Health and Safety for Window Manufacturers

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An Inspector Calls

It is 10 o'clock on Monday morning. You have just finished setting up the programme for the factory and have dealt with some of the hundreds of concerns that you normally have to deal with. Suddenly there is a scream. You see blood near the steel saw. The saw guard was removed last week to cut some extra large door steel and nobody has bothered to fit it again because it made normal cutting easier anyway. One of your best workers has just lost 2 fingers and is deep in shock.

The first priorities are getting the man to hospital (with the fingers), notifying the family and dealing with the human aspects. Later, when the adrenalin stops pumping you may well go cold as the realisation of what happens next hits you. Unless, that is, you are well prepared.

An inspector will probably call. You had better be prepared for some hard questions, not only concerning the saw and it's guarding but also with regard to your company's compliance with the Health and Safety at Work Act

The law of the land

The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW Act) was introduced in 1979 to bring together all British law on Health and Safety. In many cases it did not introduce new requirements but built a framework for all of the other acts that were already in place. It is not new, but has been around for 22 years and many of the acts referred to have been around for much longer.

This major piece of legislation has far reaching effects on all aspects of your business. Covering literally everything that you do with regard to both your employees and the general public.

An extra complication, however, has been the introduction of EEC legislation that is now being translated into British law. The 'The Six Pack', consisted of six broad pieces of law that supersede all existing local (i.e. British) law in their areas. The UK record of implementation and enforcement of EEC legislation is good. You will doubtless find that the inspector will not only call quite soon and will expect you to conform to the legislation.

Also, this is not the end of the story. Be prepared for more EEC legislation in the future. Health and Safety will become one of the next major management issues and you must be prepared.

Whose responsibility?

You can adopt the attitude that it doesn't affect you but consider the following clause from the HSW Act. '... it shall be the duty of every employer to prepare and as often as may be appropriate revise a written statement of his general policy with respect to the Health and Safety at Work of his employees and the organisation and arrangements for the time being in force for carrying out that policy, and to bring the statement and any revision of it to the notice of all his employees.' Section 2(3) HSW Act 1974. The only exception to this rule is if you employ less than 5 people.

Therefore if you have more than 5 employees you must have a written Health and Safety Policy statement. If you do not then you are in breach of the Act!

If you think that it doesn't affect you because you are an employee then think again!

Section 7 of the Act reads:

'It shall be the duty of every employee while at work:
(a) To take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and
(b) As regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employers or any other persons by or under any of the statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with'.

Section 8 of the Act reads:

'No person shall intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare in pursuance of any of the relevant statutory provisions'.

Employees therefore also have duties under the Act and HSE inspectors have the power to issue notices to employees as well as management. An important point to note is that employees have both a positive and negative duty to take reasonable care. This means that if an unsafe practice is taking place then an employee who 'looks the other way' has committed an offence by omission. He is just as liable as the employee or employer who carried out the unsafe practice.

Fitting punishment

An inspector has a right of access, without notice, at any reasonable time to any premises that he believes to be within the field of his authority. You are entitled only to ask for and see their identification before they enter.

During an investigation he may take photographs, recordings, measurements or samples. He may also require any person to provide the necessary facilities to enable him to carry out his job. This means that he is entitled to co-operation and answers to his questions from both management and employers.

If you breach the provisions the inspector has three options:

The penalties for breaching the Act vary as follows:

These are the maximum penalties, and are rarely applied, but it is easy to see in just what a serious position you might be. Not only can these penalties be issued against the company but they can also be issued against an individual - you are not protected by the company structure and these can be personal fines etc.

Making good the damage

Your employee is now in hospital being treated. You have to start the procedures required by the HSE. Your first duty is to guard the machine properly. You then have to follow the RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1986) procedures and will almost certainly have a visit from the HSE immediately the lack of guarding is noted. You need help, and had better get a move on. The first step is to find out as much as you can and for that you need guidance.

The primary source of guidance should be the Health and Safety Executive. They are a very helpful organisation. The first step is to make contact with the local branch of the HSE; they are listed in your local phone book.

Publications and information 

The HSE provides easily readable (and in many cases free) guides to various Acts and Sections of the Acts. These are all listed in their free publications list and you can order from the list or even download some of them from the HSE Internet site (www.hsebooks.gov.uk or www.hse.gov.uk). The best starter text for general reading is the HSE book Essentials of Health and Safety at Work' (Published by HSE Books at a cost of 5.95). Contact for HSE Books is PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA, Phone: 01787 881 165, Fax: 01787 313 995.

The HSE Inspector

The local HSE inspector is an invaluable source of advice on the local interpretation of the complex legislation. You will find them very helpful when approached for advice and guidance. The inspectors are not in the business of shutting you down! They are there to help, provide information and to assist you in developing systems to comply with the Acts and to prevent injury to your employees and other people protected by the Act. They should be used as helpful experts, not as enemies, and you should consult them for an explanation on the requirements of the Act as they are interpreted on a local basis.

Consultants

The HSE has guidance on the employment of consultants to assist in compliance with the HSW Act. Consultants are useful but must be used with care. The HSE guidance should be considered before engaging a consultant.

The criminal unmasked

This is one case where the butler did not do it. Sherlock Holmes would not even be stretched to find the criminal in this and you only have yourself to blame. It is an employer's duty to provide a safe environment (and safe systems of work) for his workforce and every employee's duty to ensure that the safe systems are adhered to. The criminal is unmasked and will be punished. If you doubt that this is true you only have to read the newspapers to see the reports of the companies that are prosecuted and heavily fined for breaches of the HSE Act.

Help on hand

Tangram Technology has studied the HSW Act and has developed 'A Guidance Manual For Fabricators'. This provides fabricators with information on the HSW Act and contains:

This manual can keep you working after the HSE Inspector has called!

Contact Tangram for details of the publication.

 

Last edited: 11/03/10

© Tangram Technology Ltd. 2001

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