Employers could end up in the dock if staff use mobiles when driving

The case of Labour peer Lord Ahmet, who was sentenced to a 12-week jail term for killing another driver in a road accident after sending a text message, has put more pressure on employers to make it clear to fleet drivers not to use mobile phones while at the wheel.

Employers have been warned to remember laws are ‘tighter and more prescriptive’ and if they do not make the rules of the road clear to staff, they could end up in the dock under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007.

In the event of an accident involving any employee who is on a journey commissioned by their employer, the employer could be judged to have failed in their duty of care if the staff member has an accident because they were using a mobile phone – even a hands-free set.

In a case like this, the employer will be called to court to prove they had procedures in place to warn staff drivers not to use mobile phones and to comply with health and safety regulations. Although it lies with the employee to follow the rules of the road, the employer must have a correct safety policy in place. They must have rigorous rules on mobile phones.

Health Risk From Office Water Coolers

Many of us could have a contaminated water supply lurking in our place of work, according to recent research carried out in Britain.  The research has shown that as many as one in four water coolers could be a haven for harmful bacteria, in fact 26% of those tested failed to meet safety and hygiene standards.

The survey showed that nine out of the 52 samples from plumbed-in coolers and 14 out of the 35 from bottle-supplied coolers failed because of bacterial contamination.

Samples were taken from offices, schools, leisure centres and care homes.  While all the water passed tests for chemical contamination, a surprising number were found to contain unsafe levels of harmful bacteria.

40% of Bottle-fed coolers were failed checks by health and safety officers while plumbed-in water coolers were less likely to be contaminated, with one in six not meeting standards.

The types of bacteria found have the potential to lead to illness, particularly for vulnerable groups.  While there are legal regulations in place for bottled water, these are applicable at time of bottling and there is no legislation specifically for plumbed-in water coolers.

Firemans Lift Not Guaranteed for “The Disabled”


Since the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the responsibility to put facilities and procedures in place to ensure safe emergency evacuation of the Disabled from working environments has been placed upon the shoulders of business owners, managers and controllers of property.

Historically, for an Employer occupying all or part of a building on multiple levels, it will have been acceptable to rely on fire fighters to assist in the evacuation of Disabled persons from a designated safe haven.

It is however, no longer acceptable to rely on fire fighters to assist in this way.  When fire fighters arrive onsite at a burning building, the best case scenario is for them to be able to enter the building with their top priority being to start tackling the fire.

If there are Disabled persons still in the building, then the fire fighters will have to enter the building with their top priority being to assist in the evacuation, which could potentially endanger the life of the fire fighter, and delay tackling the fire.

The fire brigade will however, not guarantee to rescue particularly if it means endangering the life of a fire fighter. It is also likely that the Fire Brigade will apply a punitive charge in the region of £500 per person to evacuate Disabled persons from a building.

With the onus on business owners and managers to put procedures in place, there are a number of acceptable options which will hopefully mean that all persons will be safely evacuated by the time fire fighters arrive.  If there is a fire safe lift in the building, then this may be designated as a means of escape for persons who are not able to safely evacuate via the stairs. An alternative and acceptable option is to provide an evacuation chair.

Evacuation chairs are not cheap, and also require operators to be trained in their safe use.  In cases where more than one company occupies a building, the cost of the chair may be shared between the occupants, and the chair should be kept on the top floor, available for use from any of the floors as required.

Fire safety within commercial premises is 100% down to the fire risk assessment, which is required to be in formal, written format for all employers and controllers of property with five or more employees.  Even if an organisation currently has no physically impaired persons employed, it is still necessary to provide for the safe evacuation of any such persons from the building as Disabled visitors may be present or Ambulant users as a consequence of an accident or injury (e.g. from a skiing trip).

High-street retailer failed to enforce lift-riding ban

A Marks and Spencer employee had part of a toe amputated after his foot was crushed by a scissor lift.

Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court heard that Timothy Page was working at an M&S warehouse when the accident occurred on 5 March 2007. He was attempting to use a scissor lift to bring a waste receptacle into the warehouse from the yard.

Mr Page put the load in position and then stepped on to the platform and told a colleague to operate the lift. While the scissor lift was ascending, from yard level up into the loading bay, his left foot became trapped in a recess, and it was crushed as the lift continued to ascend. He was rushed to hospital where, owing to the severity of the injury, doctors were forced to amputate the tip of his big toe.

