Dumper Driver Killed in Truck Overturn

In April 2002, a man from Cardiff was driving a dump truck laden with red-hot slag for Short Brothers (Plant) Ltd at the former Allied Steel and Wire works in East Moors when the vehicle overturned. Diesel fuel leaked from the vehicle, made contact with the hot material and ignited, engulfing both the vehicle and driver in flames.

The HSE brought a prosecution on the basis that the vehicle was in an unfit condition. The truck had been modified to carry the hot slag, but the extra weight affected its brakes, which were not tested regularly. The employer, Short Brothers (Plant) Ltd, was fined £100,000 at Cardiff Crown Court in January 2006 and ordered to pay costs of £42,000.

The company was prosecuted under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 because it had failed to take reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety of its employees. The vehicle had not been properly maintained, no effective risk assessments had been carried out for the operation and there were no systems in place to ensure that the vehicle was not overloaded and that its brakes were effective.

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Factory Worker Wins Asthma Claim

A Staffordshire factory worker disabled by asthma caused by exposure to workplace chemicals has won compensation of £75,000 from his former employer, Schenectady Europe Ltd, formerly based in Wolverhampton, who admitted liability. The agreement followed the start of a London High Court trial to assess the level of damages to which he was entitled. The man had worked for his employer for 15 years as a kettle operator, and was exposed to fumes from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde, phenol, xylene and boron trifluouride, all of which are chemical agents capable of causing asthma.

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BSI Update On Machinery Safety

The BSI has published PD 5304:2005, Guidance on Safe Use of Machinery (ISBN 0 580 46818 6), written by leading industry experts and with contributions and support from the Health and Safety Executive. The new guidance supersedes PD 5304: 2000. The aim is to promote a high standard of machinery safety by providing guidance on issues ranging from the selection of protective measures and safeguards through to practical examples of guard design and their application. The guidance can also be applied to machinery during its use to assist those with duties under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

The document:

  • Describes and illustrates a variety of protective measures.

  • Explains methods by which it is possible to assess which measure(s) it is reasonable to adopt in particular circumstances.

  • Helps identify hazards.

  • Looks at aspects of machine design to eliminate or reduce risks.

  • Outlines maintenance and safe working practices.

  • Considers what needs to be done for installation of guards and protective devices.

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Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order Delayed

Implementation of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 has been delayed until Autumn 2006 due to the absence of the essential official guidance books to support the new legislation, which should have been published at least three months before the original April 2006 implementation date for the Order.

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Haulage Firm Owner Jailed For Fatal Accident

In January 2006, the owner of R&B Drivers, a haulage firm of Plymouth in Devon, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail by Winchester Crown Court for offences which came to light after two lorry drivers, one of whom was his employee, died in a head-on collision in Wiltshire. The employer had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to eight counts of obtaining property by deception, having been found not guilty of manslaughter.

He had persuaded drivers who had exceeded their legal hours behind the wheel to continue working, and had taken money from other hauliers for the drivers' services, even though some were so tired they had told him they had fallen asleep at the wheel. He also admitted one health and safety offence. The employer had punished his drivers with fewer shifts if they refused to work. Some had taken caffeine tablets to stay awake.

His business partner was fined £1,000 with £1,500 costs after he pleaded guilty to a health and safety charge of failing to ensure the safety of employees and others employed by the firm.

The driver who caused the fatal accident had far exceeded his permitted hours when he crashed into another lorry on 6th December 2003. The other driver, who had been driving legally, had no time to avoid the collision.

The court heard that the company had committed 267 drivers' hours and tachograph offences. It was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,500.

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European Campaign For Safety And Health At Work 2006

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is running a campaign throughout 2006 to draw attention to the risks to young workers, which will include the European Health and Safety Week in October. The incidence of accidents at work is 50% higher among those aged 18 to 24 than that of older workers. Preventative measures advocated by the Agency include risk awareness education for children, adding health and safety to professional and vocational training and employers taking account of young workers' physical and mental immaturity in training and supervision at work. The campaign will promote risk awareness as preparation for working life and quality work in safe and healthy workplaces, as well as supporting the European Youth Pact for employment and education and exchange of information.

The "Right Start" campaign involves:

  • Promoting risk awareness in children and young people.

  • Promoting the preparation of young people for the health and safety aspects of working life.

  • Promoting quality work for youngsters - safe and healthy workplaces and practices.

  • Supporting networking and information exchange among stakeholders.

  • Supporting the European Youth Pact for employment and education and training.

The Agency is developing a resources and information web page, with news about the campaign as it develops.

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New BSI Standard on FMEA and FMECA

The BSI has published BS EN 60812:2005, Analysis techniques for system reliability. Procedure for failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) , which describes failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) and failure mode, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA), and gives guidance as to how the techniques may be applied to achieve various reliability programme objectives.

These versatile techniques are a popular topic in NEBOSH Diploma examinations, as they can be applied to all types of processes and services, as well constructed or manufactured systems, as long as they are performed early in the development cycle and updated as the design develops.p>

Failure is the loss of the ability of an item to provide its required function. By identifying the potential for system elements to fail, the designer may be able to eliminate the causes, or mitigate the failure effects to avoid undesirable consequences on the system. Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a logical process aimed at identifying the potential failure modes of the elements of a system; the respective causes of failures; and the failure effects, initially on that element and then on its particular part of the larger system. A failure effect at a lower level may then be a failure cause for an item in the next higher level, hence the end effect on the system as a whole may be identified.

Failure modes, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA) is an extension of FMEA, by including estimates of the likelihood and the severity of each failure mode. When these factors are combined, it provides a measure of criticality, allowing for identification and prioritisation of countermeasures.

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Link Between Stress and Heart Disease and Diabetes

A 14-year study of over 10,000 civil servants (the "Whitehall study"), by scientists at University College, London, has found evidence of a direct link between exposure to stress at work and ill-health. The research, published in the British Medical Journal , covered civil servants between the ages of 35 and 55 when the study started, working in 20 London departments.

The researchers carried out tests on the participants, including an analysis of components of the "metabolic syndrome" - factors such as obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol. They found that men who experienced a good deal of stress were twice as likely to suffer from the syndrome as those who were not exposed to stress. Women workers subject to high stress bore five times the risk.

The research identified a "dose-response" relationship between job stress and the metabolic syndrome - the more stress an individual experienced, the more likely he was to suffer syndrome symptoms leading to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Overall, fewer women were found to experience chronic stress at work. Both men and women from the lower employment grades were more likely than those above them to have the syndrome.

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Challenge to New EU Directive on Pollution at Sea

In September 2005, a new EU directive came into effect, which introduces criminal sanctions for pollution from ships. The new law must be implemented in member states by March 2007. The international convention on pollution at sea already covers liability for intentional or reckless pollution but the new EU law goes further, introducing a state of mind called "serious negligence". A ship's master guilty of this could be prosecuted and given a jail sentence.

The new law is being challenged in the European Court of Justice by a coalition of shipping organisations, who are seeking a judicial review. They fear that ships' owners, officers, crew members and even salvage companies could face prosecution for accidental pollution.

