Safety in the workplace- have you been properly trained?

Over the past 10 years the member of work injuries at in the UK has been substantially reduced, as more employer realise the importance of safety in the workplace. From 2011 to 2012 an estimated 591,000 workers had an accident at work, with 212,000 of these injuries leading to over 3 days spent off work and 156,000 to over 7 days. Employees taking time off because of injuries suffered at work can cost businesses thousands every year and effect productivity.

When many employees start new jobs one of the initial experiences they go through should be health and safety training. Although seen as routine by many people who don’t take it very seriously, health and safety training is very important and can make all the difference when employees are faced with dangerous situations that could prove harmful to them and those around them.

Some of us may receive training that is substandard or inadequate and this can be equally harmful because it can result in people using equipment incorrectly. So it is not enough to have simply received training, you should expect to be trained properly by someone qualified to do so.

What is the law?

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to provide whatever information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practical, the health and safety of their employees. This act is supported by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which identifies situations where training is very important such as when people start a new job, are exposed to increased or new risks at work. Your employer should always consult you on health and safety issues especially if there are any changes to procedure or risk factors.

Have you been properly trained?

For office workers training for how to use electrical equipment should be given and adequate chairs should be available. There should be a member of staff trained in first aid and everyone should be made aware of where the fire exits are. Employees should be shown how to lift objects properly and the location of fire assembly points should be common knowledge amongst staff.

Individuals who work in industry, factories or construction should be given training for operating machinery. The correct protective equipment should be provided and staff should be shown how to use it correctly. If hazardous substances are involved in job training, should also be given in terms of how to handle it safely. These are just a selection of the main practices that should be taking place within the workplace, but you should make sure you are aware of what is required for your specific job

Your responsibilities

It is important to remember that you as an employee are equally responsible for your safety at work. Workers have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by your actions at work. Workers are expected to co operate with employers and co-workers to help everyone meet their legal requirements.


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Falls from height

Common tasks that take place at height

There are several professions which require employees to work from height. These range from window cleaning to construction, tree surgeons, theme park workers, roofers and electricians.  For people in these professions working from height can be a common occurrence. Some of the most common tasks that take place at height include:

  • Gutter cleaning
  • Roof work
  • Putting up displays
  • Window cleaning
  • Shelf stacking
  • Unloading vehicles
  • Machine maintenance
  • Erecting scaffolding

How to avoid serious injuries

Falls from height can lead to some serious injuries including broken bones, head injuries and spinal injuries. Although not all injuries suffered are serious they can still have a detrimental effect on those who experience them, including time spent off work and subsequent lost earnings. However if safety procedures are followed correctly and precautions are taken, the risk of injury from falls can be reduced significantly.

Before starting any task that involves working from any height workers should first consider the following questions when assessing the risks involved in what they are doing. By assessing risks individuals can decide whether further precautions should be taken, and if there are safer ways to complete the task in hand.

  • Height- How high is the job from the ground? Is there any way it can be down closer to the ground?
  • Surface- What surface will the access equipment, often a ladder, rest on? And is the surface strong enough to support the equipment?
  • The Ground- What is the condition of the ground in the area where access equipment needs to be set up? Is the ground uneven, wet or muddy? Make sure the ladder, scaffolding or other equipment is suitable for the ground conditions- level, stable and not liable to fall or collapse under pressure. Consider the possibility of you falling, if you fall what will you fall on to?
  • Weather- What are the weather conditions and do they make the job a lot more dangerous than it should be. If it is extremely windy or rainy this needs to be taken into consideration.

Once these key questions have been answered and you are undertaking work from height of any particular nature you can attempt to ensure safe working with the help of these handy tips:

  • Make sure there is a plan for what to do if someone falls or there is an emergency.
  • Take regular breaks especially when from working on a ladder. You shouldn’t work for longer than half an hour without a break.
  • Make sure that those involved in the job have the right health and safety training and the correct equipment for the task. It is important that they have the correct skills, training and experience and have been consulted about the job and the correct equipment that is needed.
  • When working with machines adhere to electrical safety rules and avoid climbing mechanical equipment.
  • Always use safety equipment such as helmets if they are provided.
  • Behave sensibly at all times to avoid unnecessary injuries

The vast majority of workplaces have procedures in place to help avoid serious falls from height from occurring. Following this advice and the safety procedures in your workplace can help to prevent dangerous falls from height and the injuries associated with them.


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Health & Safety advice to prevent chemical related disease

Industrial diseases are an unfortunate side effect of many industries – generally speaking, ones in which people come into contact with hazardous materials. Employees in the cleaning industry are especially vulnerable to industrial conditions.

Contact with bleach, astringent liquids and harsh chemicals can cause skin conditions, and even having wet hands for many hours a day can lead to irritation, cracking and soreness.

