nightclubs to cut loose. And whilst out for a good time, punters may sometimes do things that aren’t in their own best interests. Venues have a responsibility not to allow people to break the law. And they are also bound by stringent health and safety regulations. But where do they draw the health and safety line?
The HSE myth busters panel have highlighted two occasions in recent months when nightclubs have “blamed” policies on health and safety law, when in fact it’s their own management decisions. The problem is, this gives good health and safety advice a bad name. So let’s look where they got it wrong.
Headbanging – the dancing practice of violently but rhythmically shaking your head – cannot be very good for the old brain cells. But it’s a personal choice and there is no legislation prohibiting it. One nightclub incorrectly hid behind H&S when telling clientele to cut out the headbanging.
In another case a nightclub barman refused to serve salt and lemon with tequila. This prevented the shot being enjoyed in the famous lick the salt, sip the drink, suck the lemon fashion. As with headbanging, it may not be too good for your health to down shots of tequila, but it’s not against the law for adults to drink it with these accompaniments.
The ABCs of asbestos
For businesses involved in property, such as landlords and construction firms, asbestos risk should be firmly on the radar.
Asbestos can be found in all manner of construction materials used prior to the year 2000. Considered not to pose a direct risk when undisturbed, these materials release fibres into the air when disturbed which, if inhaled, can cause fatal diseases like asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma. The effects are long-term, with 20 tradesmen a week dying from past exposure.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 primarily govern this risk. When any work is carried out on buildings where asbestos may feature you need to determine if it’s present and the form and condition it is in. If present, or you are unsure, you’ll need to conduct a risk assessment.
Most work with asbestos needs to be carried about by an HSE-licensed contractor. While some activities do not have this requirement, they may still require special procedures. These are called notifiable non-licensed work. Anyone who may disturb asbestos during their normal work activities needs to be appropriately trained.
A Birmingham Magistrate’s Court recently fined a landlord and building contractor after they caused large amounts of asbestos fibres to be released at a rented property. Making fundamental errors, the landlord should have commissioned an asbestos survey and the builder should not have commenced work without seeing and being guided by the report of such a survey.
The risks are high and the regulatory obligations wide-ranging. So if you need help getting the basics right with asbestos, talk to us at The H&S Dept
Safety Matters Q4
When health & safety and equality law collide
In 2011, the default retirement age was abolished, meaning that companies could not automatically retire workers on age grounds at 65. Some people will welcome the opportunity to retire, but nowadays many workers will need or want to continue working.
Physical and mental health is strongly correlated to age, so this poses a problem for organisations. With no default retirement age, how do you monitor whether people have the physical ability or mental faculty to carry out their work?
This is especially risky when the job in question involves driving.
When a 77-year-old bus driver drove into the side of a supermarket in 2015, it resulted in the death of a pedestrian and a seven-year-old boy. The driver was diagnosed with dementia after the collision, and was found medically unfit to stand trial.
He had been previously warned about his “erratic” driving following four road accidents in the three years leading up to the 2015 collision. The bus company who hired the man pleaded guilty to health and safety law breaches.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency says there is no evidence to suggest that older drivers are more likely to cause a serious accident than anyone else, and statistics actually show that the opposite is true.
Employers have a responsibility to look into cases where an employee has a health condition that could be affecting their ability to drive safely.
This is especially important when it comes to older drivers, since age is associated with a higher risk of certain diseases and health conditions. While motorists over the age of 70 are required to answer written questions about medical conditions and eyesight every three years, they are not required to submit any proof.
Relying on self-reporting in this way can be risky – and sometimes devastating. As was the case with the 77-year-old bus driver, where he, his employer and doctor were all unaware of his health condition leading up to the collision.
If management failures are identified as a significant factor contributing to a fatal accident, companies can be at risk of being prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
This is why employers must take responsibility to ensure they are aware of a driver’s health conditions and properly manage them, irrespective of age. Health and safety law applies to work activities on the road in the same way as it does to all work activities in the office. And employers must manage the risks associated with drivers as part of their health and safety arrangements.
It’s one thing to understand the health and safety risks within your workplace, and another to come up with the appropriate solutions for managing them.
Many employers welcome robotics in the workplace. They can improve efficiency and quality whilst lowering costs. But as sometimes complex and powerful pieces of machinery they may pose a risk to human workers. What to do?
