Z is for Zoonoses

What is a zoonosis?  It’s a disease that can be transferred from an animal (or bird) to a human.  Think of ‘Mad Cow Disease’ (BST) and Bird Flu – both zoonoses.

Catteries, kennels, equestrian centres, zoos and farms are all places where care needs to be taken.  People who look after any animals need to know the health history of the animals they are caring for to ensure that they are not likely to be at risk.

If you don’t have animals of any kind in your workplace then you may not need to worry, but some of these strains of disease transmute and become able to pass from human to human.  If an epidemic breaks out then services that affect your business can be affected.

The frightening statistic is that, in a study of 1415 pathogens (viruses, bacteria or other disease causing agents) known to affect humans, 61% were zoonotic.  Zoonoses constitute biohazards – and where there is a danger of disease the biohazard signs should be displayed.

You never know when you – or your family – may be at risk.  A petting farm for children in Surrey was closed down because of zoonoses being present.  How many of us would not think twice about taking our children, or young relations, to play with the cuddly animals on a farm?

Does this mean that you avoid all animals at all costs?  No, but it does means that personal hygiene is essential.  If you’re around animals you don’t know, don’t eat or smoke after touching them as there is the potential to transfer bacteria and viruses from the animal to your mouth. The best advice to follow is what your mother told you to do – WASH YOUR HANDS!  If more people bothered to do this regularly, far fewer diseases would survive.

Young people don’t understand risk!

Risk management is based on following a formula – inform; instruct; train; supervise.  When you have children you use this all the time when they’re young.  As they get older and able to understand the implication of their actions supervision gets less and they are expected to take more responsibility.

However, the move from the supervised school environment to the workplace is a much bigger leap than most youngsters are prepared for.  It’s no wonder that young people entering the workplace are twice as likely to have an accident than their adult counterparts.

Schools may provide information on health and safety, but rarely provide proper education in risk management, so young people arrive in their first place of work ill-equipped to make good quality decisions about the risks all around them.

As many young people’s first job is manual they’re in an even higher risk situation, this is particularly true in the construction industry where youngsters are very likely to have accidents.  In the year 2007-8 there were 2600 workplace accidents involving 16-24 year old men and 1033 involving young women in the same age group.  23 of those were fatalities.

The employers of young people suffering this kind of accident have been held to account in court and have been jailed where a young person has lost their life.  Like the 15 year old in Essex who was left alone to hold up a wall.  It fell on him and both the builder and the contractor were jailed for 3 and 1 years respectively.

There are other issues around young people in the workplace – because they don’t want to be seen as ‘complaining’ or are afraid of rocking the boat and losing a job that is hard to come by, they don’t report accidents.  In some cases, they don’t understand the importance of reporting incidents in relation to improving working conditions, equipment and practices.

Improving the situation

The transition between school and workplace could be handled better by both school and employer; too many assumptions are made about the competence of young people in unfamiliar situations.

  • Schools could prepare better with simulations or games* that help young people understand risk better.
  • Employers can follow the IITS formula more conscientiously:
    • Information – providing not only information about the risks, but also giving them a wider understanding of the reason why reporting accidents is important.
    • Instruction – even though young people’s brains are like sponges, most can only handle 5 dos and 5 don’ts at time.  Instructions need to be simple and pertinent to exactly what they’re doing.
    • Training – both school training in risk and employer training should line up – but currently don’t come close.  Most schools don’t have a sufficiently in-depth understanding of the working environment outside the school and many employers assume that general health and safety is enough.
    • Supervision – when young people arrive in the workplace they need close supervision until they demonstrate competence.  With a young person ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a recipe for disaster.

Young people bring lots of advantages to the workplace – but they need to be managed carefully to avoid them joining the accident statistics.

*Game simulations for a variety of purposes relating to risk, health and safety are available from Risk and Safety Plus.  Please contact us at info@riskandsafetyplus.com for more information.

XRay ‘vision’

If your industry requires the use of industrial radiography or encompasses a unit where staff are involved in conducting XRays for medical purposes, it’s important to protect the people who are involved or may be working in the adjacent areas.

Knowing the key things you need to be aware of will ensure that your staff are kept safe and also other people who may be working nearby.

The legislation relating to XRays is regulation 5(2) of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 – and HSE must be notified and the use of equipment to produce XRays be authorised before use.

Good practice requires you to:

  • Keep exposure to any people involved or working nearby as low as is practicable.
  • Provide safety features – e.g. shielding for operators, locking devices that prevent people accidentally entering areas where XRays are in progress, cut-off systems that prevent radiation taking place if doors, hatches or other access are not secured.
  • Install warning notices where personnel may be working nearby or passing through an area where XRays are taking place.
  • Monitor radiation levels
  • Secure equipment outside normal working hours
  • Provide warning devices to signal radiation is about to take place and also during radiation.
  • Maintain and test equipment regularly.

