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Health and Safety update - Dec 2011

Welcome to this month’s bumper edition of the Health & Safety briefing. In this issue we provide information on:

Managing Asbestos in Schools

In 2010/11, HSE focused on schools outside local authority control as the latest initiative in a series of interventions targeting asbestos management in schools. The primary aim was to determine the level of compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 (CAR) in a sample of targeted schools. HSE inspectors inspected a random sample of 164 non-local authority schools in England, Scotland and Wales. The schools included four types: foundation, independent, academies and voluntary-aided.

Eighty-seven per cent (87%) of the schools visited as part of the survey were aware of who the duty holder was under the Regulations and who had the overall legal responsibility for management of maintenance and repair of the premises. However, there was still confusion in some schools over roles and responsibilities.

Schools that bought back services from the local authority were often uncertain or unaware of their own duties and were reliant on the local authority. Even where schools buy in asbestos management expertise from local authorities, as happens with a number of voluntary-aided schools, the governing body as the employer retains the overall responsibility for health and safety issues, including asbestos management. The governing body needs to be aware of what is involved in the duty to manage asbestos and ensure that everyone whose work is liable to bring them into contact with ACMs (Asbestos Containing Materials) has the appropriate competencies.

Fifty-one schools (31%) had no written asbestos management plan. There was a tendency to rely on asbestos surveys even where these were not as comprehensive, up to date or accessible as they should have been. Some schools relied unquestioningly on an asbestos management plan provided by the local authority without being fully conversant with the contents and without taking the measures necessary to incorporate local knowledge.

115 out of 164 schools (70%) had a comprehensive system in place to ensure that anyone that may disturb ACMs (Asbestos Containing Materials) is provided with information on any asbestos present. In 20 cases (12%) there was no system in place at all.

Where in-house operatives undertook building and maintenance work, fewer than half of those schools had ensured that the operatives had received the appropriate level of asbestos training. Inspectors took enforcement action in 28 of the 164 schools – serving a total of 41 Improvement Notices:

  • 17 were served for a failure to provide adequate training
  • 14 for a lack of a written asbestos management plan
  • 8 for a failure to implement a suitable system to manage the risks from asbestos
  • 2 for a failure to undertake a survey/assessment of the presence of asbestos containing materials (ACMs)

(Source: HSE, October 2011)

Managing Contractors

Managing contractors is a guide for small to medium-sized companies in the chemical industry, but it will also be of use to other industries and larger companies. This is the second edition of the guide.

It focuses on companies with 50 staff or less and has been produced in consultation with chemical companies.

Section 1 of the guidance aims to assist companies in understanding the nature of the problem. It includes a short self-assessment questionnaire to help readers establish how much work they need to do to improve contractor management standards.

Section 2 gives an overview of key health and safety law pertinent to the subject including the Construction (Design and Management) regulations 2007.

Section 3 provides a checklist based on the successful health and safety management model (HSG65) but specific to the topic of contractor management. Readers are invited to use it to assess the effectiveness of their current approach. It’s followed by an action planning form for documenting all of the improvement areas identified.

Section 4 explores five practical steps for managing contractors:

  • Step 1: Planning
  • Step 2: Choosing a contractor
  • Step 3: Contractors working on site
  • Step 4: Keeping a check
  • Step 5: Reviewing the work

This section is supplemented by some practical exercises which ask readers to consider a typical scenario. The exercises involve hazard identification, identifying the risks arising from the hazards and risk elimination and control. The use of permit to work systems is also explained.

Prosecutions

Chemical Firm in Court over Major Incident in Cheshire

A chemical manufacturer has appeared in court following a major incident at its factory in Cheshire which put workers’ lives in danger. The company was prosecuted by the HSE after a chemical reaction got out of control at its plant in Northwich, releasing toxic and flammable substances into the production area.

The court was told an employee at the factory had been adding a solid chemical into a vessel containing a liquid chemical. He wrongly assumed he could increase the rate at which the chemical was added when they initially failed to react. The chemicals then reacted rapidly, leading to an uncontrolled ‘runaway reaction’. None of the workers were in the production hall when the alarms – set off by the incident – began to ring, but one of them returned to investigate. He was driven back by the fumes and fled from the building.

The HSE investigation concluded the company had failed to adequately assess the risks of the chemical reaction and ensure that suitable control measures were in place. It also found the employee had not received adequate training, instruction and supervision on the operating procedures, and did not appreciate the danger of increasing the quantity of the chemical.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by putting workers at risk. The company, which produces chemical products for the newspaper, cosmetics, and construction industries, was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £15,000 on 14 October 2011.

Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: “It is only luck that none of the company’s staff were in the production hall at the time of the incident as it’s unlikely they would have been able to escape unharmed without help. They would have been at serious risk from toxic chemical exposure, or a flash fire or explosion, if the flammable vapours released had ignited. They could easily have suffered permanent injuries or even been killed. Chemical factories must make sure safety is their top priority. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the company failed to ensure its safety procedures remained at the highest of standards.”

The company operates as a Top Tier site under the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations. It therefore has a legal duty to prevent major accidents and limit the effects of any incidents on people and the environment.

Firm Fined after Worker Hit by Forklift

A Lincolnshire farming company has been fined after a worker was hit by a forklift truck. An agency worker fractured his left leg in the incident at the company’s premises near Spalding on 21 October 2010. The worker, who was living in Kings Lynn at the time of the incident but has since returned to his home in Lithuania, was walking across the floor of a potato grading shed to get labels for boxes when he was hit by the reversing vehicle.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company had failed to ensure the shed was organised in such a way that vehicles and pedestrians could move around safely.

After the hearing, an HSE inspector said: “This incident need not have happened. The company should have made sure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that there was physical segregation between its workers and its vehicles. Since the incident, the company has put up a barrier but has also moved the labels to another part of the shed, next to the grading line, so people don’t have to walk across the shed. This goes to show how simple and inexpensive preventative measures can be.”

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 at Spalding Magistrates’ Court. The company was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay £2,588 costs.

Roof Company and Employee Fined

A contractor and one of its employees have been prosecuted after an HSE inspector spotted three roofers on a cash and carry store’s roof without any safety equipment. Nottingham magistrates fined the company £14,000 with £6,659 costs for putting its workers and the store’s customers at risk in May 2009.

The employee was also fined £480 plus £650 costs for failing to take reasonable care of himself and others at work. The employee was on the Nottingham cash and carry’s roof replacing sky lights with two others when the passing HSE inspector noticed the workers had no edge protection or harnesses to prevent falls. The HSE’s investigation later discovered the men had been working like this, without proper supervision, for three weeks.

On 3rd November the company admitted breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and the employee pleaded guilty under Section 7 of the Act.

Ceridian provides a range of Employment Law and Health & Safety services, with our partner, Ellis Whittam. These services form part of our overall HR & Payroll packages for SMEs. For more information, contact us online, or call today on 0800 0482 737.

  • 1st December 2011
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