What NOT to do is cage your workers for their own protection. Amusingly, the online retail giant Amazon appeared to be mooting this. In 2016 they filed a patent depicting an enclosed cage that was intended to carry employees around its warehouses to protect them from robots whizzing around.
The company described it as a “system and method for transporting personnel within an active workplace”. It must be stressed that this solution was never greenlighted by Amazon. When the patent came to public attention, a spokesperson said it had been a bad idea.
In case you were wondering, there are tight health and safety restrictions around using cages in the workplace. But what this example shows us is the broad consideration that needs to go into complex health and safety solutions. Of course, the solutions need to be fit for purpose. But you need to understand how it will impact your team, your operations, and, yes, sometimes your public image.
If you need help making sure your ideas are H&S approved, and also won’t lead to a PR disaster, give the experts at The H&S Dept a call.
Whistle-blowing can uncover serious malpractice, and it’s important employees feel safe and confident in their ability to do so. There are laws to protect whistle-blowers, but these are not always adhered to.
A national newspaper recently reported that whistle-blowers were sacked, threatened with violence and blocked from taking other jobs after attempting to shed light on life-threatening health and safety malpractice in the construction industry.
Three whistle-blowers from separate insulation companies said they’d witnessed attempts to cut costs by deliberately and consistently manufacturing products that fell below certified safety standards. This included one man who reported his employer manufacturing cheap insulation – not related to Grenfell – that would “go up like petrol and explode and burst into flames” when a match was put close to it. The man was fired, and found it impossible to get another job in the same industry.
Whistle-blowing laws include raising health and safety concerns. If an employee goes through the correct channels to report health and safety concerns they must be taken seriously and treated fairly. An employment tribunal will automatically deem a dismissal unfair if it is strongly related to a case of whistle-blowing.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
In this feature, we look at some unpopular organisational policies that have been wrongly attributed to health and safety. They often give H&S a bad name, and the Health and Safety Executive loves to challenge them.
Bus drivers under 18 stone
There are, for obvious reasons, some restrictions when it comes to hiring bus drivers. They need to have good vision, for one thing, and they should be pretty adept drivers, to say the least.
But they certainly don’t need to weigh in at under 18 stone, contrary to what one job advert stated. A bus company is alleged to have stipulated in a job ad that, due to new health and safety rules, all new bus driver recruits must be under 18 stone in weight. There are no rules, however, that place any weight limits on people driving buses.
Supermarket bike ban
Fold-up bikes are loved by many commuters for being easy to take on and off public transport, and folding away nice and neatly into offices and homes. But one fold-up bike owner was told they couldn’t bring their compact commuter companion into the supermarket. Needless to say, the would-be customer was confused, especially since pushchairs and suitcases are allowed in supermarkets.
Whether this was a company-wide policy or one person’s agenda against fold-up bikes is unclear, but it certainly isn’t a health and safety issue. Thankfully, the supermarket in question later retracted their ban. Fold-up bikes are small, compact and lightweight – they’re built to not cause any restrictions, and it would be very difficult to make one a fire hazard.
If you are ever unsure about where health and safety begins and ends in your business, be sure to speak to one of the experts at The H&S Dept.
Alton Towers pay-out
It should never be forgotten that the purpose of health and safety law is to protect people from harm. Minor or serious injury, long-term health conditions and death can all be consequences of health and safety failings. Very recently, we have seen a number of fatal incidents involving food labelling. But one of the most high-profile examples of harm in the UK in recent years was the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash.
In 2015 a string of oversights led to a crash on Alton Tower’s Smiler rollercoaster. It left 16 people hurt, five of whom suffered life-changing injuries. Two teenage girls required leg amputations.
The accident occurred when two trains stalled on different sections of the ride. Engineers assumed the computer wasn’t working, and they overrode the stop, sending another train out, which crashed into an empty carriage.
As well as the terrible injuries, the financial implications for the business have been huge. Following an investigation, the Health and Safety Executive secured a £5m fine against the owners of Alton Towers for “catastrophic failure to assess risk”. This was reduced from the £7.5m it would have been if the case had gone to court. However, the owners pleaded guilty. There will also likely be multi-million pound compensation pay-outs.
