Company and consultant prosecuted after poor safety support and advice

A Cambridge instrument company and a health and safety consultant have been fined for risking the health of employees from hazardous chemicals.

Paint sprayer Adam Coventon, 36, suffered irritation to his eyes, breathing difficulties, headaches and lost the ability to concentrate after working with harmful substances at Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd in Fulbourn. He is now no longer able to work.

Cambridge Magistrates’ Court heard yesterday (10 January) that his job was to prepare and paint small components for scientific instruments, which involved working with chemicals including trichloroethylene, a powerful de-greaser used to clean metal before it is painted, and paints containing isocyanates.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Prior Scientific Instruments did not provide suitable equipment to adequately remove the hazardous fumes from the workplace, especially where items were left to dry.

HSE also found that in addition to inadequate controls, the company failed to provide employees with the necessary health surveillance for workers using hazardous substances. Health surveillance is a key part of ensuring that peoples’ health has not been affected by the chemicals they use at work.

The Court was told that between September 2002 and December 2009 the company employed Keith Whiting, trading as KW Consultants, as a health and safety consultant. However, he did not provide suitable information and advice to enable the company to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees.

Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd, of Wilbraham Road, Fulbourn, Cambridge, was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £2,852 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Keith Whiting, trading as KW Consultants, of West Street, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, was fined £1,500 with costs of £1,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the same legislation.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Robert Meardon said:

“Prior Scientific Instruments failed to ensure the health of its employees because it employed the wrong person to give it health and safety advice.

“Mr. Whiting’s background was in quality control and he did not have adequate knowledge of health and safety for the work going on in this company. He failed to make them aware of the ‘do’s and don’ts’, regarding the use of hazardous chemicals.

“In 2010, the Government commissioned Lord Young to review health and safety laws and among the findings, the inquiry recognised that there were a lot of people claiming to be health and safety experts, who were in fact, not. The national register of health and safety consultants has been set up as a result. All the consultants who are registered are members of a recognised professional body, and it is important that firms seeking to use a consultant choose one from the register.”

Adam Coventon’s partner, who does not want to be named, said:

“This whole thing has had a huge effect on our lives, as we have to constantly plan around Adam’s symptoms. We all just wish that his remaining symptoms go so that he can once again be fit and strong.

“This case highlights the important job the Health and Safety Executive do, and the need for companies to monitor and control chemicals they use so they do not wreck peoples lives in the way that ours has been.”

If you need help or advice on health and safety please use the links below to contact us or request a call back – or call and speak to a friendly expert on 01453 800100

Responsibilities of the Health and Safety Director – updated

So, you’ve been appointed as the director with particular responsibilities of rhealth and safety at your business, congratulations.  But, what does this actually mean to you?  Can all of the other directors now relax and leave health and safety in your hands knowing that you are crrying the can for their actions – not quite.

You should also note that in teh recent Corporate Manslaughter case involving Lion Steel Equipment the judge noted that a Health adn Safety Director would be expected to “show the skill and care of a competent practitioner in that field”

Your alternative to this is of course to have the outsourced support of someone like ourselves to support and advise you – contact us on 01453 800100 or use these links to get in touch.

You are not aways available for blame

The first concern that most directors hav is that by agreeing to be responsible for health and safety they are sticking a sign on their back saying  to the HSE ‘Kick Me’, this certainly isn’t the case ut you shoudl be aware of the duties you have and where this hands back to your other board members.

As HSE guidance on the subject clearly states;

“board members are collectively responsible for providing leadership and direction on health and safety. The goal of effective management of occupational health and safety is more likely to be achieved where all board members have a proper understanding of the risks, the systems in place for managing the risks and an appreciation of the causes of any failures”

What is my role then?

The true role of the health and safety director is to ensure that the health and safety aspects of the decisions being considered are part of the boards decision maling process.  They shoudl advise the board on the potential impacts of the choices which they are making, examples being the changing of budgets for training or PPE or perhaps the introduction of new plant or equipment into the workplace.

My business is too small to have what you’d call a board but we do have directors

In this case you probably still have meetings, they may not be as formal as a larger business but you shoudl still minyte these meetings and show how health and safety is considered in your decision making process.  This is a key item of evidence to show that you are running your business safely and responsibly should an accident happen.

How can I benchmark our performance?

Use the checklist below, taken from INDG417 to measure your peformance against others, you can download a copy of this document here;

  • How do you demonstrate the board’s commitment to health and safety?
  • What do you do to ensure appropriate board-level review of health and safety?
  • What have you done to ensure your organisation, at all levels including the board,
    receives competent health and safety advice?
  • How are you ensuring all staff – including the board – are sufficiently trained and
    competent in their health and safety responsibilities?
  • How confident are you that your workforce, particularly safety representatives, are
    consulted properly on health and safety matters, and that their concerns are
    reaching the appropriate level including, as necessary, the board?
  • What systems are in place to ensure your organisation’s risks are assessed, and
    that sensible control measures are established and maintained?
  • How well do you know what is happening on the ground, and what audits or
    assessments are undertaken to inform you about what your organisation and
    contractors actually do?
  • What information does the board receive regularly about health and safety,
    eg performance data and reports on injuries and work-related ill health?
  • What targets have you set to improve health and safety and do you benchmark
    your performance against others in your sector or beyond?
  • Where changes in working arrangements have significant implications for health and
    safety, how are these brought to the attention of the board?

