Christmas Parties …

In the words of Slade … It’s Chrissssssstmasssss (well very nearly).

The Christmas party is often the favourite event for employees of the year. But it can quickly turn into a Health and Safety as well as an HR nightmare for employers. Colleagues are overly touchy; they may start a bit of fisticuff’s with each other after drinking too many beers. And then just to top it off it’s on social media the day after, for all your clients to see, you know the sort of thing. So lets clear a few things up.

Are you responsible for your employees’ actions?

Even if the party takes place outside of normal working hours and outside the workplace, it continues to be considered an event linked to work. It can be assumed that, under the law, the party will be considered “in the course of the employment relationship” and as such, managers are still responsible for the behaviour of their staff. It may not seem fair, but employers can still be held responsible for any acts of discrimination, harassment or worse, committed by their employees.

What can I do to avoid liability?

Responsibility can be avoided by demonstrating that you have taken reasonable steps to prevent misbehaviour. You should do the following:

  • Invite everyone to the event. Do not discriminate. Remember the event should be open to all so include those on maternity or paternity leave, part-time workers and those who share work or have a fixed-term contract. If you allow spouses or partners to participate, be sure not to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
  • Consider how appropriate the venue is. Does the venue allow children under 18? Could it be somehow considered offensive to workers of certain religions or sexes? Can they meet different dietary needs? Is it easily accessible for wheelchair users?
  • Remind employees of what the company considers to be unacceptable behaviour before the event. This is essential. You should send a reminder or e-mail to ALL staff. Set out your expectations and consequences if they fail. It is absolutely clear that if they behave badly, they will be investigated and disciplinary actions can be taken.
  • Provide soft drinks. If you offer a free bar, consider limiting the amount of free alcohol available so as not to be considered inappropriate behaviour. Ask the bar staff to keep an eye on the employees who let themselves go. If you appear to have condoned or encouraged excessive alcohol consumption, it will be difficult to dismiss the employee if he has committed alcohol-related offences. Trying to drink the bar dry is not the objective of the event! Also, ensure those employees below the ages of 18 are not drinking.
  • Name some responsible people to keep an eye on the party and provide them and all the nominated drivers with free soft drinks for the evening.
  • Think about how employees will return home after the party. Consider, if the budget is extended, providing a coach to a central place at the end of the night. Encourage employees to check when the last trains or buses are ensured their safety and make sure lifts are arranged, so everyone ends the evening safely you need to account for everyone just as you would keep people safe in the workplace.

Lastly, if you have a Secret Santa event have strict rules items should not be purchased to embarrass or cause offence to people, better still swap this for an office Christmas bake-off. No mistletoe because its just asking for trouble and be mindful that Christmas can be a very difficult time of year for some people. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Company fined for lack of control of Fork Lift Trucks

A cast iron bar manufacturer that neglected the risks to pedestrians from moving workplace transport has been fined £100,000 after an employee was struck by a forklift truck.

The employee was in the holding bay carrying out checks on the bars when he was hit by a forklift and sustained a fractured leg. Following this incident in January 2018 (at United Cast Bar (UK)’s factory in Chesterfield), the company was sentenced at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had failed to risk assess the mix of vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the holding bay area. “The measures employed after the accident by the company demonstrated that there were reasonably practicable measures that could have prevented the accident,” it said.

United Cast Bar, which produces continuous cast iron for industries including oil and gas, automotive, hydraulics and pneumatics, and glass manufacture, pleaded guilty to breaching s 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. United Cast Bar (UK) Ltd pleaded to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and has been fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,439.17.

Its latest full-year accounts filed with Companies House show the company’s 2017 turnover of £23.8m was 21% up on the previous year.

After the hearing HSE inspector David Keane said: “Companies can prevent accidents between pedestrians and forklift trucks by identifying the potential risks and implementing simple safety measures to segregate vehicles and pedestrians.”

Company fine after worker falls into unguarded pit

Tata Steel UK has been fined £450,000 after a worker fell into an unguarded pit, despite a risk assessment completed 16 months earlier that identified the need for barriers.