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Welsh Hamlet Unsafe For Postmen

The hamlet of Cefn Minog in the foothills of the Black Mountains in Wales has lost its doorstep postal delivery, following a report by a health and safety inspector. The inspector found three ways in which a postman might be killed, 23 hazards capable of inflicting a major injury, six hazards that could cause a serious injury, and two hazards that could lead to a minor injury. The three deadly hazards identified were a stile, a small farmyard and a track.

The number of homes in Britain that do not receive a daily doorstep delivery of post rose by 7% last year. The figure currently stands at 2,812, more than a quarter of them denied deliveries for health and safety reasons.

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Egg Carton Manufacturer Fined Over Asbestos Exposure

On 1st February 2006, a manufacturer of egg cartons based in Great Yarmouth, Omni-Pac (UK), was fined a total of £50,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £86,000 at Norwich Crown Court after pleading guilty in November 2005 to breaches of Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 with respect to the company's duties both to its employees and to others who were affected by the way it conducted its undertaking.

The case followed an investigation by the HSE into the condition of asbestos-containing materials on the company site in October 2003. Air samples showed a high level of asbestos derived from damaged and poorly maintained asbestos insulation on top of dryers used to produce the finished papier-mâché egg cartons.

The court found that the employer had failed to properly manage the risks from asbestos-containing materials throughout the site, particularly in those areas at high level that were not readily visible. The company failed to adhere to its own procedures and in consequence, employees and others could have been exposed to asbestos over a long period of time.

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Illegal Cockle Pickers Still Tempting Fate

In Scotland, coastguards on the Solway in February 2006 warned that deaths off the coast are almost certain if illegal cockling continues. The gangs of pickers continue to go out at night in dangerous tides. The statement followed a major search and rescue operation for 20 Polish cocklers reported missing, later abandoned as a false alarm.

The Solway Firth fishery is closed and it is illegal to fish there. Various government agencies are involved, but the emergency services are the only part of the regulatory regime at present in action.

In an earlier incident in January 2006, Polish workers had to be rescued twice in a week off Powfoot, near Annan.

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Illegal Fuel Processing Raids In Northern Ireland

In early February 2006, HM Revenue & Customs officers and police raided three illegal fuel plants in the Cullyhanna area of south Armagh, which were engaged in fuel laundering. Two plants were hidden in farm buildings and one was mobile. The illegal operations had the combined capacity to produce 80,000 litres of laundered fuel per week. The raids resulted in the recovery of 30,000 litres of contaminated fuel and seizure of a fuel tanker, pumps and filtration and storage equipment. In addition, 5,000 litres of sulphuric acid and 7,000 litres of toxic contaminated sludge, the hazardous chemical residue of the laundering process, were cleared from the sites.

Apart from an estimated annual revenue loss of £2,250,000, there is potential damage to the environment caused by the indiscriminate dumping on farmland of the waste products from the laundering process, leading to contamination of arable land, waterways and rivers. Such waste is difficult and expensive to dispose of safely, and the criminal gangs make no attempts to do so. No arrests were made and enquiries were continuing.

Another lorry carrying about 5,000 litres of hazardous laundering waste was abandoned at the roadside in County Armagh the previous week during co-ordinated official raids in which customs officers seized 26,000 litres of diesel. The fuel was recovered from storage tanks at oil distribution premises in Newtownhamilton, Co. Armagh. Two fuel tankers containing 1,900 litres of diesel fuel, and a third with 21,600 litres of green diesel (rebated fuel from the Republic of Ireland) were also seized.

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Buncefield Waste Creates A Disposal Problem

Stored in the Maple Cross sewage treatment works near Rickmansworth lies 12 million litres of spent fire-fighting foam, mixed with polluted water containing a variety of toxic chemicals. During the action to control the Buncefield oil depot fire (see the Winter 2005 e-Newsletter), the foam and water was collected behind a protective bund and later transported in road tankers to its present location. The scale of the fire-fighting operation was so large and required so much foam that remaining stocks of the old type were utilised.

Nobody is sure how to dispose of it, due to the volume involved and the range of toxic substances mixed in within, which includes both foam additives and petrochemical combustion products. It cannot be run through the sewage treatment works, nor released to the environment. Environment Agency tests have revealed the presence of perfluoro-octane sulphonate (which was used in oil fire-fighting foams, but has now been phased out due to its toxicity); polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs (by-products of combustion containing benzene and other carcinogenic agents); and methyl tertiary butyl ether (an unleaded fuel additive which is a suspected carcinogen).

High temperature incineration is the most favoured option for the destruction of the toxic substances, but water does not incinerate readily. The problem has been given to specialist consultants brought in by the oil companies based at Buncefield. The companies concerned will also have to pay the bill for disposing of the firewater, which is expected to run into several million pounds.

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New BSI Standard For Fall Protection Systems

The BSI has published BS 8437:2005, Code of practice for selection, use and maintenance of personal fall protection systems and equipment for use in the workplace . This new standard was produced in response to the need to bring together best practice regarding personal fall protection from a large number of sources, including information from manufacturers, from research studies and from training organisations.

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Worker Crushed To Death In Machine Press

In February 2006, Lincolnshire company D. S. Smith Packaging Ltd was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £13,300 costs by Lincoln Crown Court following the death of an employee in August 2004. The man was dragged into a machine press and crushed to death as he reached inside to free a blockage, inadvertently starting the machine up again.

The company admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 by failing to ensure the worker's safety. The danger should have been clear and it was foreseeable that the lack of safety devices on the machine might result in catastrophic injury or death. The HSE prosecutor said that a metal plate costing just £100 would have prevented the accident.

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Environment Agency Action On Special Waste

Following the prosecution of Rotunda Group Limited, trading as Southport Skip Hire, which was fined £9,000 with £2,185 costs at Southport Magistrates' Court in January 2006, the Environment Agency has reminded businesses that they face prosecution if they do not operate in accordance with their Waste Management Licence and in particular by accepting wastes that are not permitted.

Rotunda Group Limited was found guilty of knowingly permitting the deposit of special waste (in this case asbestos) when there was no waste management licence in force authorising that deposit, contrary to Section 33(1)(a) and Section 33(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA); keeping controlled waste on land not in accordance with a waste management licence, contrary to Section 33(1)(b) and Section 33(6) of the EPA; and failing, without reasonable excuse, to furnish the Environment Agency with information required by a Notice in writing and served on it and so breaking Section 71(3) of the EPA.

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HSE Warning To Tyre Fitters

In mid-February 2006, the HSE issued a warning to all employers involved in tyre servicing to assess the associated risks and ensure that employees are properly trained and competent to undertake such work. The announcement followed a fatal accident near Sandwich, Kent, on 27th January, which took place during the repair of a puncture on a 1.5 metre diameter EM tyre. Kent Police and the HSE are conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the accident.

According to the HSE the two main hazards that can arise during tyre inflation are the violent separation of the component parts of the wheel; or an air blast from a ruptured or burst tyre. Tyre servicing is a potentially hazardous job and should only be tackled by skilled personnel who have been thoroughly trained. Many accidents occur when employees use machines and equipment to undertake dangerous jobs without proper training, particularly tyre fitting. Managers and supervisors must also be properly trained. The HSE has published a leaflet on the topic, Health and Safety in Tyre and Exhaust Fitting Premises .