PAT test requirements clarified

Electrical inspections – test requirements clarified

We often get clients asking for advice when its comes to electrical testing.   From PAT (portable appliance tests) through to building supply inspections it seems that the waters are rather murky and many business people are frustrated by a lack of clear guidance on what they must do rather than what they could do.  This is further complicated by a range of suppliers who all provide information in a way which makes you suspect that their intentions are more commercial than educational.  If you need access to a quotation for PAT please use the request callback link.

So what are the facts?

Portable appliances
You should have a scheme of inspection (could be visual) by a person competent to spot the risk issues (not necessarily an electrical engineer). However, you’ll find that pretty much everyone interprets this as having a company carry out portable appliance tests once a year for portable equipment (less often for fixed equipment like photocopiers and more often for equipment in tough environments like workshops or construction).

It is your choice to do otherwise but we’d recommend the above, if you wish to do it in house companies such as ourselves can offer one day training courses to give sufficient competence to operate a tester and carry this task out.

Electrical installations
Typically your insurer will ask to see evidence of inspection and test on a five yearly basis. If you have recently moved into your offices you should be in receipt of a handover certificate which states that the installation was carried out in line with the requirements of the current IEE Regulations (17th Edition) and all is well. Once you get five years beyond this its time to review and you’ll need to get hold of a competent contractor to do this for you (NICEIC for example).

Remember, there can be a lot of power moving through the system hidden behind walls and in risers cupboards, poor connections can be overheating or perhaps sparking leading to fire and major problems. Perhaps have a shop around, a larger contractor with heat sensing camera equipment might actually work out to be better value than having to shut down sections whilst the survey is completed.

In summary, none of this is strict law but it is alluded to in the regulations as being reasonable. The fact that just about everyone else is doing it makes complying your best option in this case.  If you have questions then please contact one of our health & safety consultants by calling us on 01453 800100.

More information on PAT test frequency

Type of premises Formal visual inspection Combined inspection & testing
Offices & Shops
Stationary equipment 24 months 48 months
IT equipment 24 months 48 months
Movable equipment 12 months 24 months
Portable equipment 12 months 24 months
Hand-held equipment 6 months 12 months
Stationary equipment 24 months 48 months
IT equipment 24 months 48 months
Movable equipment 12 months 24 months
Portable equipment 12 months 24 months
Hand-held equipment 6 months 12 months
Equipment used by the public
Stationary equipment Monthly 12 months
IT equipment Monthly 12 months
Movable equipment Weekly 6 months
Portable equipment Weekly 6 months
Hand-held equipment Weekly 6 months
Industrial including commercial kitchens
Stationary equipment None 12 months
IT equipment None 12 months
Movable equipment Monthly 6 months
Portable equipment Monthly 6 months
Hand-held equipment Monthly 6 months
Stationary equipment None 12 months
IT equipment None 12 months
Movable equipment 4 months 12 months
Portable equipment 4 months 12 months
Hand-held equipment 4 months 12 months
Construction sites 110V equipment
Stationary equipment Monthly 3 months
IT equipment Monthly 3 months
Movable equipment Monthly 3 months
Portable equipment Monthly 3 months
Hand-held equipment Monthly 3 months

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and health surveillance

After a big push on this issue a few years ago HAVS is emerging as one of the areas which needs to be reconsidered in terms of its impact on the health of our workers.  Use of a simple annual health questionnaire may be enough for you to comply with the requirements of the regulations but research recently completed indicates that as few as 18% of companies are carrying this out.

Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005

These regulations set out the levels which are acceptable and the requirement of health surveillance required should you workers exceed the action value (2.5 m/s-1 averaged over an eight hour period).  Don’t forget however, that your first point of action should be to reduce exposure to a level below this figure and this can be done in several ways;

  1. Purchase of new equipment of lower vibration
  2. Changes in the process to reduce the requirement for holding vibrating tools
  3. Changes in work practices to limit exposure
  4. Changes in the planning of the work to exposure several staff for shorter periods rather than one worker for an extended time
  5. Mechanisation of the process to reduce exposure
  6. Lowering the energy requirement of the process (less air pressure, motor speed and so on)

Getting a true picture of exposure

One other aspect which many companies do not have clear enough data on is the true period of exposure.  For vibration exposure we mean the actual time spent using the tool whilst it is vibrating and this can be significantly different to what you might assume.  For example, a road gang may be exposed to very high levels of vibration using abrasive wheels and pneumatic drills but how long is the true exposure?

It might be just a few minutes per day and shared between several staff and this presents a very different picture to an industrial process where exposure can be several hours.

Can we help?

