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Automatic Fire Alarm Attendance by English Fire Brigades – A Postcode Lottery?

23 Sep

So you’re based in Nuneaton and the automatic fire alarm goes off at your business; you all exit the premises and assemble in the appropriate place. Coincidentally your sister operation in Norbury experiences the same set of circumstances at the same time.

So all of you in the two locations are stood outside in the cold and are assuming that the big red engines will respond to the automatically transmitted alarm signal and subsequently arrive and put out the fire?

Well your assumption would be wrong in Nuneaton as Warwickshire Fire and Rescue does not respond to automatic fire alarms, but in Norbury, London you’d be correct as London Fire Brigade does!

So there is now a postcode lottery with regard to fire cover for commercial premises in England and any business manager would be well advised to contact their local fire and rescue service to see how they are affected by this roll of the geographical dice. In essence, the English fire brigades are under the cosh with regard to funding and many, such as Warwickshire, are trying to drastically reduce their attendance levels at false alarms as these cost money.

There is no doubt that false alarms constitute a major problem for the fire and rescue fraternity and businesses should make every effort to reduce their incidence; help is available from the FIA on this matter by clicking here.

Warwickshire are not alone in reducing their attendance to automatic fire alarms from commercial premises; other fire and rescue services including Essex, Royal Berkshire and West Midlands have also made major changes to what has been full cover in the past. Of course, within reason, local fire and rescue services can choose how they react to automatic fire alarm signals, however, one would have thought that there would be a concerted effort to make any changes in response reasonably uniform across the country?  Sadly this has not been the case to date although the FIA continues to lobby both the Chief Fire Officers Association and local fire and rescue services to this end.

So if you’re not sure whether your fire and rescue service will attend your premises when then alarm goes off, dial 999 and request their presence, but only after you’ve exited the premises and are waiting outside in the cold!

About our guest blogger
Graham Ellicott is the CEO of the Fire Industry Association.


Compensation culture

5 Sep

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) published its views on compensation culture on 2nd September 2011. The British Safety Council is pleased to offer its support to ensure that those who suffer damage to their health or well-being as a result of a workplace injury or work-related ill health should be compensated for their loss.

The ABI’s publication ‘Improving the system for all’ (Sept 2011) follows Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations to reform civil litigation funding and costs in England and Wales and which is being picked up in the Government’s current Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

The British Safety Council supports the Bill’s attempt to reverse how lawyers are paid; the new law will mean the mark-up for a winning claimant’s fees will be paid from claimant’s damages, not the defendant as it is currently.  We have to reverse the mechanics of a system which is having not only financial, but cultural implications, in terms of people rushing to the courts, putting in claims unnecessarily.

Instead we want to see a fast track procedure for settling low value personal injury claims arising from workplace injuries and work-related ill health occurrences.  We remain adamant that claims handlers, generally, are a contributing factor in pushing up costs and do little to improve injured workers’ access to justice.


No more excuses

24 Aug

So health and safety has been in the news again today, but this time it seems to be for all the right reasons. HSE released its top 10 most bizarre health and safety excuses from this year earlier today, prompting a lot of tweeting from ourselves and our followers. At one stage it was even in the top 10 most popular stories on the BBC’s website.

We at the British Safety Council have long been campaigning for sensible safety, but health and safety has developed a bad reputation over the years. “Someone’s got a paper cut…quick call the health and safety police” is a joke I’ve heard in the past when I’ve mentioned I work for a health and safety organisation. And more recently it has become the excuse for banning the most silly of things. People are no longer to bump in bumper cars? Have you heard anything more bizarre?

Reading HSE’s list of 10, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself at the ridiculousness of these stories. But on a serious note, it is these stories that are giving health and safety a bad name and detracting from the very serious message we are trying to get across.

Following the release of the list, employment minister Chris Grayling warned that “an epidemic of excuses wrongly citing health and safety is needlessly curtailing people’s personal freedoms”. We wholeheartedly support Chris Grayling’s efforts to highlight the needless application of health and safety laws to ban or restrict day-to-day activities. People should challenge health and safety myths and overzealous practices and take the common sense approach.

