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It has now become the most common complaint that I get from operatives on training courses; poor supervision being conducted by a person that simply does not know about the equipment being used and is quite literally incompetent. These operators and users are resigned to never pointing out that the policy is wrong and even putting them at risk for fear of being ‘Carded’ by the person in control of their work activities.
Frequently this is a Health and Safety professional that believes that they know all that they need to because they passed a general Health and Safety course. Put directly, there are some people in a position of supervisory power that are making poor decisions and using their power to implement these decisions beyond and often in opposition to the competent decisions of trained contractors.
Why does this happen so frequently? Why would managers allow these decisions to slow the business down and make it more dangerous? The answer is usually fear and ignorance. The manager is not a health and safety professional and therefore will defer to the qualified expert through fear of being held accountable. The qualified expert will on many occasions make decisions based on their judgment and perception and will tend to err on the side of caution believing that this is the safest way. This leads to potential conflict
but of course the Health and Safety professional can always site regulations to back up his case. Let’s just see what some regulations say about supervision (Control of others work activity).
PUWER 98 Regulation 9 paragraph 2 states-
(2) Every employer shall ensure that any of his employees who supervises or manages the use of work equipment has received adequate training for purposes of health and safety, including training in the methods which may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks which such use may entail and precautions to be taken.
LOLER 98 Regulation 8 Organisation of lifting operations-
(1) Every employer shall ensure that every lifting operation involving lifting equipment is –
(a) properly planned by a competent person;
(b) appropriately supervised; and
(c) carried out in a safe manner.
Work at Height Regulations 05-
Organisation and planning
Regulation 4. – (1) Every employer shall ensure that work at
height is –
(b) appropriately supervised; and(a) properly planned;
(c) carried out in a manner which is so far as is
reasonably practicable safe,
and that its planning includes the selection of work
equipment in accordance with regulation 7.
Further the Work at Height Regulations 05 state-
5. Every employer shall ensure that no person
engages in any activity, including organisation, planning
and supervision, in relation to work at height or work
equipment for use in such work unless he is competent to
do so or, if being trained, is being supervised by a
Regulation 5 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 refers to competence and states that employers should ensure that people engaged in any work at height activity, or using work equipment for that purpose, are competent to do so.
Although ‘competence’ is not defined in the Regulations, HSE has worked with industry to clarify what this means and recommends the definition in Appendix 8 of the Regulations, which state:
‘A competent person is a person who can demonstrate that they have sufficient professional or technical training, knowledge, actual experience, and authority to enable them to: (1) carry out their assigned duties at the level of responsibility allocated to them (2) understand any potential hazards related to the work (or equipment) under consideration (3) detect any technical defects or omissions in that work (or equipment), recognise any implications for health and safety caused by those defects or omissions, and be able to specify a remedial action to mitigate those implications’.
I think I can safely stop there. If you are in charge of people that are building Scaffold Towers get PASMA trained to recognise any dangerous acts, bracing patterns and be competent to inspect the towers. If you are supervising MEWP operators get IPAF Trained (Operator of Manager training will do). Insist on pre use and workplace inspections, provide plates for any potentially soft ground and understand when a harness is a hazard and when it is providing protection. Lastly for this blog Ladders. Don’t ban them, they are inanimate objects. Get Ladder Association training to know when they are appropriate and supervise the competent users to ensure they are used safely.
Very lastly I apologise to the huge numbers of real Safety professionals and Supervisors that have actually had this training and run an effective, efficient, safe site. I am not moaning about you and in fact I applaud you and your good work. I just wish that you were not such a small minority. Vast numbers of incidents would be avoided by decent supervision by competent people so lets encourage people to get competent before they get caught out.
No, people can use them in a dangerous way but stepladders in themselves cannot be dangerous. In fact when was the last time you heard of a stepladder attacking someone? Leaping out from behind a bush with the aim of inflicting injury to unwary passers-by? Same as me I guess, never. So why have some companies banned stepladders?
It is clear that the people that write the law and enforce the law have not banned them and in fact encourage their use in the right circumstances. Inappropriate use and poor or inappropriate equipment is a significant contributory factor in accidents. Statistically lots of people fall from ladders and stepladders so some companies just banned them to reduce the statistics. But it’s not the Ladders that are at fault, it’s inappropriate use or equipment that leads to the accidents.