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Company Faces Charges Over Fatal Factory Blast

The Crown Office confirmed in February 2006 that ICL Plastics and ICL Tech, the owners and operators of a four-storey factory building in Grovepark Road, Maryhill, Glasgow, are to be prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

Nine people were killed and around 40 injured when the building was destroyed by an explosion on 11th May 2004. The decision to prosecute followed the submission of a report by the procurator fiscal in Glasgow, Strathclyde Police and the Health and Safety Executive.

The company has been accused of failing to maintain pipes carrying hazardous gas or gases; a failure to ensure the safety of staff; and failing to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. No date had been set for the trial at the time of the announcement.

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AEA Technology Fined For Serious Radiation Leak

In mid-February 2006, in a rare prosecution brought by the HSE and the Department of Transport under the Radioactive Materials (Road Transport) Act 1991 and the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 , AEA Technology, a privatised arm of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, admitted six breaches of health and safety legislation at Leeds Crown Court and was fined £250,000 with £151,000 costs. The company had been charged with exposing its employees and other people to unnecessary and potentially extremely high radiological risks.

The case concerned the transport of a specially built 2.5 tonne flask container which carried radioactive waste, including a quantity of cobalt-60 from a decommissioned teletherapy machine used to treat cancer patients at Cookridge Hospital in Leeds, to the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria on 11th March 2002.

The company and its subcontractor, International Radiotherapy Services, took the isotope source from the machine at Cookridge and placed it in an inner flask before loading it into an outer container. However, the company used the wrong safety packaging and did not notice that a lead shield plug (an integral part of the approved packaging) on the underside of the container was missing.

The package was loaded onto a low-axle trailer and taken 130 miles to the Windscale waste processing plant. During this time the container was emitting a potentially lethal amount of gamma radiation to the environment. Anyone directly exposed to the beam within one metre would have exceeded the legal limit after eight seconds; would have felt sick within ten minutes; would have faced a 50% chance of death after one hour; and would have died after two hours. Fortunately, the gamma radiation was focused downwards in a narrow beam, although the beam would have bounced off the ground during loading.

The leak was detected by a contamination monitor when the vehicle was left in a secure compound at Windscale overnight. The radiation dose rates measured at Windscale were in the order of 100 to 1,000 times above what would normally be considered a very high dose rate and measurement was beyond the capabilities of normal hand-held monitoring equipment.

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Health and Safety Meeting Ends in Disaster

Twenty people attending a health and safety meeting at Findel Education, Hyde Buildings, Ashton Road, Hyde, Greater Manchester, were rescued after becoming trapped when a mezzanine floor in their meeting room collapsed as they were discussing safety procedures. Fire-fighters and paramedics used ropes and ladders to free those trapped after the floor gave way and people fell 2.7 metres into an office below, the occupants of which had already fled. Eight of those trapped by furniture and supplies were taken to hospital for further treatment. The person with the worst injury had a suspected broken ankle, with others suffering neck injuries, back injuries and bruising. The Hyde office is the headquarters of Findel Education, an educational supplies business.

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£1 Million Payout For Lift Shaft Fall

An engineer who fell 150 feet down a lift shaft at Canary Wharf in London was awarded £977,659 plus costs in an out-of-court settlement with his employer, lift manufacturers Kone, who admitted liability after it was agreed that the man had been working with unsafe equipment and the maintenance platform should have had a secondary braking system.

The engineer, who had been working overnight, plunged 11 storeys when a supporting rope on a maintenance platform snapped. He was trapped for hours on a wooden deck where a 110lb lift motor had fallen on top of him.

The man had undergone more than 20 operations since the accident in 2001. He suffered serious injuries to both legs and his shoulders, post traumatic stress disorder, and faces another five operations in the future.

The case had been due to go before the High Court in London but was settled before it went to trial.

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Buncefield Inquiry Reveals Fuel Escape

A progress report issued by the HSE on the investigation into the Buncefield oil depot fire (with some spectacular photographs) has indicated that a mist of petrol and water vapour 200 metres wide moved across the fuel depot minutes before the explosions in December 2005. What formed the cloud or caused it to ignite is not yet known. It was also revealed that there was a small leak two or three weeks before the disaster.

Eye-witnesses reported seeing a low-lying mist by one of the bunds housing the tanks on the west side of the site (Bund A), near the neighbouring industrial estate, prior to the first blast on 11th December, and it was also recorded on CCTV. The fuel vapour had escaped from a bund, although it is not known whether overfilling or some form of leak was responsible. The mist was assumed to arise from the evaporation of the more volatile fractions of an escape of fuel. It has been suggested that the most plausible scenarios involve large-scale loss of containment of vessels or pipework within Bund A.

(On 13th February 2006, the HSE published an unconnected research report, HSL/2006/09, Review of unidentified ignition sources of unplanned flammable releases - Comparison of Offshore and Onshore data , a study based on 4,343 major incidents involving fires or explosions and/or releases of flammable materials. The objective was to provide data on the probability of ignition of accidental releases of flammable gases, liquids and vapours. The major finding from the database search was that of all the incidents where ignition occurred following a release, approximately two-thirds of them had no ignition source that was identified by a subsequent investigation. Of the approximate one third where an ignition source was identified, the sources were fairly evenly distributed in that there was no obviously dominant ignition source.)

At the end of January, a group of victims of the explosion who lost their homes or jobs or suffered post traumatic stress launched a claim for compensation in the High Court against Hertfordshire Oil Storage, a joint venture company operated by Total and Texaco.

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EU Considers Ban On Mercury

The European Union may soon ban new thermometers which contain mercury in order to minimise the risk that the toxic heavy metal poses to humans, ecosystems and wildlife once it enters the waste stream. The EU Commission wants to ban the marketing of mercury in new fever and room thermometers, barometers and blood pressure gauges due to its serious threat to health.

Use in thermometers accounts for around 30 of the 33 tonnes of mercury used in measuring and control devices across the EU every year. Direct exposure from a broken thermometer is dangerous, causing damage to the lungs, kidneys and brain when inhaled.

The proposed ban will be debated by EU ministers and the European Parliament. However, specialist applications, in particular medical measuring devices, will not be covered by the ban since adequate substitutes are not always available.

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Employment Tribunals and the Lost Art of Management

Figures released in 2005 by the Employment Tribunals Service showed that the number of employment tribunal cases is falling, although many claims are settled out of court because of the cost to the employer of defending a claim, with the average figure working out at £7,000. The total cost to employers of employment tribunal claims has reached £210 million per year. The CBI has cited "the development of a compensation culture" as being the cause of an increase in the number of claims settled before reaching a tribunal, but the reality is that many employers do not have the essential proper procedures in place.

Dismissal, redundancy or complaint procedures must follow formal structures. In the case of dismissal there must be formal disciplinary charges such that the employee is aware that his or her employment contract is under threat, and the employee must then be given time to prepare for a proper hearing at which allegations, evidence and responses may be presented. Only then may a dismissal decision be taken, after which the employee still has a right of appeal.

Likewise, when an employee makes a complaint (for example involving harassment, bullying, training, failure to consult with an employee representative or trade union official over health and safety matters, pensions or transfers) proper procedures must be followed by the employer, to avoid creating a situation where the employee may claim constructive dismissal.

The limits on payments and awards made to employees in employment rights cases rose on 1st February 2006 in line with inflation. The minimum amount of the basic award for breaches of relevant sections of the Employment Rights Act 1996 which result in detriment or dismissal for a worker has risen from £3,800 to £4,000.

