Working with Asbestos Cement (Asbestos Containing Materials)

Throughout the UK and Europe there are a multitude of workplaces still clad in asbestos cement from roofing to rainwater to any number of other similar items.  Back in the 50’s and 60’s this ‘wonder material’ was marketed as a solution to all building problems due to its characteristics for strength, lightness and fire resistance.

Asbestos training and working safely with asbestos materials

The legacy which we’re left with is having to manage a potentially harmful material on almost every industrial estate and commercial building which was built during this time and, sadly, people don’t always take the right precautions or have the right asbestos training.

A recent case highlighted the use of poorly thought out methods being put into practice which exposed persons unnecessarily to asbestos fibres. Both a manufacturing company and the contractor were prosecuted for using a high pressure jet washer to clean asbestos cement roofing with fine well into the thousands of pounds.

However, help is at hand and HSE have some useful and practical advice for those with asbestos cement roofs and similar.  Use the guidance below to ensure that you or your contractor put the right precautions in place before work starts to ensure the safety of your staff, neighbours and other who could be affected;

HSE Guidance: Work with asbestos cement (AC) (non-licensed) (asbestos training)
Posted by Roger Hart

Controlling dusts in construction

Controlling construction dusts has really hit the headlines as a requirements in recent years – and with good reason.  Deaths related to dust inhalation through COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and the effects of exposure to RCS (respirable crystalline silica) are estimated to be in the thousands each year.  HSE estimates that over 100 people are estimated to die every week compared to 1 person or less per week from physical risks on construction sites (falling from height and similar).

Controlling dusts is often through simple measures such as water suppression and wearing appropriate masks which have been face fit tested but there are times when you can’t use wet cutting methods – in these circumstances you’ll need to capture the dust at source.  The next question is what do you use?  The answer is certainly not a Henry vacuum ( as much as we like them and yes, we do have one in the office!).

Effective capture of construction dust needs something intended and designed for that purpose and capable of withstanding rough usage.  Using a poorly specified extractor will simply makes things worse – much worse – by capturing the dust only to blow large amounts of the fine dust into the atmosphere for you and all around you to breathe in, not what you want to achieve and something guaranteed to get you some attention from HSE and their Fee for Intervention scheme…

Controlling exposure to construction dusts

Firstly, there is some really good information available from the HSE, primarily in the form of the CIS Sheets; Controlling construction dust with on-tool extraction CIS69 – HSE being your first port of call in this case.  This gives a reasonably in-depth summary of what you need to review and consider but for the purpose of this blog we’re going to make things as simple as possible and also aim them at what we think our clients would most like to know.

With this in mind we are working with our clients to address these risks, educate their staff through training courses and toolbox talks and also running free sessions on the risks associated with construction dusts and how to manage them.  Check out this link for the talk which we gave to WWT (the HSE and Construction industry partnership organisation).

Key steps to controlling construction dust

  1. Capture at source: this means having a hood on the machine connected to your extraction unit which is as close as possible to the cutting /abrading point.  It should cover as much of the tool as it can reasonably cover without causing an obstruction as that will make it more effective;
  2. Use the right extraction equipment: this means an industrial vacuum designed for the purpose, there are 3 choices (HML) High, Medium of Low and the choice you make depends on the dust created from high for work which produces hazardous dusts like respirable crystalline silica to low on dusts which are less inherently harmful with plaster and gypsum being good examples;
  3. Remember extraction can’t capture every bit of dust: very fine dust will always find a way to escape and respirable crystalline silica dust is again a good example, it’s so fine even wet cutting won’t reduce it to a safe level and so make sure that you and those trades around you are wearing good quality, face fitted RPE to FFP3 standard.  If you need face fit tests then please call us on 01453 800100 and we can arrange this through one of our Fit2Fit Face Fit testers;
  4. Consider neighbouring trades: consider those around you and also those who might have to clean up.  Don’t control all of your dust exposure at the time of cutting only to expose everyone when the area is cleaned – use wet capture or clean dust using the same class of vacuum and using the same protective equipment you used for cutting;
  5. Make sure it’s used consistently: even short term exposure is hazardous and build up over time, a bit like noise exposure does.  Small repeated exposures without adequate protection build up over a working life to serious health problems and can lead to terrible debilitating diseases like COPD and cancers, so use good practices each and every time, even for short duration work;
  6. Make sure it’s maintained correctly before each use by:
    1. checking it is in good working order (not damaged) before work starts;
    2. following the method of work described in your RAMS (risk assessments / method statements);
    3. using the equipment in the right way. Follow manufacturer’s instructions;
    4. ensuring the captor hood is as close as possible to the work surface;
    5. ensuring the tubing has a good connection to both the captor hood and extraction unit. Use an adaptor if needed, not tape;
    6. emptying the extraction unit regularly. Use the correct disposable waste bags. Seal and place in the right waste container. Do not empty these bags to recycle them;
    7. cleaning the equipment regularly (eg wipe down daily). Do not let dust build up on working parts such as internal motors and associated vents;
  7. Once a week do a more formal look over to check the following;
    1. damage to parts of the system such as the hood or ducting. Repair or replace straight away;
    2. maintaining the extraction unit’s flow of air. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the airflow indicator and any built-in cleaning mechanism work properly. Replace filters when needed;
    3. replacing worn cutting discs.
  8. Once every 14 months have the equipment thoroughly inspected by a competent person, this is known as a Thorough Examination and Test (TExT).