If you have an issue with vibration or noise we have the skills and experience to help.  Talk to your retained consultant or if you are not a Safety~net client call us on 01453 800100 to chat through your specific situation and we’ll let you know exactly how we can help.

Access and tower scaffolds training, PASMA or not PASMA?

As with any type of training, one of the first questions we ask our clients is which flavour they would like. HSE does not favour any training body above another but if your client insists on PASMA then PASMA it must be…


The Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association (PASMA) has gained great ground in recent years and has worked closely with HSE to develop guidnce on the use of access equipment.  Its courses are very well recognised and of a good standard but they are not the only option available to you.

The Health and Safety Executive insist that the training provided must be adequate, suitable and sufficient and delivered by a competent person.  That doesn’t get you very far with a client who insists that those working on their site must have a particular type of ticket.

Which flavour would sir like?

Whilst we can insist that we are more than competent and may even provide training for your large client ourselves we, and you, are faced with a simple choice; get it right or off the site… The best advice is to speak to your client, or allow us to do so on your behalf, to ascertain exactly what is required and what will be accepted.  Failure to do so could well result in throwing your money away on a qualification which common sense will tell you is adequate but which the client will refuse to accept.

Next steps

If you have a question like this please contact us to make sure you are arranging for training which is suitable for both you and your clients.  We’re always happy to speak on this matter to ensure that you receive value for money and remain a happy customer.  We trained over 10.600 people last year so please take advantage of our experience and industry knowledge to make sure your training matches your clients requirements.

Contact us on 01453 800100 (consultancy) or 01453 826781 (training) for more information.

Burning of waste at site results in explosion seriously injuring two workers

Two workers injured in explosion after waste burned at site – company prosecuted for actions

Staff employed by 1st Surface Ltd were clearing an overgrown garden. As they worked to clear the various overgrown trees and shrubs they accumulated a large amount of waste –  enough to fill five skips had these been provided.

In the absence of any plan for disposal, the workers decided to burn it.  Management at the company wre not involved in this decision and did not direct the staff to follow the course of action but were prosecuted for the resulting injuries.

As on old air raid shelter was present on site the workers decided to use this as an incinerator and added an amount of dry wood plus petrol to get the fire started.

Given the enclosed nature of the shelter the petrol vapours accumulated in the air raid shelter and built up quickly to a level where they formed an explosive mixture with air. One of the workers then threw a lit taper down the chimney of the shelter and when the flame reached it the vapour exploded.

Injuries to workers

Both men were standing on the shelter and received burns to their faces before being thrown to the ground. Both workers were hospitalised and has not yet returned to work nearly two years after the event.

HSE investigation blamed employer

When HSE investigators reviewed the incident they blamed the employer in spite of the fact that the method of waste disposal had not been sanctioned by management.

HSE considered that the men would not have followed the method of work they resorted to had the employer made suitable arrangements to remove the waste safely.

1st Surface Ltd pleaded guilty to health and safety charges and were fortunate to be fined a small amount of £9,000 with £2,571 in costs.

Link to petrol safety advice

See our guidance on how to store petrol safely

Worker loses leg above the knee in MEWP (mobile elevating work platform) accident

Johnson Controls Ltd, a building maintenance company, has been sentenced after one of its employees, Ken Brown, lost a leg when he was run over by a MEWP at a nuclear site in Cumbria.  Johnson Controls Ltd, part of a global organisation which employs more than 160,000 people, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of employees.

Mr Brown was escorting the vehicle on foot when it struck him at the Windscale site in Seascale on 5 May 2011.  His employer, Johnson Controls Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found there had not been a safe system of work for the task, and relevant training had not been provided.

HSE’s investigation found that Mr Brown and other staff at Johnson Controls had escorted cherry pickers on foot several times a month, for at least 14 months, prior to the accident. The only advice the company gave to its employees when directing cherry pickers was to wear a high visibility waistcoat. No specific training was provided for the task.

Carlisle Crown Court heard the 62-year-old from Distington had been standing close to the front of the cherry picker to direct it along a one-way road at the site when it ran over his left leg. Mr Brown was taken to hospital where doctors had to amputate his leg above the knee.

The company, of Waterberry Drive, Waterlooville, Hampshire, was fined £65,000 and ordered to pay £8,162 in prosecution costs on 8 October 2012.

Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at HSE, Faye Wingfield, said:

“Kenneth Brown has suffered a terrible injury that will affect him for the rest of his life due to failings of his employer. Vehicles continue to be a major cause of serious injuries in the workplace, and the first principle of any employer should be to keep people and vehicles apart.

“It is questionable whether Johnson Controls actually needed a member of staff on foot to direct the cherry picker, given that it was travelling forwards along a road in a one-way system but if the risk assessment decided someone was needed to escort the vehicle then a safe system of work needed to be devised. Employees should also have been given appropriate training, including how to communicate effectively with the driver.”

Should you have similar situations at your site C&G Safety can arrange for an experienced training to work with your managers to deliver awareness training for those who have MEWPs at site – this is not an operators course but covers what those in charge need to be aware of – contact us for more information on 01453 800100.