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Tangled up in red tape?

1 Jul

If you’ve ever been driven mad by the requirements of a set of health and safety regulations, feel the legal duties need amending or scrapping, or even simply wish to defend the UK’s existing legal framework for health and safety from attack, now is your chance, as the government’s much trumpeted Red Tape Challenge is focusing specifically on health and safety legislation for the next three weeks.

The Red Tape Challenge was launched in April by David Cameron, and aims to offer everyone – from members of the public and employees to business owners and community groups – the chance to have their say on regulations that affect their everyday lives. Specifically, the website seeks views on the 21,000 regulations currently in force in the UK in areas ranging from employment law to pensions, equalities to environmental protection, and the government is urging those with an interest in any of these regulatory issues to speak up and make their views known.

In the government’s own words: “We want to hear from everyone, whether you think a regulation is well designed and provides vital protections, or if you think a regulation in badly planned, badly implemented or simply a bad idea.” The aim, ministers add, is to “give a real boost to growth and personal freedoms” by scrapping some of the 21,000 regulations that are “getting in the way” of the public, businesses and community organisations.

Health and safety regulation is one of six “cross-cutting” themes on the Red Tape Challenge website and the public will be able to provide comments on health and safety laws throughout the whole of the Red Tape Challenge campaign, which is due to run for several months. However, from 30 June – 21 July there will be a special focus on health and safety laws to further encourage people to air their thoughts.

The website allows people to comment on all existing health and safety regulations – around 200 in total – and to make the process easier, these have been grouped into four different categories. These are: general health and safety; major hazard industries; higher risk workplaces; and dealing with hazardous chemicals and materials. Hundreds of comments have already been received on health and safety law, many of which can be read on the website.

Importantly, the government has promised to listen and act on what people say – indeed, every four months government departments have to comment on the six “cross-cutting” themes to ensure the review’s momentum is maintained – so this is an important opportunity for those interested in health and safety regulation to get their opinions across.

The health and safety aspects of the Red Tape Challenge are also closely linked with the independent review of health and safety legislation currently being carried out by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt as part of the government’s recently announced package of changes to Britain’s health and safety system. Like the Red Tape Challenge, the Löfstedt review seeks views on ways of combining, simplifying and reducing health and safety regulations, and responses to the health and safety aspects of the Red Tape Challenge will be fed to the professor for his consideration. In fact, Professor Löfstedt has been appointed as the ‘sector champion’ for health and safety throughout the Red Tape Challenge, acting as an intermediary between stakeholders in this area and the government and helping to direct the web-based debates and discussions.

British Safety Council members have already been asked to comment on the Löfstedt health and safety legislation review to help formulate our official response to the professor’s call for evidence, but the Red Tape Challenge website provides another forum for interested parties to make their voices heard in this area.

So, if you feel like getting something off your chest about health and safety law, take a look at the Red Tape Challenge website – your comments could make all the difference.

We shall remember them

27 Apr

Although the key aim of good health and safety management is preventing people from being killed or injured in the first place, it is an inescapable fact that every day across the world scores of people die in workplace accidents and many thousands more are seriously injured or made ill – often as a direct result of their employer’s negligence.

It is vitally important that these people – and the terrible fates that have befallen them – are remembered, not just because we should always commemorate the dead in some way, but also because the very act of commemorating people who have been killed at work provides a sharp reminder to us all to strive to make every workplace – and every job – safer and healthier.

Tomorrow provides a chance for everyone – from employers to shop floor workers – to do just that since Thursday 28th April is International Workers’ Memorial Day. The day, which is marked around the world, commemorates the many thousands of people who have died, been injured or made ill by their work, and will see bereaved families, workers, trade unions and employers in most countries organising events, demonstrations and vigils to “remember the dead – but fight for the living”.

In the UK, there will be rallies and wreath-laying events in many major towns and cities, and for those of us nearby and able to attend, these provide a chance to pay our respects and perhaps reflect on what else can be done to protect both ourselves and others who could find themselves in danger at work. However, the easiest and most common way for people to mark the day is hold a minute’s silence at work – ideally at 12pm, or if not, at an appropriate time.

