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Scottish firms penalised for health and safety failings

A number of Scottish employers have come under the spotlight recently after their health and safety failings led to workers suffering serious and in some cases life changing injuries simply as a result of trying to do their job.

Janitor loses toe in chainsaw incident

In one such incident, Fife Council was fined £20,000 after a janitor lost a toe while working with a chainsaw.

The 39-year-old had been sent to a primary school in Dunfermline to remove a tree that had blown down in the school grounds. He and a colleague had removed most of the branches and were eventually left with just the trunk and a single limb attached at above-shoulder height. He climbed onto the trunk and started cutting through the limb, but it sheared away and landed on his foot, trapping it against the trunk.

As a result of the incident, he needed three surgical procedures but doctors were unfortunately unable to save one of his toes. He was eventually able to return to work after three months of recuperation.

The subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found a number of serious safety failings on the part of the Council, including:

  • failure to properly assess the risks to employees in the educational facility service while undertaking chainsaw operations;
  • failure to maintain a safe system of work and provide sufficient training and supervision to enable the workers to undertake chainsaw work.

Chainsaw injury statistics

The potential risks of working with chainsaws are obvious and are clearly demonstrated in HSE figures showing that in the forestry and arboriculture sector, chainsaws were responsible for the deaths of five people in Britain between 2004/05 to 2010/11. A further 131 workers suffered major injuries while using sawing and cutting tools, and another 355 suffered injuries that kept them off work for more than three days.

Unsafe electrical testing results in serious burns

In a separate but equally serious incident, a Dundee man sustained burns to his face, hands and arms while working for an electrical company to conduct live electrical testing.

The 38-year-old had been sent to the premises of a manufacturing company to test live conductors in an electricity substation. After completing the testing he was placing the covers back over the live conductors when part of the cover came into contact with live parts and caused an electrical arc flashover.

The man was apparently not wearing the protective equipment he had been supplied with, but was able to walk out of the substation unaided. However, he then needed to spend nine days in hospital for treatment to his burns.

The HSE concluded that his employer had not conducted a sufficient risk assessment for the job and had also failed to provide a safe system of work by not ensuring that the electricity supply to the relevant area was de-energised during removal and replacement of the covers.

The company was fined £2,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The dangers of electricity

Electricity is inherently dangerous and a cause of many serious accidents. Official figures show that in 2011/12 there were 15 fatal safety-related incidents reported in Britain under the Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations 2002. In addition, there were 558 serious but not-fatal injuries and an alarming 11,755 near misses.

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