And of course, this was a major PR disaster for Alton Towers, as visitor numbers to the park plunged in the aftermath.
This case shows just how seriously catastrophic injury at work and in public is taken, particularly when it’s the fault of an employer. It should serve as a reminder to business owners how carefully we should all be when the public puts their wellbeing and safety in our hands.
Safety Matters Q3
An interesting court case this year shone the spotlight on an employer’s health and safety obligations concerning noise.
Control of Noise at Work (2005) are the relevant regulations. They normally deal with noise as a by-product of operations, such as machinery in a factory. But in this case, they were applied to an orchestra where noise is the primary product.
A viola player brought the case after suffering symptoms of hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness. He had been sitting in a cramped orchestra pit in front of an 18-piece brass section which generated 135 decibels.
As with the case of the spider biting a BA employee elsewhere in this newsletter, the employer recognised the risk. They felt they had followed all reasonable steps to mitigate it.
They educated the musicians about noise protection, offered bi-annual hearing tests and even supplied two types of custom-fitted earplugs with 9 and 28 decibel filters. It was left to each individual’s discretion as to which they used. The employer explored enlarging the orchestra pit, but deemed this to be prohibitively expensive.
The judge sided with the musician and agreed he had suffered acoustic shock. This is the first time this condition has been recognised in the courts. She said that the risk assessments were insufficient, and further preventative measures should have been implemented.
Since the judgment, civil liability is no longer applicable under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations. Nevertheless the judgement suggests that employers need to go further than previously thought in protecting employees from noise. Music and event venues should pay particular heed.
Postponing ping pong!
When launching a new business you have a million and one things to think about: securing premises, marketing, your supply chain… and maybe employing staff to name a few.
It is unlikely to be your first thought, but don’t forget health and safety too. Missing something here could put you, your staff or the public in harm’s way. Or it could stop you in your tracks.
That’s what happened to a new ping pong parlour in Cambridge in July. It was the latest initiative in a programme called Ping! which has seen the local council and Table Tennis England install more than 40 tables around the city. Sadly, an undisclosed last minute health and safety issue in the shop unit delayed the launch – which had been timed to coincide with National Table Tennis Day.
Health and safety laws apply to all businesses, but if you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write down your risk assessment or health and safety policy – although you may want to. A good principle to understand is that your approach should be proportionate to the nature and size of your business. Want to know how to get started? Give us a call.
With the 2018 summer continuing to send records tumbling, it does throw up some health and safety issues for employers in ensuring staff stay safe at work. There’s no maximum temperature which is deemed too hot to work in, so it comes down to conducting your own risk assessment.
This will vary hugely from company to company. For some, working in direct sunlight will be a major threat, whilst for others certain individuals may be particularly vulnerable – a pregnant employee for example. Dehydration will be a hazard to all.
Once you have identified the risks, attention should switch to controlling them. There are five areas which are helpful to explore. These are controlling the environment, employee clothing, reviewing task scheduling, monitoring individual employees and permitting changes in normal behaviours.
We recently covered this topic in detail on our blog, so be sure to check that out for further advice and tips.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
In this feature we look at instances when unpopular organisational policies have been incorrectly attributed to health and safety. They’re the kind of case which gives H&S a bad name and the Health and Safety Executive loves challenging them.
Campsite freezer facilities
The gorgeous summer we are having is bound to have got more people than ever flocking to the great outdoors and pitching their tents. Campers will be familiar with using a cool box and ice packs to keep food and drink cold.
Many campsites install a freezer so that campers can re-freeze their icepacks. This is a management decision to offer enhanced customer service. And equally if a campsite decides that their freezers cannot be used for re-freezing icepacks, that is also a management decision made for commercial reasons. There is no health and safety legislation saying ice packs cannot be refrozen at campsites.
Children at recycling centres
There would definitely be a health and safety issue if you tried to recycle your children. However, leaving them in a car while you drop off some legitimate recycling materials is perfectly acceptable and, indeed, what’s recommended.
One recycling manager asked that children were taken from their parents’ car and left at the gates of the recycling centre as they were not allowed on site due to health and safety. Common sense would suggest that children would be at more risk if they did this than if they stayed in the car. So the recycling manager had it all wrong.