So if you – or your boss – has forgotten about the significance of 28th April – the date chosen for Workers’ Memorial Day each year – there is still time to pay your respects to the fallen, in the simplest possible way.

For more details on Workers’ Memorial Day, including a full list of planned events, go to:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_196896

International Safety Awards deadline fast approaching

22 Mar

Organisations that wish to apply for an International Safety Award from the British Safety Council have just days left to submit their applications before the 31 March deadline, but it seems the process of applying is itself bringing health and safety benefits to the companies concerned.

To apply for an International Safety Award, organisations must complete a stringent application form which asks challenging questions about what the business is doing ‘on the ground’ to maintain high standards of health and safety. This means organisations must really examine and review their safety procedures when applying, a process which can prove beneficial in other ways, according to one applicant, housebuilder Croudace Homes Ltd from the south east of England.

Croudace’s health and safety manager Matthew Stubblefield says: “We have found the new application format to be very useful from an in-house perspective, and it will be utilised as a reference document for various future initiatives – for example, inductions of new managers.

“It has also provided us with the perfect opportunity for cataloguing all the good work we do, with regards to the management of health and safety at Croudace Homes.”

The company is now awaiting the result of its application from the independent adjudicators, but for those organisations still thinking of entering, remember you only have until next Thursday (31 March) to submit your completed application.

More details can be found at: http://www.britsafe.org/isa, or you can call the Awards Team direct on +44 (0)20 8741 1231 for further advice.

Getting educated at Sandown Park

8 Mar

Safety consultant Malcolm Tullett addresses the audience on day one.

As the Deputy Editor on the British Safety Council’s Safety Management magazine, it is vital that I stay up-to-speed with developments in the world of health and safety and last week I got the chance to do just that by trotting along to the ‘Health and Safety 11 – South’ exhibition at the famous Sandown Park racecourse in Surrey.

The British Safety Council is the educational partner for the Health and Safety series of regional exhibitions – which take place at four locations across the UK every year – and the free seminars we organise provide people with the chance to broaden their knowledge and keep abreast of changes in the field.

On the day I attended, Wednesday 2nd March, there were four presentations running, and keen to hear what the various speakers had to say, I made sure I had a seat right at the front for each one.

The session that appealed to me most was the legal update by health and safety solicitor Mark Tyler. Mark specialises in health and safety legislation and has been involved in many high profile Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions, making him ideally placed to explain the latest developments in the law, its implementation and surrounding policy. And his presentation didn’t disappoint: in crisp fashion, Mark took us through the most important recent and forthcoming legislative and policy developments, including planned changes to the personal injury compensation process; proposed changes to the RIDDOR accident reporting requirements; and Lord Young’s ideas for tackling the so called ‘compensation culture’.

But my interest really peaked when he moved onto the subject of the first corporate manslaughter prosecution, the recent conviction of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings following the death of a geologist in a trench collapse. Myself and others in the packed room – around 400, by my reckoning – waited with bated breath for dire warnings of the consequences the case holds for corporate Britain, but Mark calmly explained that the prosecution does not really tell us very much about the new corporate manslaughter offence at all. In fact, he said, the prosecution could probably have been brought under the old gross negligence manslaughter law since the company appeared to be under the control of a sole director, which would have allowed for such a charge.

There were, he added soberly, no real lessons to be learned about the way the new offence will be applied to companies and other organisations, other than the fact that the first case has now been taken, and the courts will probably pay close attention to the sentencing guideline stating that fines should “seldom be less than £500,000”, since the judge actually levied a £385,000 penalty.

While this explanation proved a bit of an anti-climax – given the fanfare surrounding the Cotswold case – it was reassuring to hear the facts first hand from a legal expert, and Mark also provided some enlightening news about some other developments. For example, he explained that fines for safety offences, including fire safety breaches, are generally on the rise, and alerted us to the first prosecution under the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Mark’s presentation was rightly met by loud applause, and several people took the opportunity to rush forward to ask him questions afterwards – a pattern that was repeated with all of the other three speakers. One of those taking advantage was David Batten, purchasing & facilities manager for the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), who described the seminars as “excellent”, a sentiment that was echoed by several others throughout the day.

