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PROSECUTION – FALL FROM HEIGHT

Major contractor fined after fatal fall from height

Carillion JM Ltd (formerly known as Mowlem PLC) has been fined £70k and ordered to pay £24k in prosecution costs following the death of an employee in 2003. The workman was altering work platforms to allow a roof structure to be lifted into place when one of the three boards failed and he fell 17m to the floor below. He was wearing a safety harness but there was no suitable anchor point available.

Comment: The facts of this case suggest that there was reliance on a fall arrest system which had not been fully worked out. This is an all too familiar scenario. Where collective protection systems are not reasonably practicable it is even more important that there is attention to detail including when, and to what, fall arrest systems will be attached.           

INJURY STATISTICS 

Research suggests Ireland has 2nd highest construction fatality rate

Academics examining data from 25 OECD countries have suggested that the number of construction ‘fatal cases per 10,000 accidents’ in Ireland was exceeded only by Turkey. The rate is six times that of the UK. However, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in Ireland has dismissed the data as ‘an unreliable measure of the true fatality rate of an industry sector’  

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER 

High Court examines claim after construction death  

This case arose from an incident at Wembley Stadium in 2004 when a platform fell injuring two workmen, one fatally. The claimant attended in the immediate aftermath and went on to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and independent psychiatric evidence confirmed that the injury was as a result of the incident. The issue in dispute was whether the claimant was entitled to claim for psychiatric injury. The claim failed and the court found that the claimant:

  • was not in danger, and could not reasonably have believed himself to be, and so he could not claim as a rescuer.
  • could not reasonably have felt that he was responsible for the accident, and so his claim failed.

VULNERABLE WORKERS

Protection will not extend Gangmaster scheme to construction 

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has announced a Government drive to crack down on rogue employers who abuse vulnerable workers and undercut honest businesses. This includes:

  • telephone helpline for vulnerable workers to report abuses
  • agencies sharing vital information to catch rogue employers and
  • £6 million information campaign to raise awareness of rights and enforcement.

The crack down will be overseen by a new Fair Employment Enforcement Board which will co-ordinate the work of the government enforcement agencies covering minimum wage, health and safety, employment agencies and gangmasters. A vulnerable worker is defined as ‘someone working in an environment where the risk of being denied employment rights is high and who does not have the capacity or means to protect themselves from that abuse.’

Trades Union Congress has welcomed a number of the changes but is disappointed that ministers will not be extending the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA) scheme to construction.

Construction Confederation has expressed satisfaction with the ‘sensible’ proposals and is not in favour of any extension of the Gangmasters scheme.

CDM-COORDINATORS

New advice on occupational health for the CDM-C

The HSE information on managing occupational health risks in construction has been updated and now includes new information for the CDM-C

Comment: Guidance on dealing with occupational health issues that is written for the CDM-C is to be welcomed. However, this new addition to the HSE website is a little disappointing. It does not appear to provide any really new and useful advice for the experienced CDM-C beyond that already available on the HSE website or in other information sources.  

GAS SAFETY

Illegal gas work lands contractor in court

A joint investigation by HSE and Kent County Council into dangerous work carried out on the appliances of elderly people in Kent has resulted in a contractor being fined £14k for breaching gas safety legislation.  

TOWER CRANES

Liverpool tower crane collapse report published

HSE has reported on the collapse of a tower crane in Liverpool on 15th January 2007. One site worker died and the crane driver was injured in the incident. Significant points in the report include:

  1. The crane collapsed when a single overload event caused the slew ring bolts to fail and the slew ring to fracture.
  2. The luffing rope fell off one or more pulleys and ‘jammed’ thereby creating slack in the rope.  When the rope freed the crane jib went into free-fall halting only when the rope slack was taken up. This created shock loading throughout the structure sufficient to cause failure of the bolts and fracture of the slew ring.
  3. The crane was CE marked and assembled in accordance with the manufacturer specifications. It showed no significant signs of wear or pre-existing damage.
  4. The design of the protective device on the fixed block was inadequate to prevent the rope falling off the pulleys and jumping into the gap in between them. A survey of pulley systems fitted to cranes supplied by other manufacturers showed variations in design. Some were apparently similar to that fitted to the crane involved in the incident and others had better protection to prevent ropes falling off the pulleys.
  5. Better protective devices to prevent luffing ropes falling off their pulleys would significantly reduce the potential for further events of this nature and alternative or additional precautions may also be required.
  6. HSE expect those parties who have control over the design and integrity of luffing cranes to examine their designs and existing machines and: (a) decide whether the report findings have significant implications and (b) develop an action plan for dealing with any identified issues.
  7. HSE will broker production of guidance on measures that can be taken to mitigate a recurrence.
  8. HSE will discuss the incident with the independent examination body community so that competent persons conducting thorough examinations can assess the effectiveness of precautions to prevent ropes falling off their pulleys.

Comment: The report presents a demanding agenda for action although there is no indication of anticipated timescales. One important and difficult question is: Where devices to prevent ropes falling off luffing pulleys are inadequate should crane examiners, users, suppliers and manufacturers now declare the crane unsafe for use?

SCAFFOLDING

Guidance now available on when scaffold should be designed 

HSE has produced new guidance on when a scaffold design is required and what level of training and competence those erecting, inspecting and supervising the erection, alteration and dismantling of scaffolding are expected to have obtained.  

Comment: This guidance will be welcomed by scaffolding and principal contractors as a useful clarification of what is required. A recent major scaffold collapse involved issues of scaffold design.

REGULATORY REFORM

Report on the effects of existing health and safety regulations

The Department for Business (BERR) has published a report, Improving outcomes from health and safety, on the effects of the UK health and safety regulatory regime on smaller businesses. The report makes a number of recommendations to save time and money while improving working environments and general understanding of health and safety.

Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton, said: “The UK has one of the best workplace safety records in the world, with fatalities and injuries falling by more than 70 per cent over the last three decades. But the public and business community’s perception of health and safety regulation is poor.”

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: This report does nothing to address the appalling health and safety record of Britain’s small businesses. Instead it looks to what it terms the ‘burden’ of health and safety regulation for businesses.”

The reports adds that some firms are paying over the odds for H&S consultancy. More could be done ‘in house’ and costs reduced by not going beyond what is required by the law. Businesses should save money by turning to HSE or other government sources for basic support on H&S.

The report recommendations include:

  • Improved web-based and telephone support, advice and information;
  • Better advice on when to use H&S;
  • More efficient inspection and enforcement focusing on high risk work;
  • Single ‘assurance scheme’ inspection covering H&S, fire, food safety etc. and;
  • Improvments in the perception and understanding of H&S issues.

Comment: The suggestion that small businesses in construction might turn more to HSE and other agencies for basic support will be seen by many as wishful thinking. Fear of regulators is high within smaller firms and HSE already has difficulty servicing the core functions of inspection and enforcement. The idea of a single ‘assurance scheme’ leading to one inspection covering a range of requirements is interesting but will be difficult to achieve in practice. Construction businesses may well prefer to deal with Inspectors who know their subject and work within inspection regimes that concentrate on one issue at a time.  

  
Government to curb the cost of new regulation

Proposals to limit the cost of new regulation are unveiled today (6 August 2008) as the Government invites views on a system of regulatory budgets for government departments. The proposals include:

  • creating a rolling limit on the costs of new regulation for each government department;
  • setting initial budgets to be introduced in 2009 and;
  • allowing departments to offset the cost of new regulation with savings made by reducing the existing regulatory burden and trading with other departments.

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