Watch our video to find out more;

Posted by Roger Hart

£100k fine for health surveillance failings leading to HAVS

Hand Arm Vibration (HAVS) is something which we have covered many times before but an area in which many still have a way to go.  The following prosecution illustrates just how many are still getting it wrong and the suffering which is resulting from this.

If you’re a safety advisor or manager within an organisation who feels they should be doing more, the case below should help you justify to your board the actions which you need to take to protect them, your staff and the business.  If you need advice or support on HAVS then please do get in touch – it’s just one of the things we do to help and support our clients under Safety~net.

South Wales based Charter Housing Association fined £100k for health surveillance failings which led to HAVS

Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard how Charter Housing Association Ltd. reported six cases of HAVS following a health surveillance programme launched in June 2015. The affected employees were all part of the maintenance team.  Subsequently, the HSE’s investigation found that the health of six of these staff were likely to have been caused or worsened by the use of vibratory power tools while in Charter Housing’s employment.  It was further found that maintenance and refurbishment staff had also experienced significant exposure to hand arm vibration in their daily work which put them at risk of developing or exacerbating existing HAVS.

The investigation also revealed that the company:

  1. neither adequately planned its working methods nor trained or informed employees on the risks to their health
  2. did not limit the duration and magnitude of exposure to vibration
  3. failed to put in place suitable health surveillance to identify problems at an early stage.

Charter Housing Association Ltd (now part of Pobl Group Ltd) of High Street, Newport pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005. The company was fined £100,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £9,896.88.

HSE Comment

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Joanne Carter said:

“An individuals health should not be made worse by the work they do. If Charter Housing had correctly implemented its health surveillance earlier, it would have ensured the right systems were in place to monitor workers’ health. The six affected employees’ conditions may have been prevented from developing to a more severe stage.”

“How people work today can affect their health and wellbeing tomorrow. This case serves as an important reminder of the necessity of task based risk assessments to establish the level of exposure, control measures to reduce that exposure to as low as is reasonably practicable and effective health surveillance systems. In the case of Charter Housing this realisation came too late.”

“All employers need to do the right thing to protect workers’ health.”

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a serious and permanent condition caused by regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration. HAVS results in tingling, numbness, pain and loss of strength in the hands which may affect the ability to do work safely and cause pain, distress and sleep disturbance.

Posted by Roger Hart

Q: What happens when HSE injures one of its own staff? A: Errr, not a lot…

With fines rising by orders of magnitude and custodial sentences being handed in more cases that ever before all businesses are feeling more exposed to risk from not managing safety effectively.  They are also conscious that with uncertainty, rising costs and tough marketing places they need to balance cost against benefit wisely to remain competitive in a global marketplace.  So what happens when HSE injures one of its own staff?

The advent of the Fee for Intervention scheme (FFI), the closure of the HSE Helpline plus rises in prosecutions and fines have all served to create a greater distance between business and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Because of this you might wonder what happens to the people who enforce health and safety law when their own procedures, risk assessments and safety systems of work fall far below the standards expected.

The answer?  Not a great deal. No fines (no point fining another government body). No hearings or court cases (this is another department of the Crown after all). No risk of personal prosecution and no possibility of a company being driven out of business through a combination of fines and bad publicity.

What actually happens is a Crown Censure (a situation where, but for Crown immunity from prosecution, would have led to a realistic prospect of conviction).  The department accepts it was wrong and regrets the actions which led to the incident which should have been prevented.  Quite a contrast to those of us working in the private sector…. read on below for more details of what actually happened.

HSE injures worker through hydrogen release which ignited at test laboratory in Buxton (source: http://press.hse.gov.uk/2017/hse-issued-with-crown-censure-over-worker-injury/)

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has accepted a Crown Censure after a worker at its laboratory was injured when conducting an experiment at a testing facility.

