Have you stopped to think what would happen in the event of a serious accident in your workplace? How would you respond and what impact will your response have on your business as time progresses? These are questions that should be given proper consideration before such an event occurs; as the saying goes failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
We have over the years taken a number of calls from businesses (some clients and some not) telling us that a serious accident has happened, and wanting to know what they need to do. Clearly, not having a system in place has put them on the back foot and they are then wanting help to minimise the damage to the business and their reputation. Often, the business has failed to complete a proper risk assessment and then failed to carry out an investigation that looks at why the accident occurred; rather, they have already apportioned blame based on limited facts. Clearly, not understanding why something has gone wrong will not help to put things right in the future.
We saw a case recently on the HSE website where a global ingredients company was fined for safety failings after two workers were seriously injured in separate incidents a year apart at its UK manufacturing base near Hitchin. Jas Bowman and Sons Ltd were prosecuted by the HSE for not doing enough to protect people working at height.
In the first incident a maintenance engineer fell more than two metres while attempting to clean flour product from inside an elevated conveyor. He stood on the frame of a nearby machine to remove upper guarding on the conveyor but slipped, fracturing his right shoulder blade and a vertebra in his spine, when he hit the floor below.
A year later an electrical sub-contractor fell down a lift shaft while carrying out maintenance work on a jammed second floor lift door. A panel reading indicated the lift was at second floor level. He manually opened the door by overriding a release mechanism and stepped in but fell into the shaft because the lift car had returned to the ground floor.
He was following instructions from two Bowman employees at the time and fractured his skull, developed a cranial blood clot, severed his right ear, which was almost completely detached from his head, and sustained extensive bruising as a result of the fall. He was off work for 18 months as a result of his injuries.
The court heard that a HSE investigation into both incidents identified serious failings with the work not being properly planned, supervised or carried out in a safe manner.
In hindsight it’s possible to see that had they carried out a full investigation into the first accident, they could have improved the approach to health & safety and prevented the second accident. As the HSE inspector commented; lessons should have been learned from the first incident, however, the safety of workers continued to be compromised.
The company pleaded guilty to one breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £20,282 in costs.
So why wait for something to go wrong in your business; it’s got to make sense to be prepared for the worst and have a plan to follow. We know that showing the HSE you have understood why an incident has occurred and are taking positive action to prevent it happening again, will have a big impact on what action they decide to take.