Ban on mains extension leads
Electrical safety is very serious and is governed by many regulations. However one local council took this too far when banning a tenant from using a mains extension lead in their own home. More than likely they were incorrectly applying workplace regulations to a domestic environment. While we would never undermine good practices with electrical safety, some practical guidance would have been more appropriate than a ban in this instance.
These examples show the blurred lines that can exist when interpreting health and safety legislation. They also show the potential consequences which can range from a nuisance to altogether more dangerous scenarios.
If you want health and safety legislation to help and not hinder your business then be sure to speak to one of the experts at The Health and Safety Dept.
A member of British Airways’ cabin crew was awarded £13,000 compensation after a judge agreed he was probably bitten by a dangerous spider whilst at work.
The employee had felt a nip as he was getting out of a bunk on a long-haul flight. He did not think much of it until a few days later when his hand swelled up terribly. At the hospital, medics felt that he was in danger of losing his hand and even his life.
He pulled through, and although the spider was not found, the judge accepted an expert witness’s testimony that it was probably a brown recluse spider, native to North America.
Bug infestations are a known risk on international flights, and it certainly was not a risk that BA completely disregarded as an employer. In this case, they argued that if the bite occurred on the flight then it was an unexpected accident that could not have been foreseen.
However, the judge found that their management of the risk of bug infestation was too focused on preventing bedbugs in the seating, which was seen as the most prevalent threat. Health and safety failings included inadequate protection from insects in the bunk area, a reactive approach to insects other than bed bugs and poor reporting procedures.
While the airline industry may have many niche risks compared to other sectors, there are important general lessons we can take from this case. In particular, the need to provide a complete response to a risk rather than a limited one that may be effective in one area but not broad enough to provide adequate protection overall.
If you need help translating a risk assessment into full procedures for mitigating the hazards, then give the experts at The Health and Safety Dept a call.
Safety Matters Q2 2018
How much damage can a workstation do?
Dangerous places, offices are. Sure, perhaps not as dangerous as working with heavy machinery or at height. But a computer workstation can cause more than its fair share of problems, if not set up correctly.
Let’s consider the desk surface. A bad set-up can lead to back and neck pain and also contact stress on the arms. The top of the desk should be at an appropriate height for the user (adjustable height desks are becoming more common). Computer monitors should be placed at head height and about 50cm from the eyes. These will help to avoid strain on both the eyes and neck.
The desk should provide enough space to accessibly house all equipment which the user frequently uses. Having to stretch repeatedly to reach stationery, or twist into unnatural positions is bad for posture.
It’s best to have desks with rounded edges. These help the circulation when arms rest on them – compared to angled edges – helping to prevent tingling and soreness in the fingers. If your desks have sharper edges, you could consider overlaying a softer material like foam.
And what about under the desk? In a busy office, it’s tempting to pile boxes or files under desks, but this isn’t advisable. Such obstructions can force the worker too far away from the desk top, or restrict leg movement – both of which can cause back and neck problems.
Who’d have thought there was so much to consider with the humble desk! But normally a little care and attention can render them harmless, and help you keep a healthy, productive workforce.
Good health and safety is great for your business
When people talk about health and safety, it’s often with just legal compliance in mind, and preventing people (and equipment) coming to harm – reactive policies to stop bad things happening. But what about the positives that a proactive health and safety policy brings to your business?
Being seen to take health and safety seriously by your staff brings you significant benefits. First, there is the cultural impact. You create a culture in which you clearly care about your employees, and an environment in which they can carry out their work effectively. This professional approach will play its part in recruiting and retaining high calibre workers.
Good health and safety will also help you operate more efficiently. According to the HSE, 31.2 million working days were lost last year due to work-related illness and injury. Reduce the lost days in your business and think of the management time saved and the avoided costs of covering for absent workers.
So investing a little in health and safety can deliver valuable returns through more effective employees and reduced absences. And that’s before you even consider savings in legal costs and compensation when things go badly wrong.
April is a month notorious for its changeable weather, and in particular showery rain. This can pose extra risks for employees who work outside, and to the entrance areas of buildings.
For outside workers, the correct clothing and equipment for rain are essential. Slips and falls become much more likely. So footwear with non-slip rubber and thick grooves in the soles are a must, particularly for people working at height. Other waterproof clothing is important but ensure that vision and hearing aren’t compromised. Hand tools should be suitable for outdoor use and have non-slip handles.