Whilst one or two XRays in a hospital or clinic won’t do any damage, exposure to frequent radiation or industrial level XRays can cause long term health issues.  It’s a wise employer who covers all the possibilities and ensures that your staff stay healthy and industrial injury claims are something you don’t have to deal with!

Working at height

You may have seen scary videos on YouTube with people skipping around 10 floors up without any apparent safety equipment, but, if you’re an employer condoning that kind of thing will only end in court.

We’ve already covered stepladders at some length, but there are many other situations where people have to work at height and it’s easy for even experienced operatives to ‘forget’ safety precautions.  In fact, it’s more likely that a newly trained member of staff will observe all the precautions, whilst the old cliché ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ kicks in as the fact that no incidents have happened, generates the misguided belief that some precautions are unnecessary.

The key principle to working at height is ‘don’t do it unless you have to’!  However, assuming that, to get the job done, it’s necessary, then it’s important to observe the regulations.

The core responsibilities of employers according to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (and the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007) are that:

  • Risk assessments for any activities taking place at height should take place
  • Appropriate equipment and protection is provided
  • All work at height is well planned and organised
  • People who work at height must be trained and competent
  • Equipment is properly installed and regularly inspected and maintained
  • Delicate surfaces are controlled

Taking these responsibilities a step further it’s important that regular monitoring of the application of safety requirements takes place; both in the way in which employees apply the safety measures and the condition of the equipment and protective devices.

Don’t risk people’s lives and health – or your company’s reputation.

Vicious vibration

Whilst vibration can be beneficial and is often used during relaxing massage sessions – constant vibration can do considerable damage,   Most injuries that result from vibration occur over a period of time so what starts as minor discomfort turns into a long term chronic injury.

If you (or people who work for you) handle equipment that vibrates over long periods of time can result in disorder and damage to blood vessels, nerves and joints.  This can arise from using hand held power tools, but can also be the result of driving vehicles over rough ground for long periods of time and other activities that jolt or shake the human frame.  This kind of vibration can cause tissue injuries and can even dislodge internal organs.

The problem is that once damage occurs the effects are usually long term and cannot be cured, although the symptoms may be alleviated to some extent.  This means that employers need to be vigilant about the effects of vibration.

The legislation relating to this is the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 and employers should assess the risks and take steps to reduce or eliminate risks from hand-arm vibration.  When usage is occasional it’s unlikely to be a problem; it’s when daily use of vibrating equipment is involved that the situation needs to be assessed and addressed.

Ideally, control measures should be in place and information, training and health monitoring should be available to employees.

  • Health symptoms that flag up potential hazards include:
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Pain in the hands, arms, back or joints
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Painful finger blanching in cold or damp conditions
  • Reduction of the ability to do fine work or everyday tasks – like fastening buttons or working with precision.
  • Weakening of the grip.

If hand-guided or hand-held power tools or machines are used daily or the environment generates vibration (foundries, heavy steel fabrication, construction) it’s essential to carry out careful checks on employees’ health.

If members of your staff fall victim to vibration-related health problems you’ll lose a trained operative and they’ll lose their livelihood.  It’s much better to be ahead of the game and ensure your staff and your business are protected from these injuries.

Sign up to our FREE data service in the box on the right and get free reports, tips and information that will help you to create a practical and pragmatic approach to risk and safety. Or call us for more information on 0845 430 9461.

U is for UV rays

If you’re wondering how UV could possibly affect your workplace – UV scanners are used to check out currency for fakes and to check for faults in metals used in construction.

Anyone who works outside may be affected by UV rays from the sun on those bright days. It’s often the bright, but not actually sunny, days that are most likely to cause problems as people can burn even if not in direct sunlight. Reflected rays are just as harmful and a light haze won’t stop the UV rays damaging exposed skin.

It’s important that outside workers are educated about the potential damage – not least skin cancer in the long term. Proper protection should be provided as with any other job where harmful agents are present – sunscreen, hats, good sunglasses, proper clothing, etc.

However, from the point of view of caring for your staff, it’s often their off duty activities where they are more likely to come into contact with UV rays. Think of how many times you hear members of staff planning to visit a ‘tan-stand’ to put a bit of colour on their skin prior to a beach holiday.
No, we’re not recommending you install a lunch-break tanning facility, but educating your staff could ensure you don’t lose working time when people don’t know the dangers of UV radiation.