The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for setting guidelines stating what employers should do to ensure their staff remain safe when working, and the body works in conjunction with the Cleaning Industry Liaison Forum to promote good practice within the cleaning sector.

This November the Cleaning Industry Liaison Forum will host a Safety and Health Awareness Day which is aimed at those who work within the cleaning industry and want to protect their staff from harm – supervisors, mangers etc.

Information will be given on how to assess risk, how to adhere to COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health), slips and trips, low falls, musculoskeletal injuries, and how to ensure machines are operated safely.

The event is supported by various industry bodies including the British Cleaning Council, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Cleaning and Support Services Association and the Federation of Window Cleaners.

I think it’s really positive that decision makers within the industry are going to get chance to meet with other people from the sector and make changes to working practices that will safeguard the safety of staff.

Having comprehensive and relevant health and safety practices in place in a workplace shows employees that their safety is important to a company and regardless of the moral issues at hand, failure to safeguard staff is a legal issue.


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Failure to report accidents at work – why ?

Employers Ignore Legal Obligation to Report Accidents in the Workplace

It is estimated that around 60% of all accidents in the workplace are going unreported every year according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents or RoSPA.

When an accident occurs in the workplace the employer is obliged by law to inform the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) so why do so many accidents remain unreported?

Slingsby, a workplace equipment provider, believes that many workplaces including, ironically, doctors’ surgeries, are unaware of the importance of keeping concise records of accidents when they occur and this worrying fact has prompted experts to inform healthcare professionals and GPs that they must keep an accurate log of all accidents and to be aware of the fact that health and safety can cross over into a medical negligence issue as can be seen by a case which arose in 2010.

Every company, by law, is required to keep documentation of accidents but perhaps another theory why this isn’t happening is because many workplace accidents lead to claims for personal injury and maybe employers are taking the view that out of sight is out of mind and, by not documenting an accident, are omitting the evidence needed for an individual to make a claim.

Minor injuries only need to be logged in the accident book but more serious injuries which prevent an individual from working for more than three days, such as diseases or bone fractures, have to also be reported to the Health and Safety Executive.

When an accident is logged the individual writing up the report should include the date and time that the accident occurred, the location in which the accident occurred, the extent of the injuries received, what caused the accident, whether there were any witnesses or other employees involved and the treatment required.

However, an accident book is not only required for documenting workplace accidents but can also act as a valuable tool for employers to get an understanding of the areas of the workplace which need improvement.

If there is a consistent stream of similar accidents which all occurred in the same location then the employer can clearly see that this particular area of the workplace needs serious improvement.

The annual statistics report for 2010-2011 from the Health and Safety Executive states that:

  • 117 employees were killed in the workplace during this time period. This equates to a rate of 0.6 fatalities for every 100,000 employees.
  • 200,000 injuries resulted in the employees being absent from the workplace for more than three days during this time period. This figure equates to a rate of 710 injuries for every 100,000 employees.
  • A further 115,379 injuries which occurred in the workplace were reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations or RIDDOR. This figure equates to a rate of 462.1 injuries for every 100,000 employees.
  • 1.2 million employees suffered from either a new illness or had an existing illness made worse as a result of their current or past employment.
  • A further 700,000 former employees who hadn’t been in employment for 12 months or more suffered from illness either caused or made worse by their previous employment.
  • 2321 individuals died in 2009 from Mesothelioma
  • 22.1 million working days were lost due to work related ill health.
  • 4.4 million working days were lost due to workplace injuries. These figures equate to an astonishing 26.4 million working days lost in total.
  • Injuries and ill health caused by the workplace cost the economy approximately £14 billion (not including cancer).
  • 551 employers were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive.
  • 129 employers were prosecuted by local authorities.
  • 18,290 enforcement notices were issued.

If the 60% of currently unreported accidents and injuries in the workplace were to be reported could we expect to see these already frightening statistics double in size?

The other point about the figures is, are businesses ignoring their reporting obligation or do they simply not know about them ? The Government has accepted that there has been so much health and safety legislation in the last 10 years that many businesses, struggling to survive, simply don’t know about much of it or understand it. There are plans to simplify the system and law, and hopefully this will assist in sorting out genuine offenders from those who are ignorant. Always remember though that ignorance of the law is no defence in law.

What do you think and what are your experiences of health and safety compliance ?

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Health and Safety When Using Computers

The number of computers in the workplace has multiplied rapidly over the past decades and their use has increased. Computers have become habitual and a significant part of their work for many people. Employers tend now to think of computers as security risks in terms of possible theft of data or unathaurised computer use and the employee health and safety issues can therefore be easily overlooked.

What can or should an employer do?