And for those lucky enough to be working indoors when the heavens open, there is still a heightened risk to manage. Main entrances to buildings can become extra slippery. So good quality entrance matting is advisable. If you do not have permanent matting up to the task, you could store reinforcement matting for especially wet days along with slip hazard signage.
Need help conducting a wet weather risk assessment? Call The Health and Safety Dept.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
It’s unfortunate but enduringly true that health and safety is a go-to excuse for managers and frontline staff when they introduce or enforce an unpopular policy. The HSE calls out such policies when they wrongly blame health and safety legislation. Here is our round-up of some of the latest myths they have dispelled.
Myth: Packed lunches banned from being eaten in the playground
With the weather turning warmer, nothing could be more pleasant than eating your lunch in the gentle sunshine. One school outlawed their children from eating their packed lunches alfresco, citing health and safety as the reason. However, government regulations do not touch upon this. Therefore, the decision was part of an internal management policy and should have been presented as such.
Myth: Providing empty tester perfume bottles
Most of us like to smell nice, and for many this means buying an expensive fragrance. Or if we’re lucky, being given one as a present. Some of us even like to collect empty tester perfume bottles, apparently. But one unfortunate enthusiast was prohibited by a store assistant from taking away such perfume bottles for, you’ve guessed it, health and safety reasons. Could it be that they were made of glass? Or were somehow unhygienic? Who knows? But in fact there is no legitimate health and safety reason why these empty glass bottles couldn’t be given away. It turns out that this was simply an internal waste and recycling policy.
Myth: Ban the safety pins
Do you have fond memories of your local swimming pool? Perhaps the changing rooms are not held so dear. Soggy floors, cramped cubicles, and those fiddly safety pins used to attach the locker key to your swimming costume. Thankfully, these safety pins are becoming a thing of the past as wristbands and clips are now preferred. One swimming pool blamed the demise of the safety pin on health and safety. Again, aside from general common sense, the HSE are not concerned with safety pins, so it was simply a commercial decision that there are better ways of attaching a key to your person when entering a swimming pool.
If you have a good reason for introducing a policy that is unpopular, then why not just use it to explain the policy? If there is no good reason, then perhaps you should change the policy. But don’t blame it on “health and safety”.
2017 sees huge rise in health and safety enforcement fines
When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its enforcement figures for 2017, they showed huge rises in fines. They were up 74% on the previous year to about £61 million. Significant custodial sentences were handed out, too. This follows the introduction in 2016 of harsher sentencing guidelines and penalties.
There were some stand-out cases. These included a £2.2 million fine for Wilko when a 20-year-old female worker was crushed under a cage full of paint tins and paralysed. Kentucky Fried Chicken was fined just under £1 million following two employees being severely burned. And Aldi was fined £1 million after a new employee damaged his foot while operating an electric pallet truck without the proper training.
Lengthy jail sentences were handed out to the directors of more than one company following the deaths of employees falling from height.
That should be more than enough to make business owners sit up and take notice. And it is not just the punishments meted out by the HSE which business owners should be concerned about.
Depending on the nature of the accident, there could be further financial cost from repairing damage to machinery and equipment, lost revenue if operations are shut down for any length of time, and the time and money spent in preparing for the court proceedings.
Then there’s the human cost to consider. There will often be physical or mental damage to the immediate victim. But bad feeling could permeate throughout your workforce if it is perceived that you do not take workers’ welfare seriously. This could lead to recruitment and retention problems.
Appropriate risk assessments are at the heart of good health and safety policy. These include learning from near misses at your own organisation, and from the mistakes of others. To ensure you are handling health and safety correctly, get in touch with The Health and Safety Dept for an initial consultation.
Safety Matters Q1 2018
Welcome to the Health & Safety Dept
Welcome to the first edition of our newsletter under our new Health & Safety Dept brand.
As part of the HR Dept’s commitment to you to be a one stop shop for everything to do with employment, we have developed the H & S Dept, to protect and support your business with all Health & Safety matters.
So, what services will we offer?
We can provide you with pragmatic and cost-effective solutions to all health & safety issues to ensure your legal compliance. These solutions include our advice line and legal expenses insurance, Toolbox Talks, COSHH compliance advice, safe systems of work, an online H&S compliance system, fire risk assessments, on-site audits, training, accident investigations, health & safety policy, risk assessments and more.