Alex Botha, our chief executive, said in a statement today: “We need to think in terms of sensible safety and dispel the harmful myths that have grown up and which trivialise a serious issue through the banning of perfectly reasonable and low risk activities. We should be able to enjoy ourselves at work or at play without being tied up in red tape and unacceptable bureaucracy; and without sweeping away regulations that are there to make our schools and our workplaces as safe as necessary. 

“Our work with members and the wider business community demonstrates that good health and safety really is good business and it’s this positive message the British Safety Council will press to help bust these myths once and for all.”

Read HSE’s list of 10 most bizarre health and safety bans:

HSE Board: Decisions on RIDDOR etc

17 Aug

A substantial discussion with some significant decisions. At the top of the list, the HSE Board agreed to change the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), following a consultation earlier in the year. Under the current system, employers have to report to HSE if a worker is off work for more than 3 days due to a work-related accident/ill health. The change will make this over 7 days. It will also move the obligation to report to 15 days from the date of the accident (from 11 currently).

The Board discussion highlighted differences of opinion. Although response to the consultation (776 responses, including by the British Safety Council) was 2:1 in favour of the change, some thought that the change will have little impact. The duty to record any 3 day accident under RIDDOR remains, and some thought that little was gained by moving reporting to 7 days – the burden is slight, and useful information on accidents causing up to 7 days absence will be lost, diminishing the quality of stats on health and safety. In contrast, others highlighted that this is the view of the majority who were consulted and many SME’s don’t have a dedicated health and safety officer – the change will be significant for them. It was also pointed out that there was strong support for the change by health and safety professionals and safety reps.

In the end the Board’s decision was to support the change to RIDDOR (leading to change in the law in April 2012). However there will be a clear message to employers that recording is vital (and remains for over 3 day), and that HSE will be watching closely for any negative impact and review the decision in 2 years.  

Other highlights included a discussion on the latest fatality statistics for 2010/2011 – 171 fatalities (provisional), against 147 from 2009/2010. Although graphs show the trend is downward, some members pointed out that when adjusted for numbers of people in work at the time of recession, the statistics have flat-lined. Re-emphasis is needed to drive further improvements (though there remains a budget freeze on HSE campaigns). These numbers need to be put in the context of far greater deaths caused by occupational disease (exposure to dust, asbestos etc), and the Board will consider a further paper on this in November. Plus, the sectors in the spot-light – agriculture, waste/recycling, construction and manufacturing – confirms its strategic priorities.

Other agreements: a high level summit for leaders in waste and recycling by the end of the year to drive improvements in a challenging environment, marked by high levels of migrant and agency workers. Construction is making progress, but more needs to be done on occupational health issues – the good work of the ODA needs to be publicised and spread; and HSE will report to the Board on its review of Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations.

Neil Budworth discusses the ticking of a demographic time bomb

3 Aug

If you listen very closely you may be able to hear it, a gentle ticking. The ticking of a demographic time bomb. The fact is that we are all growing older, and as we age so does the average age of the population.

We all now know that we will have to work longer and the fact is that as we age we are more likely to be affected by chronic (long term ) conditions. As the average age of the workforce increases then increasingly health becomes a business issue. We will need to get better at managing these long terms conditions in the workplace as they become more common.

 It is against this background that new guides (one for employers and one for individuals) have been produced by the Department of Health as part of the Responsibility Deal. The guides have been developed to help an individual who has a chronic condition know their rights and how to approach their employer, they also explain that in most cases work is good for you and so continuing to work, can in the long term be the best thing to do. The employers’ guide give useful advice on what your legal responsibilities are, and what as a good employer you can do to support your valued employee.

Both guides also have extensive lists of organisation where you can get help and support relating to particular health conditions. The fact is that helping people manage their long term health condition in the work place can help you to safeguard valuable skills and actually build employee loyalty. The practices in these guides are not just the right thing to do, they are also the sensible business thing to do. Check them out.