It is therefore very important to know when Stepladders are appropriate and when they are not. I have been asked frequently what height would be acceptable and how high is too high but it’s not as simple as that. People love numbers and datum’s from which to work and I will admit that I too like to know exactly what I can and can’t do.
The problem is always the same, variables. Variables are things that can change as opposed to constants which stay the same. Constants as far as we are concerned are minimal. We have things like acceleration due to gravity which is constant enough to use directly but in order to have others we have to use estimates. These estimates are inaccurate but at least allow us to move on with what we are trying to do. One of these usable estimations is that the apparent average weight of an adult human male is 80kg. This is widely used in MEWP’s and for the purposes of testing Harness Lanyards.
This leads me to the seemingly simple question of how high is too high and the rather complicated answer of “it depends.” We have to consider impact force if we are to make a reasonable decision. I decided to actually work out the impact force of a 80kg load dropped 2m as a comparison. I was shocked by the result. The results were completely reliant upon the amount the falling body travelled during the impact. If the 80kg landed on concrete and only travelled 1cm then the force would be 15.6Kn which is about 1560Kg which is about 1 ½ Tons! This is clearly a lot so why aren’t people dying from low falls all of the time?
Well actually there are huge numbers of injuries and still far too many deaths from falls from height and that is why training is so important. If a person fell 2m and landed on their feet bent their knees and also rolled, the impact would be dissipated brilliantly and it is unlikely that an injury would occur but if a person fell backwards because they lost their balance, they wouldn’t be able to put their arms out so they would hit the back of their head with a potentially catastrophic force. This is why there are so many injuries. Between those two possibilities are an infinite number of different falls resulting in an infinite number of different outcomes.
What you land on will also have a massive effect on the outcome. If you fell onto something hard and sharp it will cut into you. If you land on something blunt and soft it will cushion you so you could fall further without injury. Frequently, people falling from steps or ladders land, partially inverted (Upside down) on something sticking up from the ground like a chair, table or machine. It’s just a matter of luck then as to whether a person is paralysed or just suffers a ‘but of a bump’.
What I am getting at, all be it slowly, is that there cannot be rules like how high because it depends what a person would land on etc. All we can do is make sure that we address each individual situation at the time, in the place and understand what we are looking for. This is why training is vital. With both ladders and Stepladders it is only making the right decisions and taking the right precautions that accident and injury can be avoided. It’s not the ladders, it’s the user.
I am aware of certain companies issuing a permit to work for stepladders. Again, I have to wonder at this decision as invariably in my limited experience, the most important and mandatory requirement is not even asked for i.e. “is the person that will be selecting and using the equipment trained and competent”?
Really this competence should be all we need because a competent user will look at the hazards, assess the risks dynamically and take the necessary precautions. Ladder Association User Training provides all these skills, making a successful trainee provably competent as required by law, in just half a day. Just do it.
This is the second fundamental element that will allow us to move into specifics later. Pretty much everyone has heard of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. People know that it is the law and people have usually seen the posters. What is important (and quite brilliant) about it is exactly the same thing that makes it impossible to directly implement and therefore useless to normal people trying to go about their work. This is demonstrated beautifully by Section 2 paragraph 2 Line a. This is one of the Employers duties to Employees. It extends particularly to-
The provision and Maintenance of Plant and Systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.
Provision is easy to understand and I think Maintenance equally, is reasonable for most people to get their head around. I would therefore like to begin with the excellent term of Plant. What exactly is plant? We all know that an excavator or dumper truck would be plant but you might not be aware that plant includes pretty much anything that can be used at work that is not either an article or substance. This would include a stepladder, mobile phone, Lap Top, Kettle and at a push even a Pen could be considered a tool and therefore plant as it allows a human to make marks on a surface that they couldn’t otherwise be able to. We can now move onto Systems of Work. This is clearly just a way of doing something and there are an infinite number of things that can be done and therefore an infinite number of ways of doing something. Lastly the measure of how safe the plant and systems need to be is the infinitely variable term Reasonably Practicable (Discussed in the previous Blog entry).