[SA] was injured working as a scaler on the scarfing line, in which metal is torched to remove imperfections, at the steelmaker’s billet mill in Stocksbridge, Sheffield. A billet is a cast or hot-rolled length of steel that can be further processed to make bars or rods. Water runoff and impurities from the scarfing process were collected in a skip stored below ground in a pit 3.7 m by 2.5 m by 2.5 m and covered by two metal plates that sat flush with the floor.

In February 2014, [SA] and an overhead crane operator removed the cover plates and lifted the skip out of the pit to empty its contents. After completing this job, the two workers went to replace the plates.  [SA] connected the crane hooks to lugs on either side of the first plate and the operator lowered it into position. As he did so, the plate swung slightly so, when the second was raised, Ayres moved out of the way. He stepped back and fell into the pit, sustaining a lacerated kidney and broken ribs.

Tata immediately installed guardrails around the pit’s perimeter to reduce the risk of a fall, a work at height control measure it had identified in its risk assessment in October 2012.

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Waste treatment and disposal company Prosecuted

A waste treatment and disposal company that failed to control the risks from gas cylinders at its site in Bedford has been fined £100,000 after an explosion left two workers with serious injuries.

An employee of B&W Waste Management Services sustained third-degree burns and was put in a medically-induced coma for ten days on a life support machine after the accident that occurred in July 2016. He has undergone several operations and relies on medication for nerve pain, said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). On of his work colleagues was also burned.

Luton Magistrates’ Court was told that the two workers were using a gas-operated forklift truck to feed pressurised aerosol canisters into a plastic shredder when a spark from the forklift ignited a cloud of gas from the canisters.

B&W Waste Management pleaded guilty to breaching reg 6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2005. It was fined and ordered to pay £11,603 costs.

HSE inspector Andrew McGill said:

If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life-changing injuries suffered by one employee could have been prevented.

Director Prosecuted and Banned (S.37 Health and Safety at Work Act 1974)

London based building company director prosecuted and banned. The managing director of C J Langs (a London construction company) has been prosecuted under s 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act after dangerous conditions were discovered at a building site. Kewie Doherty’s company was also sentenced after inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found:

  • unsafe work-at-height practice
  • a lack of suitable equipment, and
  • untrained operatives working without supervision.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that the HSE had visited the site in Sherborne Gardens, Ealing, following an accident in January 2017.

C J Langs pleaded guilty to breaching reg 15(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 over its failure to plan, manage and monitor the work.

The Company was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £6,000 costs.

Doherty pleaded guilty to breaching s 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. He was disqualified from being a company director for three years and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid community work. He must also pay costs of £1,673.

New School closes due to Safety Concerns

It is not great to read that a School closes due to Safety Concerns. This is disruptive to the pupils and immensely frustrating to their families.  A brand new, state-of-the-art School in Dumfries has closed on safety grounds, just a month after opening. This follows two safety incidents at the North West Community Campus.

In the latest incident, a pupil was reportedly hit by an interactive whiteboard which had been mounted to a wall. The boy was not seriously injured. In response Graham (the contractors for the project) conducted an investigation and concluded that “excessive force” had been used on the smart screen.

A statement from Dumfries and Galloway council read:

Dumfries and Galloway Council has taken the immediate decision to close the North West Community Campus until independent assurances can be given on the safety of the building.

We have reached a stage where the Council has lost confidence in any assurances we have been given in relation to the building. We understand and share the anger and frustration of pupils, parents and our staff. Our only concern is their safety.

We are appalled by this latest incident and will not be re-opening the school until we are absolutely confident and have the independent third party assurances that every bolt, screw and fitting has been checked, double checked and is certified safe.

The incident comes just a couple of weeks after a different pupil suffered ‘superficial bruising’ when she was hit by a sliding door, which came off its rails. On that occasion, the school was shut for two days.

A School closes due to Safety Concerns – the school has had issues right from the outset: part of a ceiling reportedly collapsed prior to opening, due to the failing of a sprinkler system.