Regulations necessitate employers to carry out risk assessments of the workstations their employees use. This assessment should cover the entirety of the work unit, including all equipment, furniture and the environment generally.

Employers have a responsibility to their employees to ensure their health and safety when using a computer and they are according to law required to:

  • Ensure Visual Display Units (VDUs are more commonly known as monitors or screens) are safe e.g. use anti glare screens, separate base for the screen and a stable image;
  • Make sure workstations are designed to reduce risk to the user e.g. adjustable chairs, tiltable screens and keyboards and foot support and leg room;
  • Ensure workstations meet safety requirements e.g. no trailing wires or overloaded electrical sockets, good lighting and room temperatures;
  • Plan the work so that employees take regular breaks by changing the type of work done;
  • Arrange for an eye test if needed or requested; and
  • Provide health and safety training information on the use of a computer e.g. the importance of breaks, good posture and health risks.

Whether an employee is working at home or at an office, if their work requires them to use a VDU for a long period of time, regulations must be complied with. If there is any cause for concern that the above is not being met, as an employee you should notify your employer or the safety representative at your company.

What can an employee do?

Employees must cooperate with their employers and be aware of the health risks and precautions they can take to reduce the risks associated with computer. They can take practical measures. Under law you have the right to take frequent breaks away from your workstation. These breaks are not necessarily for rest, but a change in the type of work you do.

Whilst sitting at the workstation, the most common error made by people is the way they sit. They have a tendency to adjust themselves to the workstation. Rather than doing that, you should adjust your chair, your monitor and your keyboard so that you are comfortable and holding a good posture. The screen should be at eye level for example.

Recent studies have shown the link between damaged eyesight and VDU use. If your eyes are tired, eyesight becomes blurry or you experience headaches, you should report it to your employer and book yourself in for an eye test. You have the right to a free eyesight test and if you are a wearer of glasses and require them to work, your employer should pay for a basic pair of spectacles for use at work.

As an employee you should also pay heed to health and safety rules regarding computers. If you feel your employer is not meeting standards, you should inform them.

What types of injuries can someone suffer from using computers?

There are several injuries that are caused by frequent use of computers; the recurrent problems are repetitive strain injury, eyestrain, back pain and musculoskeletal problems.

Many of the problems caused by regular computer usage are temporary and can resolved by simply implementing corrective action. Most problems can be prevented too. However, if you do experience or develop any problems, medical advice should be sought promptly.

Computer associated problems occur because of several reasons, for example you are sitting in the same position for too long, excessive use of the mouse, bad positioning of the wrist and hands in relation to the keyboard, inadequate back support or working at the computer for prolonged periods of time.

What about laptops?

Laptops probably cause more problems because of the size of the screen and the way the mouse and keyboard are inbuilt. Therefore it is advisable to use the laptop with a docking station, which allows you to use a separate keyboard and mouse. The same risks are associated and the same precautions can be taken with a laptop as you would with a computer.

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Workplace hazards

Workplace Hazards

What are Workplace Hazards?

A workplace hazard is anything within the workplace that could potentially harm an employee or customer by causing an injury or accident. Workplace hazards could include:

  • Chemicals or other hazardous substances
  • Exposure to harmful bacteria
  • Live electrical wiring
  • Slippery floors
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Gas leaks
  • Or even less obvious potential hazards such as noise, vibration and working in a confined area

Risk Assessment

All businesses should carry out a risk assessment of the workplace to establish where the risks lie and work towards either eliminating those risks or reducing them to a safer level.

  • When carrying out a risk assessment all aspects of health and safety within the workplace should be considered and the severity of any potential risks should be evaluated.
  • All hazards or possible hazards should be recorded and all employees potentially at risk from those hazards should be informed.
  • Steps should then be taken to either eliminate or control the risks and this could include aspects such as
  1. changing or replacing the equipment used within the workplace
  2. Altering or improving the layout of the workplace
  3. Adapting the work to better suit the employee
  4. Providing employees with training and information to get a better understanding of how to avoid possible risks and carry out their daily routine safely
  5. Ensuring that, where risks cannot be completely eliminated, staff take the appropriate measures to protect themselves such as wearing protective clothing, ensuring good ventilation when working with chemicals and making sure any spillages are cleared up immediately

Risk assessments should be reviewed on a yearly basis or more frequently if changes occur within the working environment.