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HSWA Challenge In The European Court

In February 2006, two cases were under consideration by the European Court of Justice in which the European Commission had taken the UK Government to the Court to clarify whether current UK law complies with EU regulations. The first case involved the Working Time Directive and the second the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

At present all UK health and safety law is based upon HSWA, which contains the phrase that employers should act to protect the health and safety of their workers "so far as is reasonably practicable". In Case C-127/05 the Commission contends that this wording does not go far enough in implementing the EC 1989 Health and Safety Directive . Interference with this phrase or its interpretation is likely to have a dramatic ripple effect through the entire body of UK health and safety legislation.

Case C-484/04 deals with breaks for workers during and between working days and relates to the Working Time Directive (WTD). The Commission, prompted by UK trades unions, wants to change the current interpretation of the WTD in UK law. The UK Government official guidelines advised employers that they must ensure that workers "can" take their rest, but they are not required to ensure that they "do" take their rest. It is therefore up to employees to choose when to take their breaks.

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British Plea To Increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rejected

In February 2006, the UK Government was denied leave by the European Commission to raise the amount of pollution it can create under the EU emissions trading scheme, the key instrument for fighting climate change and meeting commitments under the Kyoto environment treaty. Last year the UK Government sought to increase the amount of carbon dioxide British industry was allowed to emit from 2005 to 2007 by 20 million tonnes.

The Commission refused but the EU Court of First Instance ruled that changes could be made. The Commission then argued that the UK amendment was submitted too late for the deadline of 30th September 2004, and the court had ruled that it had to consider changes only so long as they were submitted on time. Since the UK amendment was notified after the deadline, the Commission passed the decision rejecting the amended plan on the grounds of late submission.

In March 2006, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that UK emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global climate change, rose 0.25% in 2005 to 153 million tonnes, the third consecutive annual increase. The provisional estimate came after ministers said that the UK would miss its own target to slash CO2 emissions by a fifth by 2010 from 1990 levels. Britain is still on course to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals under the Kyoto Protocol. The surge in gas prices last year encouraged utilities to burn cheaper but dirtier coal in power stations, despite extra costs related to complying with Europe's emissions trading scheme. The data confirmed that the UK is struggling to meet its domestic CO2 reduction goals; emissions in 2005 were about 5.5% below 1990 levels. Emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases in 2005 were provisionally estimated to have been 14.5% below 1990 levels. Under Kyoto, the UK is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% from 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

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Explosion Knocks Out the Bravo Platform

On 16th February 2006, there was an explosion and fire on the Bravo gas storage platform in the North Sea, which injured two workers. The platform is owned by Centrica Storage, who said that operations would be put out of action for around one month. The Bravo rig in the Rough field is 31 km off Withernsea on the East Yorkshire coast and can supply up to 10% of the UK peak North Sea gas demand.

There were 58 people on board the rig when the fire broke out and it was extinguished by the onboard crew. An initial visual inspection of the scene indicated there was a failure of a cooler unit in one of four dehydration units and an explosion occurred in that vicinity. Remaining non-essential staff were evacuated to safety by RAF helicopters and support vessels.

On 14th March, the loss of Rough field production, coupled with the chaotic state of the UK natural gas market, resulted in a quadrupling of the wholesale price of gas in one day, with a later knock-on effect on the price of electricity; perhaps the most expensive 'hidden cost' accident of the century so far.

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North Sea Oil Worker Killed

On 22nd February 2006, an oil worker died after being hit by equipment weighing half a ton on board the multi-service vessel MSV Seawell in Shell's Gannet field in the North Sea. He was struck by a piece of equipment known as a mandrill. He was employed by the owners of the vessel, Cal Dive International. Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive, Cal Dive International and Grampian Police officers were despatched to the vessel to carry out an investigation. Initial reports stated that the incident occurred during wireline operations.

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New BSI Standard For Safe Use Of Cranes

The BSI has published BS 7121-1:2005 Code of practice for safe use of cranes. General. This is a newly revised standard which gives recommendations for the safe use of cranes, covering safe systems of work, management, planning, selection, erection and dismantling, inspection, testing, examination, operation and maintenance of cranes and the planning and management of lifting operations. It supersedes the previous standard BS 7121-1:1989 which has been withdrawn.

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Dangerous Substances And Explosive Atmospheres Regulations

The provisions of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) will come into force in July 2006 for workplaces that were in use prior to July 2003. The Regulations deal with the prevention of fire and explosion in the chemical and allied industries, and are intended to prevent such incidents as the Buncefield oil depot fire.

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Company Fined For Accountant's Firewalk Burns

Si Group, a corporate development firm running a motivational skills course for the international business advisory group, Deloitte, included a firewalking exercise to prove to participants that the seemingly impossible can be accomplished. This involved walking across a bed of embers prepared in a car park. As a result, a senior accountant suffered burns to her feet, had to be taken to hospital and was unable to work for two weeks.Thousands of workers are said to have completed a similar exercise without incident but the woman concerned had been given a pedicure a few days before the course. It is thought that some of the chemicals used in the pedicure made her feet more sensitive to the heat.

Following an investigation by Southwark Council, Si Group was prosecuted and admitted failing to carry out an adequate risk assessment. At Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court in February 2006, the firm was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £4,655 in costs.

In a statement afterwards, the Council said that "The defendant failed to follow safe systems of work prescribed in their procedures, which included offering information about skin conditions that would have excluded the victim from firewalking".

Deloitte has since banned its employees from firewalking.

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Worker Jailed For Practical Joke That Went Wrong

Annoyed by a colleague's habit of drinking directly from a bottle of cola that was supposed to be shared by four people, a garage mechanic added about two inches of antifreeze to the one inch of cola left in the bottle. It was intended to be "no more than a practical joke" but the victim was left permanently blind and deaf as a result. The prankster had expected the man to spit the drink out but instead he swallowed it, there being no noticeable alteration in the taste or smell.

The incident occurred in March 2005 and the victim had worked at the garage for 29 years.

At Sheffield Crown Court in February 2006, the mechanic was jailed for 15 months for causing a poison to be taken so as to inflict grievous bodily harm. He had failed to admit what he had done until it was too late to administer an antidote.

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Child Falls To Death At Office

A boy aged 21 months fell to his death at an Edinburgh office building in February 2006 when he ran ahead of his mother and squeezed behind a glass partition on a mezzanine landing. He fell 15 feet to the floor below, suffering severe head injuries.

His mother was employed by Ledingham Chalmers, a firm of solicitors which rents an office in the building owned by HBOS. She was visiting the office on her day off and was on her way out.

Health and safety officers from Edinburgh City Council and Lothian and Borders police were investigating the incident.

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Trapped Coat Drags Man Under Train

A man seeing off a passenger at Huntingdon station in Cambridgeshire in February 2006 was dragged off the station platform and under the wheels of a train when his coat became trapped in the doors. He had boarded the train to say goodbye and stepped back onto the platform when the incident occurred. The victim was left needing several hours of surgery.

Under rules drawn up by the Rail Safety and Standards Board for driver-only trains, train drivers are required to use monitors and mirrors to check that the edge of the platform is clear before they pull away. There are also sensors to prevent a train moving off when an object is trapped in the doors. On this occasion, it appears that the coat was too thin to be detected by the sensor.

