Harmful Radiation Risk From Light Bulbs

New research from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) shows that some energy-saving, compact fluorescent lightbulbs can emit ultra-violet radiation at levels, which, under certain conditions of use, can result in exposures higher than guideline levels.

The Agency and government departments are calling on the European Union, relevant product standards bodies, and the lighting industry to consider how product standards for lights can be tightened up.

On the back of its research, the HPA is recommending some precautionary measures for the use of certain types of bulbs. It warns that open (single-envelope) bulbs should not be used where people are in close proximity  closer than 30cm  to the bare lightbulb for more than one hour a day. In such situations, says the Agency, open bulbs should be replaced by encapsulated (double-envelope) bulbs. Alternatively, the lamp should be moved so that it is at least 30cm away.

Encapsulated bulbs do not emit significant amounts of UV radiation. The larger, long-tube, ‘strip lighting’ fluorescent lights, commonly used in offices, workplaces, and homes can also be used on ceilings without any special precautionary measures.

HPA chief executive, Justin McCracken, stressed: “We are advising people to avoid using the open lightbulbs for prolonged close work until the problem is sorted out, and to use encapsulated bulbs instead. In other situations, where people are not likely to be very close to the bulbs for any length of time, all types of compact fluorescent lightbulbs are safe to use.”

The Government is pressing the EU to take account of the research findings in future European legislation.


New White Board Safety Advice

Schools across England are being urged to buy a new type of whiteboard equipment to eliminate a potential threat to children’s eyesight.

Directors of children’s services are being told to buy a new generation of “ultra-short-throw” projectors when purchasing or replacing the boards. These eliminate any eye exposure to the potentially damaging projector beam.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued new advice after a long campaign to address concerns about safety. The advice says that “recent technological developments in projector and interactive whiteboard design have allowed inherently safer ‘ultra-short throw’ devices to be brought to market.

“These employ sophisticated optics to enable the projector to be mounted above the display screen and so close to it that it becomes impossible for a user to directly expose their eyes to the beam.”

The HSE adds that – because users sometimes disregard safe work procedures – it considers that employers and organisations should actively consider the new devices as an option.

This new advice is to supplement existing HSE guidelines which say that staring directly into the projector beam is avoided at all times. Employers should also try to ensure that projectors are located so that they are not in a presenter’s line-of-sight when they stand in front of the screen to address an audience.

Managers Arrested At Work Under Corporate Manslaughter Act

Police are arresting managers at their workplaces as part of corporate manslaughter investigations, according to a defence lawyer involved in two of the first deaths being investigated under the new Act.

To date, police have arrested supervisors, site-level managers and directors and interviewed them under caution within weeks of the incident. Police officers present have commented on being surprised by the rigour of the investigations compared with those into fatalities in the past.

Investigators are counting site staff as senior management for the purposes of the Corporate Manslaughter Act. The Act, which came into force in April, requires the authorities to prove that the way an organisation’s activities are organised or managed by its senior managers is what caused a person’s death.

The police and the HSE are taking a very wide interpretation of who is a senior manager. Some lawyers had expected the police to be inadequately trained to pursue corporate manslaughter enquiries, but in many cases handled so far, officers have day-to-day advice from HSE inspectors, who are priming them with questions to ask managers about risk assessments and safety management generally, but also higher-level support.

Investigators are also spending a lot of time at the organisations’ premises. They stay around, and that has a psychological effect on workers and managers and the board. The time they’ve spent interviewing people has been much longer than it ever has been before.

New Act bringing higher fines and imprisonment for safety breaches

The Health and Safety Offences Act has now received royal assent. The Government has said that the new punishments reflect the seriousness of some breaches, but experts have warned that they could lead to very severe punishments of executives who have made honest mistakes.

The changes will increase the number of situations in which people can be imprisoned for health and safety breaches. Any employee who fails to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others or themselves could now face jail.

Directors and senior managers whose company commits a breach could also face imprisonment where the breach happened with their consent or connivance or due to their neglect.  The new law also increases the maximum fine available to lower courts from £5,000 to £20,000. Higher courts retain their power to levy unlimited fines.

