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We’ve moved!

7 Mar

Just to let you all know the British Safety Council’s blog has now moved. Visit www.britsafe.org/blog to get your lastest news, reflections and opinion on the most pressing health, safety and environmental issues of today.

Pendennis and their health and safety Olympics

12 Aug

At the end of last week I took the rather long journey to the beautiful south coast of Cornwall to pay a visit to a company who were holding an event that was, I think, unprecedented: a day of safety games, or, as I like to think of it, the Health and Safety Olympics.

The company was Pendennis Worldclass Superyachts. Now, some of the yachts they build are absolutely amazing. The night before I arrived they launched the world’s largest luxury sailing catamaran, Hemisphere. And building and refitting yachts carries with it a wide range of hazards.  

Each of the games followed the core topics of the British Safety Council’s level 1 award, which is very broad, so everything from chemicals to PPE; manual handling to workforce consultation. Each of the games was developed by one of the managers or supervisors who had lately taken a level 2 qualification with the consultancy Risk and Safety Plus, who helped coordinate much of the day’s action.

Around 200 members of staff who work for the company took part in the day’s events. The employees worked their way around each of the game. They included an inventive take on snakes and ladders to help understand the legal aspects of health and safety; target practice on the fire extinguisher firing range; darts to aid comprehension of COSHH; even a home-made dummy to practice what to do should the worst happen and someone have a serious accident.

The response from the supervisors and employees was great; no one had a bad word to say about it; the feedback was fantastic. Marga, who works in administration, said to me: “It’s very well set out, well thought of; it’s excellent and fun. I’ve learnt an awful lot.”

Now, I had a great day, probably partly due to the fact that being from Derby – which is about as far away from the sea as you can get in this country– I’ve never been to a working dock before. The scale alone is staggering. But more than this it was fantastic to see a company taking an innovative approach to teaching everyone about health and safety.

The premise was simple, and on the surface may seem slightly trivial, but the result was powerful. It opened up the lines of communication about health and safety between each supervisor and the workers in their teams. Health and safety became something that everyone participated in at all levels of the business; that everyone had something to contribute to and began to own, rather than it owning them, so to speak. In short, they took control and were empowered. And had fun along the way.

Building a safer future at the Olympics

21 Jul

On Monday I had the pleasure of a guided tour around the Olympic Park in preparation for a feature I’m writing for September’s Safety Management. Now, I must admit, I’m not a great sports enthusiast. Not anymore at least. I can image the 14-year-old me would have been ecstatic to visit the Olympic Park. But now I was excited to see firsthand how a dangerous construction site was managing safety. I was just a bit excited to be going to the Olympic Park before its open to the public.

To begin with I sat down and had a chat with some of the people working on site to see how they have found the project. One thing that struck me is how everyone is incredibly proud, not only to be working on the Olympic Park, but to be part of a project that has such an excellent health and safety track record. So I got kitted out in my PPE and, escorted by the excellent guide Alan O’Hagan, assistant health and safety advisor at BAM Nuttall and former carpenter on the Olympic site, I had a wander around the Park.  

You really cannot escape from safety on the Park; it’s everywhere and seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I won’t list the initiatives in operation to make safety the top priority because it will take all day. But it was clear to me that everyone was engaged by the idea of safety. Safety is considered first before anything is done, which, considering construction is such a dangerous industry, is precisely as it should be.

Some have expressed doubt about whether this can ever be achieved again. But I see no reason why this should be the case. So long as everyone involved in the Olympic construction phase, whether that be the project directors, health and safety managers and advisors, contractors, workers, office staff, take the attitudes towards safety with them as they move to other projects, imparting this knowledge and these ways of working to others, we could see safety as a top priority across the board. If the thousands upon thousands of people involved in some way with the Olympic project take something of the Olympic perception about safety away with them, we could well see a safer industry.