The Health and Safety Executive and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch were investigating the accident.

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Coal Miners Trapped in Pit Cage

On 3rd March 2006, 18 coal miners were rescued after being trapped for two hours in sub-zero temperatures in a pit cage at Maltby Colliery in South Yorkshire. The men were trapped when the cage suddenly stopped as it descended a shaft. All were found to be suffering from hypothermia and three were taken to hospital with neck and spinal injuries, which were not thought to be serious. The men were on their way to the Parkway seam and had just passed an inset in the shaft when the incident occurred.

The Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation into the incident.

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Supermarket Customer Killed By Car Park Barrier

A Cardiff coroner's inquest was held in March 2006 into the death of a supermarket customer who was killed when a steel security barrier crashed into his car windscreen and hit him on the head. The man had gone to buy a garden shed at the Asda store in Cardiff when the accident happened in May 2002.

The company said that the steel barrier was placed at the store exit and was swung around at night to stop skateboarders and joy-riders using the private car park. The barrier was difficult to close and was not locked to its securing post on the day of the incident, despite earlier complaints that it was swinging free. Witnesses told the court that there were very strong winds that day.

The jury returned a majority verdict of unlawful killing, in the light of which the police reopened a criminal investigation to review the evidence. It had been decided earlier by the Crown Prosecution Service that there was insufficient evidence for manslaughter charges to be brought. The inquest was told of a series of similar incidents involving barriers at different Asda superstores, including one in 1999 when a barrier at the Asda store in Walsall was blown through the windscreen and out through a rear side window of a car containing two customers. That incident led to Asda being prosecuted on two charges under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 , for which they were fined £9,000.

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Fine For Child Labour Accident On Farm

On 6th March 2006 at Leicester Magistrates' Court a farmer admitted breaching an HSE Code of Practice in that he allowed a 14-year-old tractor driver to carry a passenger, and allowed a minor to drive with a power machine attached. The 16-year-old passenger slipped when attempting to climb into the tractor and fell under the rear wheel of the vehicle. The spikes of a power harrow then went through his right leg, part of which was later amputated. The incident happened on a farm in the Market Harborough area on 1st September 2005.

The HSE prosecutor said that there was a lack of communication between the two about how the passenger would get back on the tractor after leaving the cab temporarily. Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 , employers are required to ensure that employees work safely, and this accident would have been entirely preventable if there had been compliance with the HSE guidelines. The farmer was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,199 HSE costs.

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Nineteen Injured In Toxic Chemical Incident

On 12th March 2006, a worker at Bulkhaul Limited, a chemical transport firm on the Riverside Industrial Estate in Middlesbrough, was overcome by fumes while cleaning out a tank, which had contained the widely-used herbicide Paraquat. Nearby employees who went to his assistance were also affected, as were some members of the fire service who later attended the scene, despite the deployment of special shower decontamination units. Those affected were taken to the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough, but their injuries were reported to be not serious. The Health and Safety Executive is conducting an investigation into the incident.

Paraquat, or N,N'-Dimethyl-4,4'-bipyridinium dichloride, is toxic if swallowed and concentrated formulations are irritants to eyes and skin.

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Pressure Vessels Update

The BSI has published a revised version of its reference resource for design and assessment of pressure vessels, PD 5500:2006 Specification for unfired fusion welded pressure vessels . The document specifies requirements for the material, design, manufacture, inspection, testing and verification of compliance for unfired fusion welded pressure vessels. It covers vessels manufactured from carbon, ferritic alloy and austenitic steels, aluminium, copper and nickel used in a wide range of process and energy industry applications.

The term 'pressure vessel' as used in this specification includes branches up to the point of connection to the connecting piping by bolting, screwing or welding, and supports, brackets or other attachments directly welded to the pressure containing shell. The term 'unfired' excludes vessels that are subject to direct generated heat or flame impingement from a fired process. It includes vessels subject to electrical heating or heated process streams.

PD 5500:2006 supersedes PD 5500:2003 which has now been withdrawn.

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Four Injured In Pharmaceutical Plant Blast

An HSE investigation was launched after four men were injured, two of them with severe burns, in an explosion at the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pharmaceuticals plant in Irvine, North Ayrshire, early in the morning of 2nd March 2006. The explosion happened in a part of the factory where chemical processes involving high pressure and heat are used to treat raw chemicals for the production of anti-malaria and HIV drugs. One side of the factory building was blown apart and a fire ignited which was extinguished by the plant's sprinkler system. The GSK plant employs 700 people and casualties could have been worse if the full shift of 230 workers had been on site. Only 20 workers were in the unit at the time of the blast. Part of the factory was shut down until the cause of the explosion was discovered.

The company was fined £20,000 in September 1999 after an HSE prosecution when an explosion took place in another section of the same factory. In that case more than 100 workers escaped injury when a chemical drum ignited and tore a gaping hole in a factory building. SmithKline Beecham were also fined £10,000 at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court in September that year after they admitted operating a dryer with a faulty oxygen gauge. The company was in the courts in December 2005 when it was fined £15,000 at East Berkshire Magistrates' Court after a worker's thumb was partially severed by machinery at its Maidenhead factory.

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Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 are anticipated to come into force on 1st October 2006 and will implement the age strand of EU Directive 2000/78 EC, establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and vocational training. The Regulations apply to employment and vocational training and prohibit unjustified direct and indirect age discrimination, and all harassment and victimisation on grounds of age, of people of any age, young or old. As well as applying to retirement they:

  • Remove the upper age limit for unfair dismissal and redundancy rights, giving older workers the same rights to claim unfair dismissal or receive a redundancy payment as younger workers, unless there is a genuine retirement.

  • Allow pay and non-pay benefits to continue which depend on length of service requirements of five years or less or which recognise and reward loyalty and experience and motivate staff.

  • Remove the age limits for Statutory Sick Pay, Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Statutory Paternity Pay, so that the legislation for all four statutory payments applies in exactly the same way to all.

  • Remove the lower and upper age limits in the statutory redundancy scheme, but leave the current age-banded system in place.

  • Provide exemptions for many age-based rules in occupational pension schemes (contained in Schedule 2 to the Regulations).

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Construction Company Fined After Fatal Ladder Fall

On 13th March 2006 at the Old Bailey in London, the construction company Henderson General Services of Putney was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,296 following a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive after an investigation into the death of an employee, who fell from a ladder while he attempted to access a scaffold.

The man was employed on painting the exterior of a building in Queen's Gate Terrace, London, when he fell 4.25 metres whilst attempting to climb over a balcony railing from his ladder on the site. The company had failed to ensure safe ladder access to the scaffold, such as installing a gantry, which would have prevented the incident.

Henderson General Services pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

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Westcoast Traincare Fined For Hand Amputation

In October 2004, a train maintenance worker employed by Westcoast Traincare was replacing brake pads underneath a set of carriages at the depot in Oxley, Wolverhampton. Two colleagues were also working on the train, conducting brake tests on the attached locomotive. During the course of the testing, one of them released the train's braking system causing the train to move forward. One of the carriage wheels rolled over the right hand of the worker underneath, causing injuries which resulted in the amputation of all his fingers and two knuckles.