On 4 October 2016 a worker at HSE’s Laboratory in Buxton suffered serious burns while setting up an experimental hydrogen test rig. He has since returned to work.

The incident happened when a prototype hydrogen storage vessel was being tested to determine if the design would be suitable for its intended use. While filling the vessel a connector failed and a quantity of hydrogen escaped under pressure. The hydrogen ignited and the HSE employee who was close to the vessel was injured.

HM Inspectors of Health and Safety investigated the incident and served a Crown Improvement Notice requiring HSE to provide a system of work for proof testing and leak testing an assembled hydrogen line and test tank to ensure, so far as is reasonable, the safety of employees and other people in the vicinity. HSE complied with the Notice.

The investigation by HM Inspectors concluded that the pressure testing went wrong because of failings to assess, plan, manage and control a well-known risk of death or serious injury.

The investigation team found the incident could have been prevented by putting in place recognised control measures available in longstanding published guidance.

Director of field operations, Samantha Peace said: “The Act is not intended to stop people from doing work that may be inherently dangerous, such as pressure testing. It is about ensuring that where work involves danger then this is reduced as much as it properly can be.

“In this case, HSE bear this responsibility as an employer. They fell below the required standard and as the failings exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury, a Crown Censure is the right course of action. HSE has co-operated fully with the investigation and we are satisfied that action has been taken to put matters right.”

Richard Judge said “As chief executive of HSE, and on behalf of my colleagues on the Management Board and the HSE Board, I very much regret this incident happened, and especially that our colleague was injured. On this occasion, we did not meet the standards we expect of others and that is deeply disappointing. HSE accepts the Crown Censure.

“We took early action to resolve the immediate issues identified by the regulatory and internal investigations. In line with our spirit of continuous improvement, we are using the findings from the investigations as an opportunity to learn and to do significantly better.”

By accepting the Crown Censure, HSE admitted to breaching its duty under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in that it exposed employees to risks to their health, safety and welfare.

As a Government body, HSE cannot face prosecution in the same way as private or commercial organisations and a Crown Censure is the maximum sanction a government body can receive. There is no financial penalty associated with Crown Censure, but once accepted is an official record of a failing to meet the standards set out in law.

Posted by Roger Hart

Requirements for ‘Safety Critical Medicals’ hitting construction contractors

Safety Critical Medicals are an issue which is being raised by more and more clients since the beginning of this year. It is linked to a national scheme know as Constructing Better Health which is backed by the larger constructors in the construction industry. You can find out more about this scheme here; http://www.cbhscheme.com/About-CBH. The issue is that many contractors are only becoming aware of these requirements when they arrive at site, meaning that instead of being able to start work many have been referred to an occupational health provider in order to have an assessment carried out for their Safety Critical Workers.  Please note that this can vary, some contractors will insist that a test within the last 12 months must be completed before work starts and others adopting a less rigorous approach.

The idea behind the assessment is that it provides a process which allows the organisation to comply with its duties under HASWA Section 3 to ensure the safety of their own workers and third parties. Below we’ve given more information about the requirements of the scheme and what workers it covers, these are generally those at higher risk of causing harm to themselves and others, examples would be plant operators or workers on high speed roads.  Assessments are conducted by approved occupational health providers and you can find a list of these here; http://www.cbhscheme.com/Find-an-OHSP

Background and definitions; Safety Critical Medicals & Safety Critical Workers

A safety critical worker is defined as;

“Where the ill health of an individual may compromise their ability to undertake a task defined as safety critical, thereby posing a significant risk to the health and safety of others”

In construction the following have been defined as ‘safety critical’:
  • All mobile plant operators
  • High-speed road workers
  • LGV / HGV Drivers
  • Scaffolder / Rigger
  • Slinger / Signaller / Banksman / Traffic Marshal
  • Steel Erector / Structural Fabricator
  • Steeplejack
  • Confined Spaces Workers
  • Rail trackside workers
  • Asbestos licensed workers
  • Tunnellers, or those working in a confined space
  • Tasks carried out at height where collective preventative measures to control risk are not practicable
  • Others as identified by the risk assessment process
Whilst the use of professional judgment typically allows us to ensure that an individual is fit to perform a task effectively and without risk to their own or others health and safety in broad terms, although there are general duties of care under the HSAWA, it is likely that only those exposed to safety critical work would need be subjected to a full medical assessment.  This medical assessment may consist of;
  1. Blood pressure measurement;
  2. Height, Weight & Body Mass;
  3. Audiometry – hearing test;
  4. Spirometry – Lung function test (if indicated – job specific);
  5. Visual Acuity, colour vision and peripheral vision screen;
  6. Urinalysis for diabetes or other health issues;
  7. Musculoskeletal assessment;
  8. Mental health assessment;
  9. A baseline SCW health questionnaire to establish any current or previous medical/psychological health history.