The Government said that the new powers would help punishments to match very severe cases. “It is generally accepted that the level of fines for some health and safety offences is too low,” said Lord McKenzie, minister at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

“These changes will ensure that sentences can now be more easily set at a level to deter businesses that do not take their health and safety management responsibilities seriously and further encourage employers and others to comply with the law.”

“Jail sentences for particularly blameworthy health and safety offences committed by individuals, can now be imposed reflecting the severity of such crimes, whereas there were more limited options in the past,” he said.

Health and Safety Executive chair Judith Hackitt said that most executives should not fear the severe punishments.

“The new Act sends out an important message to those who flout the law. However, good employers and good managers have nothing to fear,” she said. “Our enforcement policy targets those who cut corners, gain commercial advantage over competitors by failing to comply with health and safety law and who put workers and the public at risk.”

The possibility of individuals being imprisoned for health and safety offences is a significant and worrying development, particularly for company directors and managers.

The Act amends Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and will come into force in January 2009, the Government said. As well as increasing the fines available in lower courts and the number of offences for which imprisonment is an option, it also makes more offences triable in higher courts.

The Government said that the prosecution of individuals should not be “undertaken lightly”. The new rules make it even more important that companies put in place proper health and safety policies. Getting health and safety right is now more important than ever and there are some important precautionary measures which should be taken to reduce exposure to these increased penalties.

Nursery committed to safety, following two incidents

Parents of youngsters at a Norfolk nursery have been assured it is committed to the safety of children, despite two incidents which have sparked concerns and official investigations.

Local people were shocked when a two-year-old girl escaped from the nursery and was found wandering on the busy road outside.  Then it was revealed that at the same nursery just weeks earlier, a one-year-old baby boy was scalded by a cup of hot drink.

Officials are undertaking a “thorough review” of provision following the two incidents.  A spokesman has said: “It is deeply regrettable that there have been two incidents at the day care section of the centre in such close succession, and we apologies to the children and families concerned.”

Two members of staff had been suspended while investigations continued into the scalding incident.  The nursery’s safety record in the past has been good and it remains committed to ensuring the health and safety of the children in its care.

Parents admitted they were shocked, but said it was unexpected at a centre known to be “hot on security”.  A mother of a three-year-old girl at the nursery, said: “It’s concerning to hear and you wouldn’t expect it. The security is quite good. You have to ring a bell to get in. I’ll still be taking her there. I’ve not heard any bad things about the place before.”

Another mum who has a son at the nursery, said: “I’ve every confidence in them. They’re hot on security. They won’t let anybody go unless they are with their own mum and dad. The chairman of the School governors said: “Everyone at the school is devastated by the news that a child managed to leave the nursery building. We would all like to offer our sincere apologies to the family.  While we await the outcome of the investigation we’ve taken a number of measures to even further enhance the security.”

At Norfolk County Council, the head of early years, childcare and extended schools services, said: “A thorough review of provision at the children’s centre is under way following these two separate incidents and we will be working with the school and children’s centre to ensure that health and safety policy is being fully followed.”

Health and safety arrangements in schools and nurseries were “robust” and the council offered advice and support where necessary.

Each setting has its own health and safety policy in place and Ofsted carry out regular unannounced inspections of early years providers. We will be reissuing guidance to childcare settings to ensure they are following the latest advice.

Hotel gas safety breach leads to negligence trial for Thomas Cook staff

Two Thomas Cook employees will face a trial over the deaths of two British children during a holiday in Corfu , judges have ruled after turning down an appeal for the charges to be dropped.

Health and safety inspector Richard Carson and holiday representative Nicola Gibson will now face charges of negligence.

The appeal against the charges was made by the District Attorney of the Corfu Appeal Court , who proposed that legal action against the Thomas Cook staff should not go ahead as they were not responsible for the accident.

However, Corfu ‘s senior council of judges decided they should be tried after ruling they should not have relied on assurances by the Corcyra Beach Hotel that its gas system was safe.