An HSE investigation found that the company vehicle maintenance instruction for this type of work was inadequate, leading to a local procedure being developed. Wheel scotches, which are wooden wedges designed to prevent the train moving, should have been used, with two in each direction of travel at either end of the train. Noticeboards warning that the train should not be moved and placed on alternate sides of each end of the train should also have been in place. Wheel scotches and noticeboards were only partially used on the train involved in this incident.

At Wolverhampton Magistrates' Court, Westcoast Traincare Ltd of Newbold Road, Rugby, Warwickshire, was prosecuted by the HSE under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 on charges of failing to ensure the safety of persons in its employment or operate under a safe system of work for staff undertaking maintenance activities. On 14th March 2006, the company pleaded guilty and was fined £13,000 with costs of £3,500.

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Two Men Jailed For Tebay Rail Deaths

In what was described as a landmark case, in Newcastle two men were jailed for the manslaughter of four rail workers who were killed when they were hit by a runaway trailer at Tebay, Cumbria, in February 2004 (although in this trial mens rea was relatively straightforward to establish). The four men were struck by a wagon carrying 16 tonnes of steel rail tracks, which came silently out of the darkness and ran into them as they worked on the West Coast Main Line (see the Spring 2004 E-Newsletter).

One of the accused was the owner of MAC Machinery Services who, with a blatant and premeditated disregard for employee safety, had deliberately disconnected the hydraulic brakes on two wagons because it was cheaper than repairing them. He had driven a low-loader truck with a railway crane and two wagons to Scout Green in Cumbria to lift worn out track from the West Coast Main Line onto the railway wagons. He had disconnected the brakes on the two wagons because the hydraulic systems were in such bad condition that they would not work properly in conjunction with the crane. He had filled the hydraulic brake fluid cables connecting the crane with steel balls, giving an external impression that everything was normal.

On the morning of the incident, the second accused began using the crane to lift lengths of steel onto the wagons. He was not qualified to operate the crane, and had placed wooden chocks under the wheels of the two wagons because he knew they might move as he unloaded the steel rails. However, as he began loading the second wagon, it began to roll down the track after crushing the chocks. Some distance down the line the maintenance workers were unable to hear its approach due to the noise from an on-site generator.

At Newcastle Crown Court in March 2006, the company owner and the crane operator were each found guilty of four counts of manslaughter. The owner was jailed for nine years, having also been found guilty of three counts of breaching health and safety legislation. The crane operator was jailed for two years, in addition to being convicted of a single count of breaching health and safety legislation.

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Two Companies Fined For Tractor Death

A man engaged on land survey work using laser equipment, to make sure the ground surface was properly levelled before being developed into a car park, was killed when a tractor reversed into him on 27th August 2003. The accident took place outside the Toyota car plant in Burnaston. Although the tractor driver was found to be competent, there was a blind spot behind his vehicle and the driver of the grader did not see the victim and reversed over him.

A prosecution was heard in March 2006 at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates' Court in Ilkeston. The court was told by an HSE inspector that the vehicle's blind spot could have been remedied by fitting closed circuit TV or convex mirrors. Magistrates ordered Combined Associates of Blackburn to pay fines totalling £25,000 and costs of £2,296 after the company admitted failing to ensure the safety of an employee and failing to provide plant equipment which was safe. The subcontractor, C. A. Blackwell Ltd of Colchester, was fined £15,000 with £2,052 costs after admitting failing to prevent people being exposed to risk.

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DTI Bans Historic Church Organs

Some unusual UK victims have been found by the EU Directives 2002 95/EC (RoHS) and 2002 96/EC (WEEE) in the shape of historic cathedral organs, including those in St Paul's London, Salisbury Cathedral, Worcester Cathedral and St Alban's Abbey, all of which are due to be refurbished or rebuilt in the near future and will thereby fall foul of EU legislation designed to limit the amount of lead in electrical equipment. The problem is that organ pipes have a lead content in excess of 50%, the EU permitted limit being 0.1%. Instead of some burly rustic pumping a bellows lever behind the instrument, pipe organs now utilise electric motors to power the blowers, which move air through the pipes, thus bringing what are essentially mechanical devices within the scope of the regulations. Organ building is a craft industry, which relies on malleable tin-lead alloy for producing a distinctive sound in the pipes. Organ builders claim that lead is never sent to waste, it is always reused in new or different pipes; no other substitute is available. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) insists that organ builders must comply with a harmonised approach, but points out that exemptions from directives could be granted by the EU.

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Worker Buried In Falling Debris

At Stevenage Magistrates' Court on 15th March 2006, Pellikaan Construction Ltd of Cannon Street, London, was fined £45,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974; Regulation 5(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999; and Regulation 4(1) of the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996.

The prosecution was brought by the HSE following an investigation into an incident on 13th November 2004 during the construction of a leisure centre in Royston, Hertfordshire for North Hertfordshire District Council. A labourer was buried beneath falling debris as the first floor of a building under construction collapsed, causing him serious injury. The contractor working on temporary structures had not conducted suitable risk assessments or taken steps to prevent danger from their collapse. In this case, the employer had failed to ensure that temporary support was suitably designed and erected under the supervision of a competent person. An appropriate assessment of the loading forces and load- bearing capacity of the supports should be a fundamental requirement.

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Wembley Stadium Roof Collapse

On 20th March 2006, around 3,500 workers were evacuated from the Wembley stadium construction site after part of the north-west roof structure collapsed. A faulty weld holding a hook where a rafter fitted onto the leading edge beam collapsed with a loud noise. The rafter dropped about one metre and work was suspended until engineers could examine the problem. The Australian construction company, Multiplex, will be fined £125,000 per day of lost work, on top of their normal wages bill for staff.

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Chinese Gangmaster Found Guilty Of Morecambe Bay Deaths

On 23rd March 2006, at Preston Crown Court, a Chinese gangmaster was found guilty of the manslaughter of 21 illegal immigrant Chinese cocklers who drowned in a high tide off Hest Bank in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, in February 2004. Among five defendants, he and his Chinese girlfriend and cousin were also convicted of helping cockle pickers to break immigration laws. A man and his son from Merseyside, who ran a company which bought cockles harvested by the cocklers, were cleared of the immigration charge.

The gangmaster was the controller of an operation in which illegal immigrants were employed for very low wages to scour the sandflats for cockles. He was also found guilty of facilitation, i.e. assisting aliens to breach UK immigration law, and of perverting the course of justice.

The gangmaster was later sentenced to 12 years' jail for the manslaughter charges and six years for the facilitation charges, to run concurrently. He was also jailed for a further two years for charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, to run consecutively. When his sentences have been served, he will be deported.

The Lancashire Police investigation cost £25 million and the seven-month trial of the defendants cost around £5 million.

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Unstable Stack Falls On Forklift Operator

Following the prosecution of CMK (Treatments) Ltd of Oldbury at West Bromwich Magistrates' Court in March 2006, the HSE alerted manufacturers to new guidelines on the storage of steel and aluminium materials. The company was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £15,035.50 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 . The case was based on an investigation into an incident where over a ton of aluminium, which had been incorrectly stacked, fell on a worker, causing him serious injury. The man was using a forklift truck to stack banded blocks of aluminium window frame shaped lengths. The top three, weighing over 1.1 tonnes, fell on him. The inherently unstable stack was 3.6 metres high, 4 metres long and 90 cm wide. It fell on him as he was walking back to his forklift, pinning him underneath and causing multiple fractures to leg and feet and bruising to the back.