As qualified professionals in our field, we pride ourselves on our high-quality service and down-to-earth approach. Ultimately, we work with you to provide practical and cost-effective solutions to real issues that impact on your business.
We hope you enjoy this quarterly newsletter in which we will be sharing seasonal health & safety tips, bring you news of high profile health & safety court cases, and dispel health & safety myths. It will also be complemented by a regular blog.
If you would like guidance on any of your health & safety policies or have any questions, pick up the phone to The Health & Safety Dept – we’re here to help!
Latest HSE figures published
The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) recently released their annual report on health & safety statistics for Great Britain. Here we take a look at some of the headline figures of work-related injuries and incidents.
According to the latest figures, there were 1.3 million work-related ill health cases and 0.5 million cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. And whilst there were over 70,000 non-fatal injuries to employees, there were also sadly 137 cases of deadly injuries in 2016/2017.
The impacts of such incidents and cases of ill health are felt far and wide, not least by employers. The HSE estimates that 31.2 million working days were lost due to ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries. So aside from the human cost, there is a huge financial impact on corporate Britain. This can often be felt hardest by small and medium-sized businesses.
These figures hammer home the message that it really pays to take health & safety seriously and mitigate the risks to your workforce. If you need help writing your health & safety policy, or modifying or updating your existing one, contact The Health & Safety Dept for advice.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
Health & safety has a mixed reputation. And whilst some may think it focuses overzealously on irrelevant policies, sometimes it is incorrectly used as an excuse by employers to introduce unpopular rules.
Myth: Hot drinks and food are banned
Many of us need a coffee (or seven) when we first get into the office in the morning. Yet one employer banned the presence of a kettle or microwave in the workplace – again, no health & safety policy forbids the use of these, let’s face it, rather essential office appliances. There is no ban from HSE on these in the workplace, and hopefully never will be. This shows that it was clearly a commercial decision dressed up as a health & safety issue to prevent the employer receiving the blame.
Myth: Flip-flops are against the law
Some companies state that flip-flops are not allowed in the workplace because of rules that are out of their hands. Whilst slips, trips and falls do account for 30% of all workplace incidents, there is no health & safety rule imposed in place to prevent this sort of footwear being worn in an office. Any company doing so is imposing this rule at their own discretion rather than it being a legal requirement – although such a rule might well apply in jobs that require safety apparel, such as in construction.
When it comes down to it, if you would like to ban something in the workplace, it’s best to be up front with it rather than blame it on health & safety. If trivial rules are blamed on health & safety, then the real health & safety rules won’t be taken seriously.
To get the balance right on health & safety, it’s good to check with a professional. Contact The Health & Safety Dept for advice.
Winter workplace health & safety
As the weather is still on the chilly side, it is important to make sure your employees are safe in the workplace and any risk of harm is controlled.
Whilst there is no maximum temperature, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states there must be a minimum temperature of 16 degrees Celsius if your employees work inside.
If their work requires them to do much physical activity, 13 degrees Celsius is the minimum. You can make sure your heating system remains compliant by having it serviced or upgraded if it is not reaching the appropriate temperature.
If you have employees who drive for work, such as goods vehicle drivers, couriers, service engineers or other itinerant tradesmen, it is important to make sure the appropriate precautions are taken. Ensure their vehicle is properly serviced and equipped for the weather conditions and they have a road safety kit if they happen to break down. A risk assessment might also identify the need for an advanced winter driving course to ensure the drivers have all the skills and training they need to do their job safely.
Slips and falls can happen all year-round – and ice and snow boost the risk of these happening to employees. To help prevent such incidents occurring, you should prevent ice forming on walkways and paths by gritting them, and placing suitable entrance matting in doorways to your building so people can wipe their feet properly.
As an employer, you are responsible for controlling hazards that your employees and other people are exposed to in the workplace – and it is important to be extra careful at this time of year. For advice on ensuring you are not breaching health & safety regulations this winter, contact The Health & Safety Dept.
Risk assessments: Do you need one?
Risk assessments are required by law. All businesses with five or more employees, including the managing director, must ensure they have appropriately documented risk assessments in place – and it is the employer’s legal responsibility to have them.
