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Life on the front line of H&S

Health and Safety specialist Phil Wass takes a look at potential issues facing the dismantler.
Health and Safety specialist, Phil Wass takes a look at problems some of his clients had recently in the hope that this may benefit your ongoing management of health and safety. Phil previously looked at fire and in this article he covers other issues.

Phil hopes he can motivate as many readers as possible to take ‘proactive’ action before any such event occurs at their own premises - for in most cases, it is not ‘if’ something will happen to you – it is when!

The issues I have had to help clients deal with during this period fall under the general headings of fire (which we covered previously), hazardous substances, work equipment, manual handling and vehicle / pedestrian movements. So here goes.

I attended a client’s premises recently following a theft of lead from their roof - this seems a very common problem these days. The theft of this lead had resulted in two problems – firstly, water ingress (and its associated problems – such as heightened slip potential) and secondly, damage to the corrugated asbestos roof sheeting. At another client, an extraction fan had been removed following a complaint from a neighbour regarding noxious fumes heading down wind to their premises from my client’s premises. This fan had been sited within corrugated wall cladding and the gap left by its removal had left damaged edges likely to be releasing asbestos fibres into the atmosphere.

By the way, before I go on to talk about asbestos management itself, I must point out that we are still working on dealing with the effect of this action in degrading the efficiency in now removing potentially dangerous fumes from the breathing zones of workers within these premises following the action to remove this extraction unit. However, my main point to deal with here is asbestos. You should know whether you have asbestos on your site or not and you should have documented where it is so that no-one (whether they be your own in-house maintenance team or whether they be a contractor) is likely to encounter asbestos unexpectedly. You should not be allowing any of your own staff to be dealing with maintenance work, etc. that brings them into possible contact with asbestos containing materials without providing them with adequate awareness training (and this training should be topped up via refresher training at ongoing 12 monthly intervals).

Phil Wass
Phil Wass is a Chartered Safety and Health practitioner and has a Masters Degree in Occupational Health and Safety. He is Managing Director of Wass Management Limited who specialise in all aspects of health and safety training, advice and guidance. Phil is an advisor to the Motor Vehcile Dismantlers' Association and understands the needs of the industry. He regularly carries out work for MVDA members.

If you have any health and safety issues, visit Wass Management Limited, email Phil or you can contact him on 01773 541441
Now lets move on to work equipment – both manual and powered. At another client a worker suffered a deep laceration to his thigh after drawing a stanley knife over a piece of material placed directly on top of his lap at that time. He either ‘slipped’, ‘over cut’ or ‘cut too deep’ and ended up in hospital overnight even after prompt intervention by the trained first aider on site at that time. Another client has just heard that he is to face prosecution following an incident at an unguarded saw when a worker was seriously injured after material snagged in the blade and was pushed into (and embedded itself) in that worker’s arm.

So what can we take from these occurrences. First of all, do you use hand knives in your workplace which are ‘over specified’ for the specific purposes that they are currently required for? Could you withdraw these from the workplace and substitute these with ‘safety knives’ instead (e.g. self retracting blades, etc.)? This is what this client has now done (but after the event not before).
Do you have adequately trained first aiders in your workplace who would be competent to respond to a serious workplace injury and quickly control bleeding (or attempt to resuscitate) in the essential few minutes following a serious accident and whilst you were awaiting the emergency services to respond to your call out?
Do you really ? Many of my clients have one (or more than one) first aider but this does not give them cover across all of the working patterns of their business (i.e. shift working, overtime working, holidays, sickness absence, etc.)
Do you ever allow dangerous work equipment to be used without guards? Be honest – do you? You should not allow this to happen. Employees should realise that it is a disciplinary offence if they do this and supervisors should be aware that they must take responsibility to act immediately if they ever see such a practice taking place.

I have dealt with countless incidents of musculoskeletal disorders within this same period as well and do not want to dwell on this too much other than to say that difficult and / or strenuous lifting and handling in your workplace should be assessed to see if mechanisation can be used, whether it should be made a ‘two person’ lift, etc. Also, you should not assume that the ability to lift and handle goods safely is ‘common sense’ – all workers should receive formal instruction in how to lift safely and should be made aware that they should alert the employer should they be concerned about any specific lifting and / or handling task they are having to undertake.

Finally, to my last point. Whilst walking around the yard of another client recently we stood and observed ‘frantic’ activity as fork lift trucks ‘zoomed’ (slight exaggeration) around the yard unloading and loading what seemed to be an endless trail of HGV’s at a very busy time for them. Fork lift trucks did not have speed limiters and were being driven far too fast, fork lift truck drivers were not wearing seat belts, etc. This yard was also being used by other work pedestrians as they moved from one workshop to another.

Some time ago this company had created a safe walkway for such workers (protected by portable sections of steel barrier) to give them a protected route to use when moving between these two workshops. However on this day no-one was bothering to use this route and they were just ‘dodging’ (slight exaggeration again) between the fork lift trucks and the HGV’s. However, as a result of my visit, the use of this walkway is now being rigidly re-enforced. Now, no-one had been hurt here YET.

The law expects you to be ‘proactive’ and see the dangers in your place of work and deal with them ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ before someone is harmed. In this last instance, unless changes are made, it is not ‘if’ someone gets hit by a vehicle it is ‘when’! If it happens at your place of work you will perhaps lose a key worker for a while (maybe even forever) and it will be absolutely no defence, if you then face prosecution, to say ‘it had never happened before’ – you should have foreseen the possibility that it could happen and should have dealt with it accordingly.

So – I fully understand that you all lead busy and demanding lives but the next time you walk around your yards just stop for a few minutes and watch what is going on with a ‘fresh pair of eyes’. Then ask yourself – what could happen ? Also, then ask yourself if you are currently doing enough to reduce the chance of the worst scenario (in that case) of ever actually happening. If you feel that you could do more then take some action to step health and safety up a gear at your site – ‘sooner rather than later’.

If you want any specific health and safety issues dealing with in future articles then you can tweet Phil ‘@philwass’

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