In the past there have been similar incidents in which people have been killed in stacking collapses in the Midlands; in this case the employee survived because the stack fell partly onto a forklift truck rather than completely onto the worker.

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Construction Company Fined After Employee Is Impaled On A Spike

R. J. McLeod, a construction company, pleaded guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court to breaching health and safety regulations and was fined £35,000, after one of its workers died when he was impaled on a metal spike at an old hospital site in Edinburgh in July 2005. The area where the accident happened was not properly fenced off. The court was told that the company had ordered safety caps to be placed on top of any exposed reinforcement bars a year earlier, but those instructions were ignored.

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Oil Refinery Fined For Killingholme Explosion

Total Lindsey Oil Refinery Limited (TLOR) was fined £14,000 with costs of £518 at Grimsby and Cleethorpes Magistrates' Court on 21st March 2006, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 in that the company did not ensure the safety of persons not in its employment. The prosecution was brought by the HSE following an explosion at the TLOR refinery at Immingham, North Killingholme. The HSE alleged that the company had failed to adequately manage risks posed to workers carrying out maintenance on its behalf on a crude oil storage tank.

The explosion took place on 14th December 2004 during work on an out-of-service storage tank. TLOR employed a contractor, Jacobs Catalytic Ltd, to use oxyacetylene cutting equipment to cut brackets on the floating roof of the tank. The roof consisted of 38 hollow pontoons, which provided the necessary buoyancy to allow the roof to float on the surface of the oil as the tank was emptied or filled.

At the time of the incident the tank was empty and the roof was at the bottom. All remaining oil and sediment from the space between the underside of the floating roof and the tank floor had been removed to a 'hydrocarbon free' standard before work commenced. But as the workers on top of the roof cut through the brackets, a build-up of flammable oil vapour inside one of the hollow pontoons was ignited, causing an explosion which blew several workers off their feet, some landing four or five metres from where they had been standing. None were seriously injured.

The HSE investigation found that the company had an inadequate safe system of work. TLOR had failed to preserve an adequate record of pontoons that contained leaks; although the presence of crude oil within the pontoon had been originally identified and recorded in 1988, this information was not preserved and not passed on to the contractor carrying out the work. As a result, the leaking pontoon was not cleaned out before the cutting work started. The investigation also found that TLOR had failed to ensure that a suitable and sufficient assessment of the potential for explosion was undertaken. Company procedures required that operations staff carry out checks after cleaning, but did not specify that pontoons were to be included. Although their procedures did require staff to inspect all pontoons for leakage and vapour build-up prior to cutting work, this was not carried out.

The incident could have been prevented by a number of simple and reasonably practicable measures including improved awareness of the hazards and risks, proper supervision of work activities and better monitoring and auditing of safety-critical tasks.

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KFC Fined Over Boiling Oil Burns

On 27th March 2006, in a Crown Court prosecution brought by Manchester City Council Environmental Health Officers, Kentucky Fried Chicken (Great Britain) Ltd was fined £40,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and £20,000 for a breach of Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 ; costs of £16,000 were awarded to Manchester City Council.

The case followed a slipping accident at KFC in Northenden, Manchester, in May 2004, in which three employees were seriously burned by fat. One employee engaged on cleaning duties slipped on a pool of water and cooking oil. He reached out, pulling over a deep fat fryer, and was covered in 35 litres of hot oil being used to cook chicken portions. The man suffered extensive burns to his ankles, legs, buttocks and chest, which required skin grafts. He is still incapacitated. A second employee also received burns to her right leg and ankle, which required skin grafts; and a third employee sustained minor burns whilst attempting to help the others.

An HSE expert witness told the court that the slip risk experienced on the site was unacceptably high, given that it was foreseeable that oil and water would contaminate the floor. Since the accident, KFC has improved the restaurant chain's flooring, improved management of maintenance contractors and cleaning regimes, and introduced safety footwear.

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Compensation For Victims Of Crime At Work

The Government has been consulting on proposals for companies to compensate employees who are the victims of crime during working hours. It wants to cut payouts under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS), which it believes could be a disincentive for companies to make workplaces safe. Instead, it wants companies to pay compensation using their compulsory employer's liability insurance.

The Federation of Small Businesses fears that the proposals will lead to a further rise in insurance premiums. The Association of British Insurers is also unhappy about the plans and has pointed out that under current policy terms, insurers would refuse to pay out unless negligence on the part of the employer had allowed the crime to occur, leaving the employer to foot the bill in the majority of cases. A group personal accident policy would compensate employees suffering criminal injuries in the workplace, whether or not the employer was negligent, but such policies are not compulsory for employers.

There is also concern that the proposals do not make clear what is meant by injuries received "whilst at work", which could include crimes against workers during their lunch breaks.

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Levels Of Benzene In Soft Drinks

Tests on 230 soft drinks on sale in Britain showed some of them to contain eight times the level of benzene permitted in drinking water. Under EU law there is no maximum limit for the chemical in soft drinks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a limit of ten parts per billion, but this is not a legal requirement for manufacturers. The level permitted in British drinking water is one part per billion.

Benzene has been linked to leukaemia and other cancers of the blood.

Concern over the tests was mounting at the beginning of March 2006 and the Food Standards Agency ordered an urgent investigation. It believes that drinks within the WHO limits pose no risk to health but would prefer to see the levels of benzene in soft drinks lowered to below one part per billion over time.

Benzene is present in the atmosphere and most people breathe in 220 micrograms of benzene every day on average.

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Failure In Duty Of Care Leads To Death

A widow aged 93 was delivered home to the wrong house by an ambulance crew and suffered a broken leg while trying to leave the house alone. She died five weeks later in hospital.

The ambulance crew was a stand-in one as the usual crew were off duty. One of the patients on their list had already left but no-one told the driver, who subsequently made an incorrect assumption as to the identity of the missing patient.

When the crew arrived at the house, they found a key under the doormat and left the victim, who suffered from dementia, in the front room.

The ambulance service and an NHS trust admitted neglecting their duty of care and face substantial fines.

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Sick Building Syndrome A Misnomer?

As part of the on-going Whitehall Study, over 4,000 civil servants between the ages of 42 and 62, working in 44 buildings across London, were questioned about symptoms of sick building syndrome - headache; cough; dry, itchy, tired eyes; blocked, runny nose; tired for no reason; rashes and itches; cold; flu; dry throat; sore throat; and wheeziness. A personal sick building syndrome score for each participant was arrived at by adding the number of symptoms listed.

In a separate exercise, most of the buildings were also assessed for temperature, lighting intensity, levels of airborne bacteria, fungi and dust, humidity, ventilation flow, noise level and concentrations of carbon dioxide and airborne organic chemicals.

One in seven of the male participants and almost one in five of the female participants reported five or more of the symptoms but the researchers could find no evidence that the buildings were to blame. Instead, the biggest factors linked with the symptoms were job stress and lack of support in the workplace.

According to the report in Occupational and Environmental Medicine:

"Sick building syndrome may be wrongly named. Raised symptom reporting appears to be due less to poor physical conditions than to a working environment characterised by poor psycho-social conditions.

If sick building syndrome is reported in a building, management should consider causes beyond the physical design and operation of the workplace and should widen their investigation to include the organisation of work roles and the autonomy of the workforce."

