Ciaron Dunne and Polly Green report on recent court cases involving health and safety issues and what new proposed regulations governing exposure to excessive noise mean for the facilities management profession
30 April 2004
House-building company Conroy Brook Developments (CBD) has been fined £18,000 after it failed to carry out a proper asbestos survey, and subsequently exposed demolition workers to asbestos. CBD employed contractors to demolish a site it had purchased. The contractors phoned in when they discovered asbestos warning labels, but were told that asbestos was only found in the cement roof sheets. It later transpired that there was also asbestos in some of the ceiling tiles.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), prosecuting under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM), said that CBD should have obtained a proper asbestos survey, and that the contractors had been exposed to 'lethal' brown asbestos.
In a second case, Zurich Management Services and Railcare have each been fined £17,000 for breaches of health and safety law. The prosecutions followed an HSE investigation into an incident when an engineering surveyor, Sarinder Singh Gidda, and another worker, Roy Goldney, were injured when a mobile elevating work platform overturned.The platform was overloaded and both Gidda and Goldney suffered injuries when it overturned. The HSE had alleged that both companies failed to plan properly a lifting operation as part of the examination and inspection of the platform.
In a third case, JDM Accord has been fined a total of £100,000 and ordered to pay £32,183 in costs by Stafford Crown Court. The prosecution followed HSE's investigation of an incident in which a sub-contractor was crushed to death during road improvement works. Joseph Jenkinson was run over and killed by a slow-reversing agricultural trailer during road-widening work at Wheaton Aston, near Stafford, on 31 July 2001.
HSE Principal Construction Inspector, Joy Jones, said after the case: "The risk to banksmen from reversing vehicles is well known and has to be properly controlled. Many elements contributed to this accident, but the 'safe sight, safe vehicle, safe drivers' message certainly had not been acted on."
In a fourth case, the House of Lords has ruled in favour of Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council, after a legal challenge from a car-crash victim who claimed that safety signage could have been better. Denise Gorringe crashed into an incoming bus after she was unsighted by a dip in the road. Gorringe suffered brain injuries and is now wheelchair-bound. She sued the council, claiming that the word 'SLOW' should have been painted on the road before the dip.The House of Lords ruled that no such warning was necessary, because the dip should have been obvious, there was no history of accidents at that spot and drivers are foremost responsible for their own safety.
Finally, the TUC reports that a firm has been fined £25,000 for 'catastrophic failures' after a worker was killed when a piece of equipment exploded in his face. John Young, 58, died in September 2002 when an abrasive wheel he was working at burst, causing him fatal head injuries.
Glasgow Sheriff Court heard the wheel had been spinning at twice its normal speed and that it, along with other equipment, had been inadequate. Young's employers, Metal Spraying and Process Equipment, admitted a breach of health and safety law. Sheriff Fiona Reith, QC, said there had been "significant lapses" by the Glasgow company. Gary McAteer, defending, said the firm had expressed sorrow for the accident and had fully accepted its failures. The court was told Metal Spraying had recently ceased trading.
HSE Consultation on Proposed Noise at Work Regulations
The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) has published a consultative document on the proposed regulations and guidance implementing the European Physical Agents (Noise) Directive. The directive aims to protect workers from risks to their health and safety arising or likely to arise from exposure to noise (particularly the risk to hearing). It replaces a 1986 directive (86/188/EC) that was implemented in the UK by the Noise at Work Regulations 1989.The proposed regulations are about protecting workers from exposure to noise. It is estimated they will extend protection to around one million new workers, in addition to the same number protected under current law.
The consultation will be of interest to facilities managers who are responsible for noisy machinery or processes, or the manufacturing of machinery and equipment.Industries affected include construction, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, transport, mining, quarrying, music and entertainment and the armed forces.
The main changes from the existing regulations are the reduction by five decibels (dB) of the exposure levels at which action has to be taken. The new exposure levels will be 80 dB and 85 dB, with a limit of 87 dB on personal noise exposure. This will mean that some employers who already control noise may have to do more. Others who do nothing now may have to take action. The new regulations will come into force in February 2006.
The consultation ends on 21 June. Copies of the consultation document, 'Proposals for New Control of Noise at Work Regulations implementing the Physical Agents (Noise) Directive (2003/10/EC)' are available free of charge from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA or on 01781 881165. Copies can also be accessed via HSE's website at www.hse.gov.uk/consult/live.htm
A discussion of the new asbestos regulations due to come into force on 21 May 2004 will appear in the next issue of FM World.
Polly Green is editor and Ciaron Dunne is director at Workplace Law Group