Local Council fined after workers exposed to asbestos in a Primary School

Asbestos in a Primary School – Kent County Council (KCC) has today been fined £200,000 after asbestos was disturbed at Lansdowne Primary School. Canterbury Crown Court heard how, in November 2014, an environmental health officer was carrying out a routine food inspection when they noticed what looked like an asbestos rope hanging from the ceiling.

A prohibition notice was served on the now independent educational trust. An investigation found that the asbestos flue and rope were disturbed when it was under the control of the County Council 18 months beforehand.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the flue and gasket rope were attached to a steriliser unit that had been removed by the caretaker. The investigation also found that neither the caretaker nor the head teacher had any asbestos management or awareness training. The council failed to effectively prevent exposure to asbestos and failed to provide suitable training to those liable to be exposed to asbestos. In this case (as in many others), Asbestos in a Primary School happened because people were not sufficiently knowledgeable.

Kent County Council pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 10 (1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £21,500.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Kevin Golding said

The Council had implemented a system, but they had failed to take the simple step of checking to ensure it was being rigorously adhered to, resulting in employees not receiving the appropriate training. Organisations should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.

According to an investigation into asbestos in schools by the BBC, 32 councils in England have settled claims from 220 retired teachers, school staff and ex-pupils in the last ten years.

Asbestos containing metal gauze products supplied to schools

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced that it has been made aware that two UK Laboratory Supply companies have supplied schools (and potentially other users) with gauze mats that contain asbestos. These metal gauze mats are designed for use over Bunsen burners.

The HSE has served enforcement notices on both companies.

A spokesperson for the HSE spokesperson commented:

Although the risk of exposure is low, we took action as soon as we were informed. HSE Inspectors ensured supply of the asbestos-containing gauze mats stopped immediately. We got the message out as soon as possible and alerted schools, colleges and others to the issue, providing precautionary advice on how to check if they are affected and if so what to do next.

Our investigation into the circumstances that led to these particular gauze mats coming into circulation is on-going. As part of this, HSE inspectors have served enforcement notices on both companies to ensure that all affected mats are disposed of safely.


Prison Sentence for Roofing Contractor

Council H&S officers reported dangerous roof work to HSE – Prison Sentence for Roofing Contractor. A roofing contractor has been sentenced for safety breaches after workers were left at risk of falling from unprotected roof edges in February 2016. The failures of C Smith Roofing (Mr Chris Smith T/A) were discovered by local council health and safety staff who could see unsafe scaffolding from their office window.

Leeds Crown Court heard that in November 2015 Mr Smith was contracted to carry out some roof repairs to a Guest House roof in Northallerton. Scaffolding was erected along the full length of the roof at the front of the property. There was a conservatory structure at the rear of the property and the company erected only a partial scaffold at the rear. The scaffolding erected at the rear failed to take the conservatory into account which left approximately two-thirds of the rear roof edge unprotected.

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Unsafe roof work

Unsafe Roof Work – a roofing contractor employed by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council has had its unsafe working practices exposed after an employee fell through a roof light.

In a prosecution brought by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Dudley magistrates heard how people were working on the roof for Woodhull Roofing had no safety measures in place to prevent them from falling. Woodhull Roofing Ltd was contracted to carry out work for Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. The work was to coat roofing bolts in an asbestos cement roof, to seal leaks. While working on the corrugated roof a worker misplaced his footing when moving a board and stepped onto a fragile roof light. He fell through the roof onto a concrete floor approximately four metres below. He broke several ribs and suffered spinal injuries.

An HSE investigation found that the roof work was not undertaken with inadequate precautions to provide support or protection – unsafe roof work. Woodhull Roofing Ltd of Stratford Road, Shirley was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £495.27 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 9 (2) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

HSE inspector Gareth Langston said after the hearing: “Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities in this country and the risks associated with working at height are well known. In this case, suitable measures such as sufficient platforms, handrails and netting should have been provided to ensure the health and safety of people working at height on the roof.”

Unsafe roof work is a significant (but avoidable,) cause of workplace death and injury.