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Mobile Phone Use And Brain Tumour Risk

One of the difficulties in making a personal judgment on contentious issues has always been assessing the motivation of whoever underwrites the cost of research which demonstrates that something is, or is not, harmful. Several reports have been published on the relative safety of mobile phones and their use. A study published last year concluded that there was no danger, but pointed out that long-term use may have more serious side effects. A more recent UK academic study cleared mobile phones for general use, but did find a preponderance of tumours on the side of the head most used for calls.

A Swedish paper published in April 2006 by researchers at the Swedish National Institute for Working Life (Lennart Hardell, Michael Carlberg and Kjell Hansson Mild, 2006, Pooled analysis of two case-control studies on use of cellular and cordless telephones and the risk for malignant brain tumours diagnosed in 1997-2003 , Int Arch Occup Environ Health, DOI 10.1007/s00420-006-0088-5) involved a study of 2,200 mobile phone users (both digital and cellular phones, as well as cordless landline handsets) and found an increased risk of brain tumours in mobile handset users. The study found a 240% increased risk of a malignant tumour on the side of the head where the phone is used, and the earlier the patient started using a mobile phone, the higher the chances of a serious illness.

The authors state that the pooled analysis showed consistently increased risk for malignant brain tumours using a greater than ten years latency period. An especially high odds ratio was found for high-grade astrocytoma (a type of brain tumour). The odds ratio increased with cumulative lifetime number of hours of use of analogue and digital cellular telephones and cordless phones. In multivariate analyses, increased risk was found for all three phone types.

These findings contradict a number of earlier studies, and the US Food and Drug Administration announced on 7th April 2006 that it would undertake a review of wireless phone safety.

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New BSI Construction Standard

Of relevance to building and tunnel construction is a new standard, BS EN ISO 14688-2:2004 Geotechnical investigation and testing. Identification and classification of soil. Principles for a classification. This standard partially supersedes the still current BS 5930:1999. Together with BS EN ISO 14688-1, it establishes the basic principles for the identification and classification of soils on the basis of those material and mass characteristics most commonly used for soils for engineering purposes. The classification principles established in the standard permit soils to be grouped into classes of similar composition and geotechnical properties and, with respect to their suitability for geotechnical engineering purposes, such as:

  • Foundations.

  • Ground improvements.

  • Roads.

  • Embankments.

  • Dams.

  • Drainage systems.

BS EN ISO 14688-2 is applicable to natural soil and similar man-made material in situ and redeposited, but it is not a classification of soil by itself. Identification and description of rock are covered by BS EN ISO 14689-1.

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Construction Company Fined For Manual Handling Accident

In May 2004, employees of Bideem Construction Ltd, part of the Sisk Group, were assisting with the removal of five redundant 3.5 metre × 3 metre steel gates, each weighing 0.3 tonnes, on a project at Bradbury House, Warmley, Gloucestershire. One worker, a maintenance operative, was directed to help manually move the gates onto a flatbed trailer for transportation. Three gates were successfully removed, but when the fourth gate was being handled it slipped and fell on top of him. The man sustained a fractured pelvis, a broken leg and ribs, a collapsed lung and extensive internal injuries, which have now severely restricted his mobility.

The employer had not undertaken a risk assessment, the handling operation was unplanned and there was no method statement.

Bideem Construction was prosecuted by South Gloucestershire Council and pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, for which it was fined £35,000. The company was also fined £5,000 for breach of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 , together with costs of £6,763.

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Health Board Found Guilty After Knife Attack

In April 2006, Ayrshire and Arran Health Board was fined £6,400 after pleading guilty at Ayr Sheriff Court to breaching the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 . The prosecution was the result of an incident in July 2003 when an assailant entered the clinical area in the Accident and Emergency Department at Ayr Hospital and assaulted three members of staff with a knife. An HSE investigation found deficiencies in the Board's systems for managing violence and aggression at the site, including a lack of controlled access to clinical areas, despite the fact that the HSE had previously given advice in relation to the systems for managing violence and aggression in the department.

The HSE said that NHS Trusts have to recognise that they have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act to assess the risks and put practical control measures in place. All Trusts must ensure that they have reviewed their procedures to prevent such violent attacks from happening again.

University of Nottingham research funded by the HSE concluded that measures to help healthcare staff deal with violence at work can make a difference, but only where they have a solid grounding in day-to-day situations. To achieve effective standards, training has to blend with other preventive systems and procedures that are already in place in an organisation. Training should not just focus on promoting individual skills and knowledge, as poorly thought-out training has a negative effect, leaving staff feeling more anxious and less capable of coping with verbal and physical abuse aimed at them.

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Hospital Trust Prosecuted Under HSWA

In 2003, two doctors employed by Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust were convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence during a trial at Winchester Crown Court and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years (they were also suspended for six months by the General Medical Council). The case followed the death of a patient from toxic shock syndrome after a routine knee operation. The two doctors failed to diagnose the condition, which resulted in the patient dying.

In a somewhat unusual move following the trial the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charged Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust with failing to supervise adequately the two doctors. The Trust admitted that it had not properly managed or supervised the senior house officers in the Trauma and Orthopaedic Department and thereby breached the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

The Recorder of Winchester noted that the case had implications for the whole NHS, since any fine levelled at the Trust would have to be taken from patient care.

In April 2006, the Trust was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs.

Under the work-related deaths protocol (HSE document reference MISC491, Work-Related Deaths, a Protocol for Liaison, 02/03 ) whenever the police refer a case to the CPS, the CPS will decide whether there can and should be a prosecution. The CPS can prosecute health and safety offences, but generally they will only do so when there is also a prosecution for manslaughter or other serious criminal offences arising as a result of a work-related death.

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Scaffolding Collapse Injures Workers

On 11th April 2006, three workers were injured after a major scaffolding collapse around a new 15 storeys high Jury's Inn hotel development at Witan Gate in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Some 200 workers were present on the site at the time and there were high winds.

The cause of the collapse is at present unknown. HSE personnel were called in to assess the stability of the remaining scaffolding and an adjacent tower crane. An investigation by the contractor, McAleer and Rushe, and HSE inspectors has begun.

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Cable and Wireless Fined For Pollution Spill

In January 2005, the failure of a pump and valve on a storage tank resulted in the release of eight tonnes of red diesel fuel at a site owned by Cable and Wireless at Windmill Hill Business Park in Swindon. The toxic substance leaked into surface water drains at the site and into sewers before reaching a culvert and flowing into Westlea Brook, a tributary of the River Ray, killing thousands of small mammals, fish, birds and insects over a 14- kilometre stretch of water.

The company stores 518,000 litres of oil on the site, to be used to fuel the electricity generators which power the computers of major Internet companies in the event of a power failure.

The Environment Agency prosecuted the company at a Swindon Magistrates' Court hearing. On 11th April 2006, magistrates imposed the maximum fine of £20,000. The chairman of the bench said that environmental issues are of great concern and large companies like Cable and Wireless should be setting an example. Risk assessment should have identified the potential failures and not having alarms was a major failure, especially as such problems do not just occur in working hours. The company was also ordered to pay £9,700 costs and a further £200 in veterinary bills for the owner of a dog that was left covered in oil after it jumped into the river following the spill.

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