IN these days when “health ‘n’ safety” is everywhere in the workplace and on the news – and is blamed for stopping things happening and more often is used for not doing something – a recent court case appeared like something out of the distant past.
The basic facts of this case are that three workers in a factory in Berwick-on-Tweed could not shut a roller shutter door due to a recurring problem. They decided to lift one of the workers on an unsecured pallet on the forks of a forklift truck up to the top of the door to release it. As the worker freed the door, it shot forwards causing him to fall 13ft fracturing his leg and ankle. The company was fined £10,000 with £5,884 costs.
Various lessons should be learnt from this case.
A more suitable means of accessing the top of the door should have been used such as a mobile scaffold or a cherry picker. (A man-riding cage for the forklift truck had been provided, but it was thought to be off site at the time of the accident).
The workers felt they had no alternative but to go ahead with this way of working, even though they were trained and knew it was dangerous.
Employees should be trained in the consequences of their decisions both for themselves and the company and be given instructions to follow in the event of situations such as this.
The fault with the roller shutter door occurred about four times each year and the door had caused problems for 10 years. The company was aware of the problem and had costed a replacement door. A new door was obtained after this accident but better maintenance procedures or, focus on the risks involved with emergency repairs, could have avoided this accident.
The method of work was “in full glare and all too frequent” according to the HSE’s Principal Inspector. The company management would have been aware of it but had not prevented it being carried out. Employers are responsible for the actions of their employees and cannot turn a blind eye to poor practices.
This case is an opportunity for all employers to ask searching questions: Would our employees choose a dangerous course of action because they think they are helping out the company? Is there a task that is regularly carried out that leaves us uneasy and relieved when it goes ahead without a problem? Is there an item of plant or equipment that is regularly breaking down and involves difficult repairs? Could our employees be doing something regularly that exposes them and the company to risk?
Perhaps now is the time to meet head-on those issues which we have chosen to avoid.