Without the right knowledge and protection using UV rays can result in:#

  • Burns
  • Skin dryness and itching
  • Eye irritation or damage (this is particularly important where UV lamps are concerned, the right eye protection is essential)
  • Skin cancer
  • Premature ageing of the skin

Operators of all UV equipment – whether in a tanning parlour or in the workplace must follow the regulations to safeguard both staff and clients. They must also carry out risk assessments, ensure the correct replacement tubes are fitted, that staff are properly trained and aware of the risks and that customers are fully informed and protected as far as is practicable.

Whether your staff are working out in the sunshine or inside with UV equipment don’t forget to ensure they are properly educated and protected.

Training for a safe workplace

Many people think that, in order to train people, they must attend a formal training session in a classroom environment, however, that isn’t really true.  People learn by many different methods from reading a poster to learning by doing.

  • People learn from reading posters, signs and written procedures.
  • They can learn by working with an experienced colleague who will ‘show them the ropes’.  This used to be known as ‘sitting by Nellie’.
  • In today’s technological age some things can be learned by using a computer as a learning aid.
  • Formal courses to acquire qualifications also contribute to competence.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) requires the employer to provide instruction, information and training.  In many places the Act also refers to a ‘Competent Person’.

Competence depends not only on the capability of an individual, but on the appropriateness of that capability to the particular task in hand. A simple mnemonic to apply to competency is KEPT

  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Personal attributes
  • Training and qualifications

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, reg.13(2) (MHSWR) states that adequate health and safety training must be provided whenever it is most likely to be needed.  This includes:

  • On first starting with the organisation (Induction)
  • On the change of function / new responsibilities within the organisation
  • On the introduction of new work equipment / a change of the current work equipment / new technology into the work of the staff
  • On the introduction of new systems of work or processes or a significant change those already in existence

The regulations also state that the training is repeated periodically – although no time scale is suggested – this indicates that it’s important to refresh skills and knowledge at regular intervals.  This will depend on the risk levels relating to the activities – the higher the risk, the more frequently training will be needed.

Not only should training take place, but records of training – the programme, the attendees, the date and what was covered – must be kept for at least three years.

Common sense dictates that a training plan for all staff relating to their roles, skills, safety, responsibilities and changing legislation should be put in place and regularly updated.

Chris Hilder

Signs & signals to keep people safe

Travelling to and from work you see many signs and signals to warn and inform drivers, but when you arrive in the workplace are you as familiar with the signs around the building and what they mean?

There are four main categories:

General danger
Information (& direction)

General danger

General danger  Yellow triangle with black edge.
General danger Yellow triangle with black edge.

The legislation relating to all health and safety signs and signals is The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996. They cover a variety of ways of communicating health and safety information including:

  • The use of illuminated signs
  • Hand signals and audible signals (e.g. alarms)
  • Spoken communication
  • Marking pipework containing dangerous substances.

Signs must be provided where there is a risk that has not been avoided or controlled in any other way, such as engineering controls and safe systems of work. Signs aren’t required where they would not reduce the risk or where the risk is not significant. Road traffic signs are needed where traffic requires regulating for safety. The employer has a duty to maintain the signs and to ensure that all employees understand the sign and what they must do to comply with it.

Mandatory requirements Circular with a blue background and explanatory icon covering at least 50% of area.
Hand signals

When machinery is in use the noise levels can make talking, or even shouting, an unreliable method of communication, so there are hand signals that should be used for handling and directing vehicles. These are included in the Regulations.


Fire alarms need to comply with the BS5839-01:2002 (recently updated) code of practice for system design, installation, commissioning and maintenance.

Prohibition The key elements are a circular shape with a red surround and a diagonal red bar. The black icon indicates what is prohibited.
Prohibition The key elements are a circular shape with a red surround and a diagonal red bar. The black icon indicates what is prohibited.

Information (and direction)
Information (and direction)  These must be green and white and must include a pictogram and arrow as a minimum.
Information (and direction) These must be green and white and must include a pictogram and arrow as a minimum.
Hazardous and dangerous substances

Any pipework containing dangerous substances must be marked at sampling and discharge points.

Any container of a hazardous or dangerous substance must be appropriately marked and there are a range of square signs with a black icon on an orange background that specify the contents of such containers.

If your workplace has risks that people need to be aware of or there is a need to communicate information it’s important that the appropriate signs are in place. Even more important is that everyone understands signs and signals that may be used.

Hazardous and dangerous substances

R is for Risk Management

R is for Risk Management

Risk management is a business process rather than a safety process – it affects all areas of your business. I like to use this equation:

Risk = Opportunity + Instinct

and your ROI = Reward

The first step in risk management is to identify all the hazards applicable to the organisation. They should be logged in a risk register listing them under the main headings of financial, operational, people/knowledge, and reputation. Safety, health, environmental and fire (SHEF) issues would normally come under operations.