Robert and Christianne Shepherd, six and seven respectively, died in October 2006 after carbon monoxide leaked into the air conditioning system from a faulty gas boiler at the hotel. The children’s father and his partner were also hospitalised by the incident.

A spokesman for Thomas Cook said: “Even though the District Attorney’s appeal has not been upheld, we continue to support and stand by the two people concerned and believe they will be vindicated when the case is heard.”

Schools Too Cool On Duty Of Care

Secondary schools are being targeted to ensure they discharge a proper duty of care in relation to the health & safety of students on work placements.

A campaign is being launched that involves targeting all 7,500 secondary schools and local education authorities across the UK with an information pack on the issue.

The Education (Work Experience) Act 1996 requires that every student undertake at least one week of curriculum-based workplace activity before leaving school.

In doing so, each secondary school working with year-10 and year-11 students have a legal ‘duty of care’ for their welfare when seconded to a work placement.

Already, most schools will be requesting to see the health & safety documentation of an organisation before allowing their student to begin a work experience placement there.

Schools often believe that a talk in assembly on health & safety is due diligence when it comes to preparing their students. It’s not, and in the event of an accident the liability lies with the senior members of staff at the school, not the student.

Schools are required to have in place legally enforceable control measures to ensure that all students have sufficient health & safety awareness prior to entering the workplace.

Examples of areas of health & safety awareness would include fire safety, manual handling and workstation setup and posture.

Safety Breaches Being Ignored By Most Employees

Less than a third of people would blow the whistle on their employer if they broke health & safety laws.

A recent poll commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) found that only 28% of people would report their company or organisation to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) if it was in breach of health & safety legislation.

The survey, of 1,332 employed people from across Britain, found that:

  • 35% would report their line manager or supervisor to their boss if they felt there was a risk they or a colleague could get hurt at work
  • 74% would tell their line manager or supervisor if they felt there was a risk they or a colleague could get hurt at work
  • 50% would tell their colleagues if they felt there was a risk they or a colleague could get hurt at work.
  • Worryingly, 5% said they wouldn’t do any one of these.

The poll revealed that few people know the true picture of workplace accidents in the UK. In 2006 – 2007, 247 people were killed and 274,000 were injured at work. However, two-thirds of a parallel survey of 1,291 people significantly underestimated the number injured at work in a single year. The majority believed the figure was below 100,000, with the largest group opting for between 1,000 and 50,000 injuries.

he fact that more than two-thirds of people said they wouldn’t blow the whistle on their employer for doing something illegal suggests a few things. It could be that people are very loyal to their employers or, more likely, that they’re scared of the consequences if they get found out having told. It’s also quite possible that people don’t know how to report to the HSE.

It does seem fairly clear though, that most people trust their line manager or supervisor to sort out health & safety problems for them. That’s why it’s imperative managers understand health & safety and have the authority to deal with potential hazards. We must also do more to educate young workers, as the poll showed that almost a third of 18 – 24 year olds didn’t know who to go to for health & safety advice at work.

Blowing the whistle on employers isn’t something to be done lightly, but if your employer won’t act and you’re genuinely concerned for your own or others’ safety, it’s certainly not something you should be afraid of doing.

Employers Beware – Big Risks From Driving At Work

Driving is the most dangerous work activity that most people do.  Research indicates that about 20 people are killed and 250 seriously injured every week in road traffic accidents involving someone who was driving, riding or otherwise using the road for work / business purposes.

Health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities and the risks should be assessed and managed within a health & safety system.

It is therefore necessary for employers to assess the risks involved in their staff’s use of the road for work and put in place all reasonably practicable measures to manage those risks.  It is not required for an organisation to consider the risks associated with commuting, unless the employee is travelling from their home to a location which is not their usual place of work.

It is also worth noting that in the case of a worst case scenario, where a road traffic accident results in a fatality, recent changes in the law mean that where the accident has been caused by an avoidable distraction, the driver and / or employer will now face a lengthy prison sentence, rather than just a fine.

