If you follow health and safety even somewhat closely, you'll know how alarmingly common accidents in the workplace are.

Not a week goes by without a Health and Safety Executive bulletin bringing to our attention a long list of new safety catastrophes – and highlighting the significant costs that may result from a sub-par safety management system.

If you’ve been lucky enough to never encounter a major health and safety incident in your workplace, these reports provide an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. They not only highlight some of the dangers that may put people at risk, but the health and safety failings on behalf of the organisation that allow risk to become reality.

Here are just 3 of many cautionary tales from the month of February.

Property management firm fined over fire safety failings

A property management company was handed a five-figure fine after pleading guilty to a series of fire safety failings. A resident in a block of flats had to be rescued by firefighters after being unable to access an emergency escape route during a fire. He was found standing on a windowsill, hanging on to roof guttering.

The fire broke out in a common stairwell on the ground floor of the four-storey block. It spread up the stairwell to the third floor, preventing residents from leaving via the main stairs. While there was an external metal staircase to the rear of the building, not all the flats had access to this emergency means of escape. When firefighters arrived, they found the stuck resident standing on the windowsill of his third-floor flat.

A fire brigade inspection highlighted several breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Inspectors found that the company had failed to act on the findings of an assessment into how the condition and use of premises might pose a risk to tenants’ safety.

They also discovered that:

  • There were no emergency lights in the stairwell or common hallways.
  • Aside from one instance, individual entrances to flats were not fitted with fire doors – and the single fire door entrance did not have a self-closing device.
  • Glass panels in the front door were not fire-resistant.
  • Windows facing a staircase light well were not fitted with fire-resistant glass – and some could be opened, allowing flames and smoke to spread.

Harper Stone Properties Ltd was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in prosecution costs.

The fire brigade said that it was a serious incident that could have had far worse consequences, commenting: “There was a fire risk assessment carried out for the premises but those responsible for the building’s management had failed to act on its findings”.

It added: “There’s no excuse for leaving people’s safety to chance, especially when information is so readily available to those with responsibility for safety in buildings to understand what their duties are and ensure they comply with the law”.

Waste firm fined after worker seriously injured by falling bale

A waste management and packaging firm was fined after a worker was struck and trapped beneath a waste paper bale weighing some 500kg.

An investigation by the HSE determined that the firm’s method of storing bales was unsuitable:

  • Bales were stacked in single columns up to five high with no support or “tying in” to aid stability.
  • A practice of removing contamination from bales by hand created voids in lower bales, contributing to the risk of stack instability.

Recycled Packaging Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £20,000.

"In the waste and recycling sector, the risks associated with falling objects are well known. This incident could easily have been avoided by providing a segregated workspace for operatives to clean bales before they are stacked and safe bale stacking procedures."

HSE

Modified podium steps led to welder’s 2m fall

A crane hire company was fined after a welder fell when the podium he was working on toppled over.

The welder was working at height on a set of podium steps. The steps toppled over, causing him to fall two metres to the floor.

HSE investigators found that the company had failed to:

Follow its internal procedures
Carry out a risk assessment
Determine a safe system of work

The podium steps had been modified with added feet, contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions. Stabilising bars had also not been fitted and workers had not been given health and safety training on the correct use of the podium steps.

London Tower Crane Hire & Sales Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Work at Height Regulations 2005. It was fined £54,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,544.

"This was a wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to adequately plan its work and put basic safeguards in place.

The case highlights the importance of following industry guidance in order to select and correctly assemble access equipment, along with implementing the necessary training, instruction and supervision to prevent such falls occurring. Podium steps are a recognised safe solution for working at height. However, if they are used incorrectly, they can become a danger themselves."

HSE

Safeguard your organisation now

The HSE has made it clear that it will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standard. With so much at stake, and the average fine now standing at £130,000 per conviction, receiving the right support has never been more important.

At Ellis Whittam, we’re experts at reducing risk. Owing to the expertise of our Health & Safety Consultants, hands-on support and ability to implement robust health and safety management systems, we reduce the risk of prosecution by c.50% and cut the cost of any fine imposed by more than 85%.

To find out how our fixed-fee service can help to protect your workforce and your bottom line, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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