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Organisations praised for safety, but elsewhere accidents continue

The winners of the 2014 International Safety Awards have recently been announced by the British Safety Council.

Vision of no more workplace deaths or injuries

The Awards set out to recognise and honour the achievements of winning organisations in keeping their workplaces and workers healthy and safe throughout the year.

Alex Botha, the British Safety Council’s chief executive, explained that the Council’s vision is that no one should be injured, made ill or killed by work activity anywhere in the world, and that the winning organisations had shown a real dedication and commitment to preventing injury and ill health in the workplace.

Industrial diseases still prevalent

The efforts of these organisations are to be commended, but unfortunately many other companies still have a long way to go before they can live up to the British Safety Council’s vision of no more work related injuries, illnesses or deaths.

Diseases related to workplace exposures continue to affect many workers, including illnesses affecting the respiratory system and skin conditions such as dermatitis.

One of the main causes of industrial disease is asbestos, which can cause serious and fatal conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma in workers who are exposed to its deadly fibres.

Although the dangers of asbestos are well known, workers continue to be needlessly exposed. A building contractor from Bath was recently in court after two of its workers were exposed to asbestos dust while working at a residential property in the city.

The men had been sent to demolish a basement ceiling without checking for the presence of asbestos. They carried out the work using hand tools and pulled parts of the ceiling – made of asbestos insulation board – down by hand.

When the company eventually realised that asbestos was present in the ceiling, it sent the workers off to do other jobs without first requiring them to decontaminate their clothes or tools.

Failure to manage asbestos risk

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which found the contractors failed to make any assessment for the presence of asbestos before work started and once they did identify it they failed to prevent its spread. The company, which was not licensed to handle asbestos, also failed to notify HSE of the work in advance, as it was required to do.

The company pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and was fined a total of £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £637.

“The long-term effects of exposure to asbestos materials is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK and the exposure of these two workers to this dangerous substance was entirely preventable,” said HSE Inspector Paul Newton, speaking after the hearing.

“It was clear the work would disturb the fabric of the building, creating a risk of exposing asbestos, so a full survey of the area should have been carried out before work started and suitable plans put in place to deal with it,” he added.

Use of improper equipment causes injury

As well as failing to manage the risks of industrial disease, many employers are still not doing enough to protect their workers from sustaining severe or even life-changing injuries at work.

In Bedfordshire, a caravan firm was recently fined after a maintenance engineer was injured in a fall from height while renovating a caravan.

The 30 year-old fell approximately one and a half metres and banged his head when a makeshift platform collapsed during work to attach metalwork cladding to the side of a caravan.

At the time, he appeared to have escaped relatively unscathed and suffered just bruising. However, two days later he collapsed and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. He has since suffered from severe headaches and pains to his hip.

The subsequent HSE investigation discovered that the platform was inherently unsafe and was wholly unsuitable, and the incident could have been prevented had proper equipment been provided for working safely at height.

The firm was fined a total of £5,000 and ordered to pay £3,527 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

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