My grandfather worked in construction his whole life, starting in the late 1940s and retiring around 12 years ago.  I can’t help feeling if he went onto a construction site now he would barely recognise it. If he could visit the Olympic Park and see the advancements made in worker health and safety, I imagine he would be slightly shocked, but incredibly pleased.

Read the full article in September’s Safety Management.

Hundreds of barrels of oil released into the Yellowstone River

4 Jul

An Exxon Mobil oil pipeline that runs below the Yellowstone River in Montana ruptured on Saturday, leaking hundreds of barrels of crude oil into the river.

The clean-up operation is still in progress, with crews from Exxon Mobil, state agencies and the federal Environmental Protection Agency deploying booms, absorbent material and vacuum trucks as the 25 mile-long plume moves downstream at a rate of around seven miles per hour.

The pipeline was shut down within seven minutes of pressure loss occurring in the pipe, during which an estimated 750 – 1000 barrels (or 42,000 gallons) of oil were released into the waterway. Hundreds of local residents were evacuated along a 20 mile stretch of the river due to concerns about possible explosions and overpowering fumes. As the water in the river is at such high levels, many are concerned that once the water levels drop, it will leave the thin layer of oil that is currently floating in the surface of the water on the land. The flooding has also made the clean-up operation harder, as the oil is more difficult to track and recover.

The pipe was shut in mid-May over concerns about the seasonal flooding the river is currently experiencing, but the decision was taken to reopen it a day later after reviewing its audit records and deciding it was safe. The last audit that was carried out on the pipeline was conducted in December 2010 by the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The report concluded that the pipe was five to eight feet below the riverbed. Since then there have been record rains in the area and melting snowpack flooded the river in May, which Exxon and government officials have said may have exposed the pipe to damage from debris.

The river is home to large numbers of rainbow trout. “If fish get oil on them, if they break the surface and get oil on them, it tends to plug up their gills and it often is fatal,” said Bob Gobson, of the Billings Fish, Wildlife and Parks Program.

In a statement released by Exxon Mobil, the pipeline company president Gary Pruessing said: “We recognise the seriousness of this incident and are working hard to address it. We will continue to add resources and are extremely grateful for the patience and assistance of local residents and authorities.”

The government’s work programme: getting the young safely into work

24 Jun

Youth unemployment is a serious issue currently facing the UK. In February it was revealed that nearly one million 16-24-year-olds were out of work, the highest number since comparable records began in 1992. And as getting these young people back into work increasingly becomes a priority, so too must their safety in doing so.

On Wednesday night I attended an All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs whose aim was to discuss the government’s work programme. The event was held at Portcullis house, chaired by Stewart Jackson MP and attended by the employment minister Chris Grayling, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, and a host of young people. Simon Hughes actively encouraged the audience to question Chris Grayling, telling us not to “let him off the hook”.

Grayling outlined the elements to his strategy to provide unemployed young people with the support to get back into work. The approach will comprise of three schemes: the government is looking to create opportunities for young people to undertake eight-week work experience placements; it is looking to create far more apprenticeships – 250,000 by the end of parliament; and is currently compiling a list of employers from all sectors who will take on the services of the long-term youth unemployed, with incentives for them doing so. These employers have applied to the government for the right to be able to provide this employment.

Should the initiative go ahead we could witness an unprecedented number of young people entering the workplace for the first time. While I appreciate the benefits embarking on a spell of work experience and gaining a valuable reference from an employer can bring, young people are more at risk of death, injury or illness for a number of reasons, namely a lack of experience and confidence. I’ve worked in risky and hazardous work environments in the past; I knew full well the risks, but did not have sufficient experience to demand the hazards were managed correctly. And I know I’m not the only young person who has done this.  

If the initiative is successful the companies employing this new generation of apprentices and workers need to effectively and supportively manage their safety and health. And I hope that outlining their health and safety policies and the special consideration they will give to young workers will have been a fundamental part of their application to the tender.