Avoidable distractions which courts will consider when sentencing motorists who have killed include:

  • using a mobile phone (talking or texting);
  • eating or drinking
  • applying make-up
  • anything else which takes their attention away from the road and which a court judges to have been an avoidable distraction.

This is relevant to an organisation in that it’s important that such distractions can’t be attributed to the employer of a driver, for example if the driver felt they had to use their phone for business purposes while driving, or even if their work schedule didn’t allow them sufficient time to stop and eat.  In a worst case scenario, the employer could be standing alongside the individual driver, facing sentencing in court.

A driving at work policy should be put in place, to include daily / weekly and periodic checks of company cars (or privately owned cars used for business purposes) including tyre pressure, windscreen wipers & washers and body work.  Weekly checks should also be made for levels of oil and water, as well as break lights and other lights.

Employees driving for business should also submit their driving licence on a 6-monthly basis, as well as service records for privately owned cars used for business purposes, insurance (specifying business use) and MOT where applicable on an annual basis.

It would also be prudent for employers to consider the further driving related hazard of road rage, and consider whether it is reasonable to enrol their employees on an advanced and defensive driving course.

For many employees driving for business, they will be alone in their vehicle for potentially long periods of time.  For this reason it is important to consider them as lone workers, and employ a suitable form of remote monitoring to ensure that if they encounter a problem of any sort, colleagues or managers are aware as quickly as possible.  Maintaining contact with an office-based colleague on a 2-hourly basis would be a reasonable way of achieving this.

It should be established if the employee driving for work suffers with any moderate to severe medical conditions which could affect their health and wellbeing, and possibly even their safety to drive for prolonged periods of time (even with breaks).  Suitable first aid kits should be present in all vehicles used for work purposes, and it should be made clear to employees that they must disclose any medical conditions on an ad-hoc basis which may effect their ability to safety drive a motor vehicle.

One area which is often overlooked in companies driving at work policies is that of eyesight.  Research has revealed that one in four motorists have a level of eyesight below the legal standard for driving, so it’s important that organisations do all they can to ensure this is not the case with staff driving on behalf of their business.

A prudent policy would be to request that all staff who drive for work have their eyes tested at least every two years, and provide confirmation that their eyesight is of a suitable standard for driving, or that corrective appliances will be worn to achieve this standard.

It is a little-known fact among motorists that some eye conditions must be reported to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). These include cataracts, glaucoma and double vision. If a company driver suffers from one of these ailments, and the DVLA is not informed, then the organisation’s motor insurance could be invalid if that driver is involved in a road accident.

One of the messages regularly hammered home on Britain ’s motorways, is the importance of taking regular breaks. Driving for long distances can be as wearing on the eyes as it is on the brain, and drivers should stop for at least a 15 minute break every two hours.

No matter what an organisation does to reduce the risk of work-related driving accidents, it will never be possible to avoid the hazard altogether.  It is therefore vital that a comprehensive Driving For Work Policy is in place, which is confirmed as received and understood by all relevant employees and signed off by the employee.

The arrival of the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 is the latest chapter in an ongoing story that stretches back decades. What the changes will achieve is to remind employers of the potentially massive financial and criminal impact of their failure to manage their occupational road risk.

Unlimited fines and the incredible disruption of a police investigation into their business at board level are a probable outcome of a fatal road traffic accident.  Not to mention the subsequent investigation by the Health & Safety Executive relative to personal liability on the part of Directors and Senior Managers.  Once the police investigation is complete, the file will be passed to the Crown Prosecution service, pending criminal charges being brought.

Driving for work must be included in the organisation’s risk assessment process, so that control measures can be identified to reduce the chances of harm occurring.  This way if harm does occur, the organisation will at least have a legal defence, and will be able to say that they did all they could to control the risk.  Employers often overlook auditing their risk assessments & policy, which should be undertaken annually.

Applicable Legislation:

  • The Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007
  • The Health and Safety At Work Etc. Act 1974
  • Management of Health & Safety At Work Regulations 1999
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998