Risk Assessment Legislation

In some circumstances there are specific health and safety legislation in place which should be adhered to when carrying out a risk assessment. These pieces of legislation include:

  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)

This piece of legislation involves:

  • The identification of hazardous or toxic substances within the workplace
  • The risks those substances present
  • The specific employees at risk from those hazardous substances
  • The legal obligation of the employer and employees with regard to those hazardous substances such as:
  1. Ensuring the Maximum Exposure Limits (MELs) are not exceeded
  2. Substituting a hazardous substance for a less hazardous substance where possible
  3. Providing and utilising protective equipment
  4. Adhering to stringent instruction
  5. Implementing the appropriate emergency procedures

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations

This piece of legislation involves:

  • Assessing the particular task to be carried out
  • Assessing the employee who will be carrying out that task
  • Assessing the type of load the employee will be required to move
  • Assessing the environment in which the task will take place
  • Adhering to the lifting and lowering weights guidelines
  • Controlling manual handling where possible by implementing the use of lifting equipment and handling aids and making necessary changes to the working environment to reduce the risk of injury

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations

This piece of legislation involves:

  • Identifying the whereabouts of asbestos within the workplace
  • Assessing the risks posed by the asbestos
  • Reducing or removing those risks posed by the asbestos where possible or, if removal isn’t an option, making the area containing the asbestos as safe as possible
  • Informing employees of the presence and whereabouts of the asbestos to avoid disturbance

Accidents in the Workplace

If an employee has an accident in the workplace the accident must be recorded in the company’s accident book and, if the accident is of a serious nature, the employer is required to report it to the Health and Safety Executive or HSE.

If the accident occurred due to a fault on the employer’s behalf then the employee who suffered the injury may be able to put in a claim for compensation.

The injured employee should seek the advice of a personal injury solicitor who will be able to establish whether the individual has a case and, if so, will put the case together ready to file with the court.

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Health and safety tragedy caused by safety bureaucracy

Health & Safety gone mad

There is a much welcome trend towards a common sense approach by the Government towards simplifying health and safety law but it may take some time for big organizations to start adapting to this and relaxing what has become an overly cautious, knee jerk and bureaucratic approach.

It should never be forgotten that tragic situations arise from failure to deal appropriately with health and safety but such tragedies can also occur, it seems, from an approach based on rules and bureaucracy. This tends to happen when staff in the NHS are unable to assist patients in dire need of urgent help due to health and safety reasons. This is highlighted by the following case.

In January 2011,  14-year-old Shannon Powell collapsed on a cross country race course. She had suffered a violent fit. Due to health and safety reasons, including that one paramedic was concerned she might put her back out lifting the patient it took paramedics an hour to reach the young girl because conditions were muddy and tragically, Shannon died. The coroner found that the death may well have been averted if the paramedics had got to the girl earlier and that the reason why they hadn’t was health and safety related.

In  a recent survey of 1,000 members of the College of Paramedics over 70% said that they had experienced situations where they could not operate as they otherwise would due to health-and-safety regulations imposed by managers.

We realise this is a difficult balancing act, particularly in big business where the obligations will be more strictly applied, with the possibility of personal injury or other claims by staff, but the above story highlights that in some sectors and jobs, there are instances where the risk of inaction is as bad if not worse than the risk of action.

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Aside from the human cost of accidents, personal liability may also flow

A catastrophic accident caused by a toppling crane not only resulted in the tragic and avoidable death of a worker but also criminal liability and a fine of £80,000.00 for a Director of the employer (now in liquidation), evidencing that, when it comes to major breaches of Health and Safety, it’s not possible to hide behind the “corporate veil”.

The accident in 2007 happened when the deceased, Richard Thornton was crushed under a 50-tonne crane because the crane was too far away from the steal column it was lifting. the preosecution of the company and director was on the grounds that :-

  • the work had not been planned and carried out safely
  • the crane had not been properly maintained – it’s alarm was not fit for purpose and, crucially, override switches were also faulty. Had such switch been working it would have prevented the lift in the first place due to the overload.

This is another tragic case and it clearly evidences that if not on conscience grounds, directors should be very aware that they can be hit very hard financially if they do not take health and safety seriously.

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Quick link to useful resource

Good blogging in our view is all about sharing. sometimes we come across excellent resources, even if they are competing for readers or on any other level, it’s important to share that resource to give readers the benefit.

So, here goes. This link is to an excellent basic questionnaire about your business’ compliance or otherwise with health and safety. As so many small businesses find it so difficult to get a quick understanding of the basics, we think this questionnaire is really useful. Hope you do also.

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Health & Safety Reform

Reform of Health and Safety Law

The Government has accepted the recommendations made in the recent review, which means the following changes and simplifications are coming, which will be welcomed by most businesses :

  • Most businesses will no longer need to deal with health and safety inspections. The emphasis will be on high-risk businesses, both due to risk levels and past conduct
  • Business which do not take health & safety seriously will end up being liable for the costs of the investigation into their activities
  • A voluntary Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) will be set up as a way of making it easier for a business seeking some health & safety guidance to find an accredited expert
  • A review will be completed in the autumn to simplify health & safety regulations
  • New sources of online guidance are available by the HSE.
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