As always, if you have questions and your a retained client under our Safety~net competent person scheme please contact your consultant to give specific guidance on your compliance.

Posted by Roger Hart

HSE publishes their sector plans for 2018

The Health and Safety Executive has published its sector plans for the next 3-5 years following the draft it issued in March 2017.

This earlier document saw HSE split the areas under its remit into 19 different sections rather than the, until now, traditional two sectors  Interestingly, manufacturing has been given a ‘must try harder’ rating after it was found that around 3% of workers are injured annually, somewhat higher than the all-industry rate.  You can find more information on the HSE Sector Plans page here; http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/strategiesandplans/sector-plans/index.htm

The key approach which HSE intends to adopt is;

  • working with others, using our expertise for the wider good of workers, businesses (especially SMEs) and government;
  • championing the need for prevention;
  • focusing our inspection and enforcement activity where it can have the most effect.

How HSE intends to integrate this with the current FFI policy remains to be seen but if you can engage with HSE on initiatives we’d encourage you to do so wherever possible.

Occupational health will continue to play a key role in risk management and is very likely to be a key area of concern for any visit to site, in particular consider within your business the following three areas which have been marked for further assessment when conducting visits;

  • Occupational lung disease (exposure to dusts / RCS, COPD, work related asthma);
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (think manual handling but also consider general ergonomics);
  • Work related stress and mental health issues (use the HSE stress tool and see their website for more guidance).

One further area which was highlighted during the consultation process has been the large increase in volunteer activities and how the scope of this work has widened with many volunteers now carrying out tasks which are far more exposed to risk than has been the case.

The six key sectors which HSE intends to target are;

  1. agriculture;
  2. construction;
  3. transport and logistics;
  4. manufacturing;
  5. waste and recycling;
  6. public services.
Posted by Roger Hart

Could Health and Safety Fines rise even higher? Probably….

We have seen health and safety fines rise by 10-15 x  over their former levels since the Sentencing Guidelines were introduced in 2016 (see our earlier article for more information).

In the past few months alone there have been a number of high value, high profile fines, including:

Health and Safety Fines rise for individualsHSE

A recent article by Dr Simon Joyston-Bechal of Turnstone Law discusses sentences applying to individuals who have put cost cutting before safety being increased to 8 or more years in prison.  More worryingly, where the two aspects for consideration under the existing sentencing guidelines are triggered you could also be moved into the very high category with a starting point of 12 years in jail (and a range of 10-18 years).

These are in consultation at present on the Sentencing Councils website and it seems from the examples used that the Council would wish to see higher fines introduced in the case of health and safety offences.  They are not law yet but it does look increasingly likely that these revisions will make it through to becoming law.

You can read the article in more detail on the SHP website here; Gross negligence manslaughter: ‘Sit up & take note’ as jail terms increase

Posted by Roger Hart

Occupational Health Risks of Working in the Sun (UV) Rays

What are your legal obligations as an employer when staff are exposed to UV radiation?

The Health and Safety at Work Act makes it clear that there is a legal duty on every employer to ensure, as far as reasonably practical, the health of their employees.

It also says that employers must provide “information, instruction, training and supervision” to ensure their safety.

The management of Health and Work Regulations also require the employer to conduct a suitable risk assessment of the risks to the health of their workforce. This includes the risks from UV radiation.

Did you know?

  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world
  • Rates of skin cancer are increasing faster than any other cancer in the UK
  • 90% of skin cancer deaths could be prevented
  • 2/3 of construction workers are outside for 7 hours per day
  • Outdoor workers have a higher than average risk of developing skin cancer
  • 100% of UVA rays pass through clouds so sun protection is essential, even on cloudy days

How can you reduce the risks associated with Ultraviolet (UV) Rays in your workforce?

  • Conduct a risk assessment and communicate that risk assessment and the control measures to the workforce;
  • Issue guidance on those control measures which will include using sunblock, re-hydrating and appropriate clothing;
  • Carry out a safety briefing/toolbox talk with all staff explaining the health risks associated with exposure to UV Rays;
  • Don’t forget the sign-off sheet to demonstrate understanding from the workforce and evidence that you have communicated health risks to the workforce

Don’t forget the drivers!

Most glass used for windows in vehicles block UVB but not UVA rays.

A person sitting in a vehicle can still receive significant exposure to solar UVR. There are many different types of glass: each provides very different levels of sun protection. Therefore drivers may also be at risk as glass do not block all UV radiation.

