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 for more information.

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.

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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.

Were the fire officers at Lakanal House risk averse?

It’s hard to believe that two years down the line there are still no answers to the Lakanal House disaster, in Camberwell, South London.

As a senior officer in the London Fire Brigade (LFB) I was involved in an investigation into a serious fire, in the East End of London, where two fire-fighters tragically lost their lives.  This involved internal procedures that had gone very wrong but it only took us three months to arrive at a point where improvement notices could be served on the LFB, by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), ostensibly to make the changes needed to prevent a similar outcome.

Now, here’s an aspect that many people may not have considered – have things progressed to the point where, in the LFB at least, these procedures have been developed to protect fire-fighters but not those they are supposed to be protecting, in a similar situation?  In addition, it appears that, so far, there has been no real change in fire safety legislation affecting private dwellings – so are we sitting around waiting for the next big disaster, with more lives to be sacrificed?

There’s something else that may be worth considering.  Well before the Camberwell fire happened, two fire-fighters died rescuing people from a tower block in Stevenage.  Shortly after Camberwell another two fire-fighters died rescuing people from a tower block in Southampton.

In Camberwell not one fire-fighter was hurt, but six people were not rescued and died – in a tower block.  There was a so-called ‘stay put’ policy in operation, which is only really practicable when the premises are suitable.  In this case, poor fire compartmentation meant that the premises were not safe to apply such a policy, but the occupants were told to remain in their flats, regardless.  When smoke and fire are in the flat a ‘stay put’ policy is insane – as every trained fire-fighter knows.

To add fuel to the metaphorical flames, there has been a recent case, in Warwickshire, where two fire officers were to have been prosecuted for the involuntary manslaughter of fire-fighters, after committing crews, without sufficient tactical information.

In my day I’d have committed highly trained crews, to carry out ‘snatch’ rescues, in the simple knowledge that persons lives were at risk.  At Lakanal House, fire-fighters were, apparently, held back by their officers who were, almost certainly, conscious of the HSE health and safety edicts and potential prosecution if they ‘took a risk’.  Whilst the LFB may need more resources and additional statutory powers to enable them to operate more effectively, especially in the domestic arena, it is hardly worth putting the lives of those they are charged to protect at risk to get them.

It looks like rescue operations were severely delayed and, in fact, people were told to stay in what became their tombs.  Nobody wants to send a fire-fighter to their death, but like the armed forces, when you sign up you know that you will be dealing with dangerous situations and you are taught to deal with these in a way that gives both you and the people you are protecting the best possible chance of survival.

So, is the reason this case has been held back a delaying tactic, to allow the LFB time to come up with believable answers to any questions about risk-averse operational procedures?

Risk simply cannot be removed completely from any aspect of life, domestic or business, which is why I’m passionate about helping people take risks in the safest possible way.  However, there’s a real difference between taking calculated risks and putting lives at risk by avoiding risk altogether, especially if you’re in a risk business.

Landlord gets huge fine for putting lives at risk

At the beginning of July Mohammed Javaid was found guilty of playing a risky game with his tenants’ lives. Of the 16 flats he owned six were considered to be uninhabitable due to the condition.

Mr Javaid chose to ignore the prohibition notice and not only allowed the tenants to remain, but moved additional people into empty flats and took absolutely no action to rectify the hazards.

These hazards included live electric cables right next to where people walked, no working lights in one basement area, missing fire alarms – which looked as though they had been removed leaving exposed cables dangling from the ceiling, missing fire doors and a lethal electric wiring system.

No fire risk assessment had been carried out, a proper alarm system was not in existence and the Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority were appalled at the state of the various premises.

Javaid pleaded guilty to 20 offences and Manchester Magistrates Court fined him £33,750 plus £8.5 thousand in costs. Probably, most of the work needed would have cost less.

This is exactly the kind of case that the authorities need to be chasing – and why we insist that our clients have risk assessments and fire risk assessments carried out regularly.

Thank goodness that action was taken before lives were lost.