A risk assessment is part of the risk management process. It identifies what hazards currently exist or may be foreseen in the workplace and how effective the precautions are. Risks need to be considered in all areas of the working environment – including potential hazards such as the use of electricity and fire, cleaning with chemical substances, maintenance work, working hours, shift patterns and stress, and any other factors that may be reasonably anticipated as a hazard.
Whether you are conducting a risk assessment for the first time or want to have your current one reviewed, we can help. For advice and guidance on this important legal requirement, contact The Health & Safety Dept.
Safety Matters: Summer 2017
Farmers account for the most work-related deaths in Ireland
Almost half of work related deaths in Ireland have been caused by the agricultural industry – making it the sector with the highest fatality rate.
The figures showed that those who were self-employed had the highest rate of fatal accidents.
This highlights again the importance of assessing all risk faced by employees and how to work safely in that environment.
Although the decline was 20% less than the year before the HSA has urged businesses small and large to ensure that Health and Safety is a priority for businesses.
The HSA has been implementing and monitoring specific industries that are high risk such as farming, fishing and construction sectors and implementing awareness campaigns to raise awareness of the lack of health and safety in those industries. On the positive side, businesses have been taking part in educational training courses which is instrumental in reducing the fatality rate of these risky industries.
Health & Safety Myth
Health and Safety Regulations now ban the use of ladders.
This is a story that appears frequently. There is no ban on ladders if they are used safely. There are regulations to ensure that people do use ladders safely to reduce the numbers of workers seriously injured or killed falling off ladders every year.
There is no ban on ladders as long as they are secured and used appropriately.
Construction Safety Week
The Construction Safety Partnership Advisory Committee has proposed Construction Safety Week on the 23rd – 27th October. The vision is to highlight the importance of being committed to following health and safety procedures every day, reduce the number of accidents on construction sites in Ireland and inspiring all to share best practices to strengthen the culture of health and safety within businesses. The aim of this week is to promote work safety together and celebrate the progression of health and safety in the workplace to date.
Safety Alert for Hot Drums
Following a serious incident that involved the explosion of an empty metal drum, the HSA have issued a safety alert in regards to employees carrying out ‘Hot Work’ in the workplace. An employee was fatally injured whilst carrying out ‘Hot Work’ on an empty metal drum which exploded due to the waste residue contained within it. ‘Hot Work’ is a process where there can be an ignition source or hazard of flammable material.
A risk assessment should be carried out before ‘Hot Work’ is carried out and alternative options should be considered or risks avoided by using specialist companies or methods. For all your Health and Safety queries contact your local HR Dept today.
Safety Matters – Spring 2017
A case at Wilko
Wilko were fined £2.2million in January. The fine related to an incident which left an employee paralysed after being crushed by a roll cage containing 230kg of paint. The prosecution found that there was no risk assessment for the lift or the use of the roll cages, and that the training and supervision was inadequate.
This case emphasises, once again, that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are fining employers higher amounts than ever before. It also highlights the importance of assessing all risks faced by employees, and training employees on how to work safely.
Since the new sentencing guidelines in February 2016, there have been more fines of over £1 million than there were since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974. Therefore, it is more important than ever that employers do everything correctly.
PAT Testing: Do you need to do it?
We dispel a health and safety myth in every issue of Safety Matters. This time, we’re looking at the requirement for Portable Appliance Testing (PAT).
Many employers believe they need to PAT test annually. However, for many employers, this simply is not true. There is no legal requirement for appliances to be PAT tested at all – but this does not mean you should stop testing them altogether!
PAT testing is the most effective way to demonstrate that you have had your electrical appliances inspected and tested to ensure they are safe. We always recommend employers complete this to reduce the risks associated with faulty electrical equipment.
We also advise that most office equipment is tested every two years; although this is down to your risk assessments and the type of equipment you have.
Please do feel free to send in any other health and safety ‘myths’ for us to dispel or confirm!
The HSE are in the process of reviewing legislation relating to the examination and inspection of work equipment. This means we can expect a few changes to legislation later in 2017.
The regulations being reviewed are:
– The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)
– The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)
– Pressure System Safety Regulations 2000
– Work at Height Regulations 2005
We will ensure that we keep you posted with regards to any changes. Watch this space!
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