For information on how Outsource Safety can help you implement a more robust Health and Safety Management System encompassing the Occupational Hazards associated with your profession, please get in touch using our contact forms or by calling 01453 800100

Posted by Roger Hart

Health and Safety Vs the Hipsters – having a beard to be outlawed on site?

We’ve been carrying out face fit tests and advising our clients on the selection and use of RPE (face masks and similar) for many years now and often come across staff sporting a beard.

Our position as occupational hygiene specialists means that we have been more exposed to this issue more than many of our peers and it has always been a difficult one to address.

The issue surrounding beards lies in both their current popularity and the incompatibility of having a beard with good practice when it comes to protecting workers from dusts.  A simple mantra we keep returning to in our toolbox talks and support work for clients across the UK is that you won’t see a fire fighter with a beard.

We’ve been reading about the case of  Mears and the response from Unite (the Union) recently and whilst we do have sympathy with each party, overall we have to side with Mears rather than Unite on the beard and face fit issue.  The simple truth is that beards and RPE don’t mix well, and whilst you can use air fed helmets they’re not always the right choice.

See below for comments from both Mears and from Unite.  If you have your own questions please contact us to discuss what you can do.

Unite National Health and Safety Adviser Susan Murray said:

“An employer should first assess the risks presented by exposure to hazardous substances, then identify the steps needed to adequately control the risks; put them into operation and ensure they remain effective.

The use of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) may be one of the control measures, but the wearing of face masks should be a last resort and priority should always be given to eliminating the risk.

Before any policy is introduced there should be full and proper consultation. It is crucial that the policy recognises the diversity of the workforce and the principle that workers should be consulted and given a choice of several correctly specified types of RPE so they can choose the one they like.”

 

Seal not possible with beard or heavy stubble

Mark Elkington, Group Health and Safety Director of Mears Group responded as follow:

“We are pretty surprised that Unite, who claim to have the safety of workers at heart have taken this disappointing stance.

Every employer in the UK has a legal responsibility to ensure that employees working in dusty or otherwise potentially hazardous environments are properly protected and in recent years employers have been prosecuted for failing to fulfil this duty.

The simple fact is that no dust mask can work effectively unless it forms a seal against the skin. That is not possible with a beard or even heavy stubble. If the Health and Safety Executive did a spot site visit and found workers wearing dust masks that were not sealed against the face then we would be liable to prosecution.

The alternative to a dust mask is a full hood over the head, which brings its own risks. For example many of our operatives do not like wearing a full hood and it can affect hearing and line of sight. It can also be uncomfortable to wear and can raise concerns with our clients who do not like to see workers in such hoods because of how it looks to customers.

It is vital to note, however, that if a risk assessment shows that the hood is a better option for a job or a worker insisted on having one, then we will supply that hood so Unite’s reference to cost saving is absolute nonsense.

If one of our workers suffers respiratory illness as a result of a poor fitting mask then that is our responsibility and we place the safety of our workers at the top of the priority list. Finally it is worthy of note that this affects a very small percentage of our workers who would be in that environment.”

[sform id=’3220′]

Posted by Roger Hart

Use of Plant on Construction Sites – New HSE guidance on Overturning

There have been more instances of tele-handlers and dumpers overturning on construction sites with often tragic consequences. These days we have trained operators and good site traffic management on most sites we see but in spite of this we are still seeing too many overturns.

This gave use cause to think and discuss this in the office and we have the following thoughts for you to consider which will be helpful when seeking to manage these risks;

  1. Are roll bars always in the upright position – staff sometimes do not put them into place following delivery;
  2. Seat belts are still not being worn and warning systems are being defeated as operators are still under the impression that they could somehow ‘jump free’ of the vehicle if it should overturn  this just isn’t the case;
  3. Training often does not teach good practice for using this machinery (in particular dumpers) on slopes, this is essential and should make up a toolbox talk and really should be part of any operators training – check your training satisfies this area;
  4. Some zones may not be suitable for dumpers and telehandlers – mark exclusions zones for soft ground and steeper slopes;
  5. Tyre pressures are crucial – make sure staff check pressures daily as a small change in pressure (as little as 5 psi) can have an enormous effect on load capacity.  Tyres must be check when cold at the start of each day.

Find out more about the safety of telehandlers here by reading the latest research report from HSE.  General information about plant safety can be found on the HSE website here.

Contact us on 01453 800100 if you need expert help with health and safety for a fixed cost or use contact us above or the form below to request a proposal;

[sform id=’3220′]

Posted by Roger Hart