G20 discuss nuclear safety following Fukushima

10 Jun

This week has seen Group of 20 nations convene in Paris to discuss nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, stated that safety, not funding, should be the main concern of the nuclear industry and it was agreed that the incident was a failure of the global nuclear security system. European national atomic agencies have been called to conduct stress tests to ensure facilities can resist accidents or emergencies. And all of this happened against a backdrop of Germany announcing in May that it will close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022, with Switzerland following suit.

Sarkozy has also recently been advocating international nuclear safety standards to replace the current Convention on Nuclear Safety which requires the 72 countries that have atomic energy plants to submit reports of the other contracting parties. This is not binding, however, and the French President seems to be suggesting that non-binding standards are analogous to no having standards at all.

Director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano has called for revised international emergency response procedures, as the current set were drawn up in the seven months following the Chernobyl disaster and do not reflect the circumstances of the 21st century.

Nuclear safety has rightly been on the top of the international political agenda in the wake the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. But, there seems to be one problem with nuclear power that is conspicuous by its absence in current discussions. And it is a problem inherent with nuclear power; it will not go away, but people seem unwilling to address it. That is: what on earth do we do with nuclear waste? We – quite rightly – can have every safeguard conceivable in managing hazards in nuclear facilities, but we also need appropriate and long-term plans for managing the waste from nuclear fission. Some nuclear waste takes hundreds of thousands of years to decay into stable isotopes and will remain hazardous to humans and the environment until it does so.

The US has designated the Yucca Mountains as a Nuclear Waste Repository for storing spent fuel, but is sticking it in a huge hole in the ground really a solution? I’m not sure it is. Until the risks associated with spent fuel can be effectively managed, can nuclear power really be considered as an option to the world’s growing demand for power? As a fundamental aspect in the safety of nuclear power, I hope it will be brought up at the IAEA conference on nuclear safety in Vienna later on in June.

Cigarettes go up in smoke

8 Jun

I always promised myself that I would never become a preaching ex-smoker, so this blog is going to (attempt to) tow a fine line.

On the night of Monday 30 May I had my last cigarette ever (probably). I have quit once before, so to a certain extent I knew what I was in for. But that time I did it cold turkey. This time I have eased my toes into the smoke-free waters, so to speak, and gone for the patches.

This time has been hard, but a whole lot easier than before. My poor girlfriend has witnessed my mood swings (or rather swing: I’ve been grumpy most of the time), I’ve found it hard to concentrate and the intense yearning for a cigarette is one that is almost impossible to ignore. And the patches cause problems in themselves: they made me feel, well, odd; twitchy. Also I was on the 24 hour patches to begin with, which seemed to disturb my sleep. It was the thought of the struggle that put me off quitting for so long.

A few weeks ago, Laura Milsom, the editor here, showed me a book about the effects smoking has on your health from Quit, the charity that helps people stop smoking. It had pictures of the blackened lungs of smokers. But it was strange; I could look at that book and not feel in any way connected to it or the consequences of what I was doing. But smoking does kill; it does drastically shorten your life. And I knew this as anyone does.

But I’m happy to say that already it’s been worth it. I do miss being able to get away from my desk for a couple of minutes during the afternoon or morning. Smoking allowed me to go outside and switch off for a second. But already I’m starting to feel the benefits. As a smoker I found the afternoons quite a struggle. I felt like I was on a continual merry-go-round of keeping my body topped up with the nicotine I needed to function; continually going up and down. Already I have more energy, and can breathe more freely. And, as I found out this morning when I had my first of umpteen coffees (perhaps the next thing I should quit?) I can smell far better. And because I’m not constantly topping up my nicotine levels I can concentrate for longer and feel less tired.

But I’ve just read a worrying fact in the quit smoking literature. A man’s lungs do not stop developing until the age of 24. I’m 24. And I’ve been smoking since I was 16, with a habit since I was 18. And smoking before the lungs have fully developed leads to irrevocable damage. As I’m young, quitting smoking now means my will lung function will improve. But it’ll never be what it could and should have been.