When the risks have been identified, you need to assess and prioritise the risks. Every organisation is unique so what may be high priority to one organisation may be insignificant to another. For instance, a cold wet summer may be listed as high risk for an ice cream factory, but won’t affect a car manufacturer, and may be a real advantage to a shop that sells umbrellas!

Each risk should be assessed for the likelihood of the incident occurring and the severity of the outcome should it occur. This will enable you to categorise each risk as high, medium or low.

The next step is identifying how to control the risk.

Each risk should be weighted and prioritised. In some organisations even if something has been categorised as low or medium risk, it may need to be reprioritised in relation to the strategic purpose of the organisation.

Control measures follow a simple hierarchy of actions:

  • · Do we have to do it? In other words could that particular risk be removed altogether?
  • · Can we substitute it for something else? Is there a better way of doing this?
  • · Can we engineer or design the risk out, usually by improving or changing the equipment?
  • · Can it be managed out through the provision of information, instruction, training and supervision)?

When all this has been done there may still be some residual risk – can you just live with it?

There is another option – and that may be to transfer the risk to someone else, like an insurance company. In some cases you can contract the job out, but that doesn’t always completely remove the organisation’s responsibility in relation to the risk.


Risk control should also consider the potential for emergency response and business continuity, so it’s not just about the immediate effect should the risk occur, but also about the long term impact.

Finally, it’s essential to investigate failures. If you carry out a root cause analysis to establish what caused an incident (as an incident indicates a failure in the process) you’ll have valuable information to reassess the risk. In fact, at this point you start at the beginning of this process again.

Rather than a circular process, it’s a spiral that improves at each circuit

Questions clients ask

These are a few of the questions we’ve been asked recently.  As they tend to come up again and again we thought it might help more of you to have an easy check point to find out what you want to know.

As a small business owner, do I need to have written policies and documentation relating to health and safety?

The law says that if you five or more employees (including yourself) you must have written policies, procedures, risk assessments and safe systems of work.  If you have fewer than five employees, technically, you don’t need written material.

But – and it’s a big ‘BUT’ – you need to be able to prove that the policies exist, even if they are not written down.  In effect that means that every member of staff will need to be able to verbalise them should there be an inspection.  Whilst, in a low risk business, the policies and procedures don’t need to be complicated – it’s so much easier to write them down.  It will save time, effort and hassle!

Can I have too many fire extinguishers?

Yes!  Many fire extinguisher suppliers offer ‘free’ fire risk assessments, resulting in the sales of many unnecessary extinguishers.  You don’t need a fire extinguisher beside every single fire risk (big or small).

When a fire occurs the first action should be to raise the alarm to get everyone to safety and summon the emergency services.  Then you would collect the appropriate extinguisher, from a ‘Fire Point’ and attempt to put the fire out, with a single extinguisher (if one doesn’t work it’s NOT a small fire) always keeping an escape route behind you.  There certainly should not be more fire extinguishers than absolutely necessary in an area.  The aim is as few as possible and as many as necessary – commensurate with the risk.

It’s worth getting unbiased expert advice if you’re not sure what’s best.

Why can’t you lift more than 25 kgs for a man and 16 kgs for a woman?

This is not actually the law, it’s guidance.  The bigger the weight to be lifted, the bigger the risk.  In normal circumstances most men are stronger than most women, but there are strong women and weak men.  If you step outside guideline weights you should carry out a personal risk assessment.  It’s about capability and you should lift with your head (think first), not with your back.

Use TILE to help you assess the risk:

  • ·         Task – consider the task
  • ·          Individual – look at the capability of the person concerned
  • ·         Load – review the load (both weight and size/shape
  • ·         Environment – check out the environment for associated risk.

If one of your staff can snatch lift 150kgs in the gym, restricting them to 25kgs is not very realistic.  A safe margin is about 15-20% less in the workplace – so authorising them, after their assessment, to lift up 120kgs may be acceptable in this situation.  If in doubt, stick to the guidance.

What do I do if I can’t sell my apartment without a fire risk assessment for the common areas outside my apartment?

Just recently we’ve had a few calls from solicitors who are finding it difficult to complete the conveyancing on a property where there are shared areas in a building – for instance, where a building has a number of apartments.

The law says that a fire risk assessment must be available for the public areas of the building and some apartment owners have no idea who owns the freehold or are unable to get in touch with the freehold owner to get this done.

Is this absolutely necessary?  Yes, unfortunately, it is and it can hold up a sale – and may even end up with a sale falling through.

It only applies where there are shared facilities, like entrance areas, staircases and hallways. 

If it is impossible to track down the freehold owner it is possible to have a fire risk assessment carried out on these areas.  It will cost you a couple of hundred pounds (in a typical building with 5-6 apartments), but may be the difference between a sale going through or falling through.