Mark’s seminar was, however, just one of the four organised by the British Safety Council, and we also heard spirited talks on the benefits of involving the workforce in preventing and managing musculoskeletal disorders, how to measure noise and hand-arm vibration and encouraging safe behaviour at work.

All three were excellent, and work psychologist Sarah Cudmore got a great buzz going by asking us to pair up and think of an unsafe behaviour within our workplaces that could be changed by looking at the task and people’s behaviour and attitudes towards it. My partner for the exercise, Gary Woodrow, a safety advisor for a college, concluded that always getting people to wear PPE could sometimes be a problem for him, but applying Sarah’s logic, he felt this could be tackled through spot checks by the college’s senior management, which would demonstrate high level commitment to safety.

I certainly enjoyed the day, and feedback from the previous day’s seminars was also positive, with a drama-based seminar in which the audience got to ask questions of two actors posing as “employees” following a fatal accident proving particularly popular. Iain Bainbridge, health and safety advisor with construction company Faithdean plc, seemed to sum up the mood of those I spoke to on the second day when he said: “It was so informative. I have learned an awful lot and found lots of areas where I can get information from.”

The Health and Safety 11 exhibition series (http://www.healthandsafetyevents.co.uk) will be taking place at three further locations this year: Edinburgh on 7-8 September; Bolton on 5-6 October; and Dublin, Ireland, on 16-17 November. So, if you are based nearby, and if you can find the time, get along; you really will find the free seminars to be of use.

Too much shaking going on

1 Feb

Use of powered hand tools can cause health problems

Like most people today, my job on Safety Management magazine involves a lot of typing, and I cannot imagine what it would be like if I could not feel the keys under my fingertips, or if I were to suffer any kind of pain in my fingers and hands that would make typing difficult. My role would be become impossible and sadly, I would be forced to change career completely. 

So when I read about the circumstances behind a rare and unusual Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution (http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/2011/coi-nw-73cheshireeast.htm) which came before the courts recently, it not only struck me that the British Safety Council’s magazine needed to report it more widely to draw attention to the issues concerned, but made we think how lucky I am to have the full use of my hands, fingers and wrists, and how difficult it must be for those who suffer injury to them – particularly through no fault of their own.

In the case concerned, a 56-year-old mechanic was left with such severe loss of movement in his hands a result of his everyday work that he now has difficultly picking up small objects such as coins. These injuries have had a devastating effect on his quality of life.

Now this poor guy’s injuries are not due to exposure to a rare chemical, or a freak accident that affects few people, but to an activity that happens in millions of workplaces up and down the land: the use of powered hand tools such as pneumatic drills, grinders and sanders.  And while the risks of nerve and muscle damage from using these vibrating hand tools has been known for years, it’s clear from this case that many employers are still failing to take the problem seriously enough.

The HSE has been stressing for years that anyone who works regularly with hand-held or hand-guided power tools for more than a few hours a day is potentially at risk of suffering hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), as this debilitating health condition is known. The problem occurs because prolonged vibration from the tools can affect the nerves, blood vessels and joints of the hand, wrist and arm, causing tingling and numbness in the fingers, stopping the sufferer from feeling things properly with their fingers and hands and leading to painful finger blanching (whitening), particularly in the cold and wet. If the sufferer continues to use high-vibration tools the damage to the hands can – as in the case of the mechanic – become permanent.    

However, the problem can be avoided by adopting some simple, commonsense measures, such as mechanising tasks or, if hand tools are still required, selecting low-vibration models and introducing task rotation. Indeed, the HSE says that if employers comply with the law in this area and follow the relevant guidance, it may be possible to eliminate any new cases of HAVS altogether.  

Safety Management will be reporting more about the story of the mechanic whose life was changed forever by exposure to HAV in the March issue, primarily to highlight the dangers, but also because this is a rare prosecution. Enforcement records suggest that just one other employer has been taken to court by the HSE for failing to protect workers from exposure to HAV in the last decade, though there have been several civil compensation cases.

In the meantime, look out for the February issue of the mag – due to land later this week – which contains a three-page feature on this subject.

And if you do have workers using hand-held power tools – or if you use them yourself – think of this unfortunate mechanic, and make sure this devastating health condition is eradicated.