Advice for line managers on supporting employees with long-term medical conditions>>

Advice for employees on working with a long-term medical condition>>

About our guest blogger
Neil Budworth is the Corporate Health and Safety Manager for E.ON in the UK he is a visiting professor in occupational safety and health at Loughborough University  and is a Past President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Worker involvement: the elusive piece in the health and safety jigsaw

29 Jul

Nigel Bryson has been a stalwart over the past thirty years in promoting the immense benefits of actively involving workers in preventing workplaces injuries and ill health occurrences. I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Nigel for the past ten years. The British Safety Council is honoured that Nigel regularly speaks at our events and ones that we partner. It is fair to say that the hundreds who have heard him never fail to be moved by his passion and persuasion.

You never quite know what you are going to get from Nigel in terms of what he will use to highlight the cost of not involving workers and the massive benefits produced when you do. Quite simply Nigel grabs your attention, engages your emotions and presents you with the stark evidence. In his words, “Workers are not the problem: workers are the solution to health and safety problems”.

Nigel has now brought a mass of material together in his new book, “Zero harm: worker involvement. The missing pieces”. Just reading his foreword, “Workers dying to live”, reminded me that for many people the consequences of workplace injury and ill health are not remote but have touched them directly and continue to impact on them and their families. Nigel was deeply affected by his father’s work as a trade union official and the memory of his father having to visit the bereaved families of dead workers. One such instance was a visit to the wife of a worker killed in a quarrying accident. The woman still harboured a faint hope that her husband would come walking through the door. She said to Nigel’s Dad, “You know Mr Bryson there wasn’t even a body to bury.” To obtain a copy of this book or talk to Nigel about his work in promoting worker involvement e-mail him at

We’re not invincible

5 Jul

I would consider myself a calm and considerate driver. Well, as calm and considerate as you can be driving in London. I often invite a pedestrian to cross the road in front of me if I’m in slow traffic, or let a car pull out of a junction. But on the way to my mundane weekly supermarket shop yesterday evening, something – or rather someone – had me reeling.

The entrance to my local supermarket is located just off a mini roundabout and as I took a left at the roundabout to enter the supermarket car park a woman stepped out in front of me and put her arm out as though ordering me to stop. I was taken aback as there was no reason for me to stop. I wasn’t going fast, there was no injured cat in the middle of the road, nor did she hold a lollipop.

All I wanted to do was get my shopping over and done with so I could get home in time for Coronation Street. Frustrated, I duly stopped. Then, quite astonishingly, she gestured for her kids, who were patiently waiting on the pavement, to cross the road in front of me. The kids were hesitant to step out in front of my car but she kept yelling at them until they gingerly walked across the road.

I was stunned by her actions. She made me so mad, not just because she ignored the Green Cross Code and made me stop (despite it being my right of way), but because she’s setting a bad example to her kids. The children were waiting quite happily for an appropriate moment to cross, but the mother went against everything her children have learnt at school and put their safety at risk.

Whatever happened to ‘stop, look, listen and look again’? It seems this woman went to a different school and learnt the ‘walk, stop traffic and hope for the best’ procedure. Luckily for her, and her children, I did stop and let them pass, but judging by the way some people drive round my neck of the woods it might have been a very different story.

Road safety is so important but people seem to think they’re invincible these days and the bus, bike or car will stop for them when they cross the road. I always remember my dad’s reaction when someone walked out in front of his car on a zebra crossing without looking. “What do you think it is, a magic carpet?” he’d yell at the pedestrian.

Although it’s common courtesy for drivers to stop at a zebra crossing, pedestrians have to be so careful these days. We’re all in such a hurry to get places but we have to be on the lookout for other people and not think we own the road. That goes for pedestrians and drivers.

I think what angered me the most about the incident yesterday was that she didn’t even wave or smile to thank me for stopping, she just carried on walking and yelling at her poor kids. Needless to say it took me a while for my anger to subside, and pushing a trolley around a busy supermarket was probably not the best way to deal with my rage. In fact it probably made it worse. I think someone should write a Green Cross Code for shopping trolleys.