Ultimately anything an employee can use and any way of using it must be as safe as, well it depends. This is why we cannot directly implement the Act. We need more specific information and the HASAW act 1974 was created as an enabling act allowing the Health and Safety Commission, in consultation with industry bodies and experts, to create Regulations explaining how exactly we comply with the Law.
How this is explained by the HSC and equally by the HSE is like this-
Regulations are law, approved by Parliament. These are usually made under the Health and Safety at Work Act, following
proposals from HSC. This applies to regulations based on EC Directives as well as ‘home-grown’ ones…..
This is enough for me, it’s the Law and therefore I have to comply. The problems however begin when we read and attempt to understand, and by that I mean apply, a regulation. For this I need to choose a regulation and I shall use Regulation 9 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. This states-
(1) Every employer shall ensure that all persons that use work equipment have received adequate training for
the purposes of Health and Safety including training in the methods that may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks such use would entail and precautions to be taken.
(2) Every employer shall ensure that any of his employees who supervises or manages the use of work equipment has received adequate training for the purposes of Health and Safety including training in the methods that may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks such use would entail and precautions to be taken.
We now know who requires training for work equipment but what training? Adequate training is what is required but how do you measure this? We need more detail and that is where Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) come in.
Approved Codes of Practice offer practical examples of good practice.
They give advice on how to comply with the law by, for example, providing a guide to what is ‘reasonably practicable’. For example, if regulations use words like ‘suitable and sufficient’, an Approved Code of Practice can illustrate what this requires in particular circumstances.
Approved Codes of Practice have a special legal status. If employers are prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that they have not followed the relevant provisions of the Approved Code of Practice, a court can find them at fault unless they can show that they have complied with the law in some other way.
As far as I am concerned, if the enforcing authority has approved a way of doing something, that’s the way I will do it. I certainly do not want to be in court arguing that the method that I chose was equally as safe when the reason that I am in court is due to an accident resulting in my alternative method. Realistically I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. If we go back to Regulation 9 an example of an ACOP would be-
You should ensure that self propelled work equipment, including any attachments or towed equipment, is only driven by workers who have received appropriate training in the safe driving of such work equipment.
The only problem with this is the term ‘appropriate’. Again you cannot measure appropriate and therefore we need more information to enable us to really know what we have to do. This further information comes in the form of guidance and is much misunderstood or ignored by some employers.
HSE publishes guidance on a range of subjects.
Guidance can be specific to the health and safety problems of an industry or of a particular process used in a number of industries.
The main purposes of guidance are:
- to interpret – helping people to understand what the law says – including for example how requirements based on EC Directives fit with those under the Health and Safety at Work Act;
- to help people comply with the law;
- to give technical advice.
Following guidance is not compulsory and employers are free to take other action. But if they do follow guidance they will normally be doing enough to comply with the law.
Having read this it seems clear to me that if the people that write and enforce the law create something that explains what it means we should follow it. Only by doing so can I guarantee that I am complying with the law. In real terms the only bit that I can even understand is the guidance so this is the only bit that I can follow! Let’s also at this stage establish how sensible or ‘crazy’ this guidance actually is, with an example from CIS58 (The selection and Management of Mobile Elevating Work Platforms)-
Operator training and certification
All MEWP operators should have attended a recognised operator training course. On successful completion of the course they will receive a certificate, card or ‘licence’, eg IPAF’s Powered Access Licence (PAL) or Construction Skills’ CPCS card, which clearly identifies the bearer and lists the categories of MEWP they are trained to operate. This document can be updated as the operator undergoes further training. You should check the expiry date of the training licence or card.
This has got to be seen as completely sensible and even gives some specific training that would automatically be accepted. This means that we can directly know that we have got it right. Obviously certain employers will want to save money by conducting in-house training and it’s pretty clear that this would not be ‘recognised’ training, would not stand up in court and would be a complete waste of money.
I will be using HSE guidance throughout this blog to answer questions and to prove what has to be done for specifics and to prove that the HSE are not only on our side but are making every effort to ensure that it is easy and reasonable to comply with the law.