Investigators from Milton Keynes Council found that the lift was missing a gate plate, which had created the recess. Council environmental health officer, Martin Brown, who investigated the case, said that “This accident would not have occurred if the company and, consequently, management had ensured that the lift was used for ‘goods only’ as designated. Also, the company should have maintained the lift in an efficient state and in good condition. The combination of poorly-maintained equipment, inadequate pre-use checks, and a written rule that was not enforced directly resulted in this preventable accident.”

M&S appeared in court on 30 January and pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) and section 33(1)(a) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Magistrates fined the firm £20,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £11,113.

M&S now offers operational training to staff who use scissor lifts, and it now supervises these operations to ensure that no staff ride on the lifts.

Summing up, the magistrates’ chair, Marie Brock, stated: “M&S failed to carry out a proper risk assessment and to display the correct signage to warn employees that riding on the lifts is prohibited.”

Nursery Fined For Outing Negligence

A group of 20 children, from Clockwork Day Nursery were taken on an outing to StamfordPark, Ashton-under-Lyne on 7 June 2006. The children, aged between four and 11, were taken to the park by four nursery staff, one of whom was a female worker who had not been cleared to work with children. One of the children had special needs and required one-to-one care.

The children were left to play without supervision and ran out of sight of the staff. A number of the children wandered off into some bushes and came across a water spillway, which was channelling water from a nearby reservoir. The spillway is protected by a two-foot wall on each side and some of the children stepped down into the waterway in order to cross to the other side.

One of the children was attempting to cross the water, when he slipped on some algae and was swept 24 metres to the bottom of the spillway and became impaled on a branch in his stomach.

HSE inspector Catherine Willars said that some of the children ran back to inform the nursery staff about the accident but the staff didn’t believe them and ignored their warning. A passer-by found the boy and carried him back to level ground before calling for an ambulance. The nursery staff only became aware that the boy was actually injured when the ambulance arrived. The boy was rushed to hospital where he underwent surgery. He was fortunate that the branch had not pierced any vital organs.

Willars also said that Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC), which managed the park, had an obligation to protect children from hazards. She also revealed the council was issued with an Improvement Notice after the accident, which ordered it to erect fencing around the spillway in order to prevent children from gaining access to the water.

Clockwork Day Nursery Ltd pleaded guilty at Trafford Magistrates’ Court on 17 January 2008 to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg.3(1) of the MHSWR 1999. The company was fined a total of £21,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6779. The nursery appealed against the sentence but the decision was upheld at Manchester Crown Court on 26 January this year.

Tameside MBC pleaded guilty to breaching both regulations at the same Crown Court hearing and was fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay £23,565 costs.

In mitigation, Clockwork Day Nursery said that the incident occurred at a time when all four members of its senior management were absent due to exceptional circumstances. This had left it short-staffed and without anyone present who was properly trained or knowledgeable enough to carry out a risk assessment during the trip.

The council said that it deeply regretted the incident and has responded to the terms of the Improvement Notice by erecting a fence around the spillway to prevent children from being able to gain access.

Inspector Willars said: “These cases are not about stopping children having fun. However, there is an obligation to protect vulnerable people from dangers. This was a serious incident, which resulted in a child receiving horrific abdominal injuries. It could have easily been avoided had simple and sensible precautions been taken by the nursery and the council.

The nursery did not carry out a sufficient risk assessment for the outing and failed to ensure that the injured child was not put at risk. Supervision is critical and should reflect the needs of the party, the activities being carried out, the age and ability range of the children, and the risks of the location.

Firm fined for lift maintenance failure

A London property management agency has been prosecuted by a local authority for failing to maintain lifts at two commercial buildings. The firm pleaded guilty to breaching section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,338.

In October 2006, City of London’s environmental services received two statutory reports from an insurance firm that had carried out inspections on lifts at two properties managed by the agency. The reports noted that defects on both lifts, which had been highlighted during a previous inspection, had not been rectified, with the condition of both lifts having deteriorated further since that time.

The previous inspection had been carried out six months earlier and noted that one of the lift’s had a splintered gear rope, which would prevent the lift from locking if the main rope was broken. The other lift had a mechanical failure to an exterior landing door that was located on the fourth floor. This meant that the exterior doors could be manually opened and would allow direct access to the lift shaft.

Inspectors began their investigation in January 2007 and found that the firm had failed to carry out regular bi-annual inspections between 2005 and 2007. Investigators also discovered that the company had notified its contractors about defects found during inspections in March and April 2005, but had failed to check if these repairs had been carried out.

This case highlights the importance of ensuring that organisations have procedures in place to effectively monitor and review the work of their contractors. It’s a common misunderstanding that the employment of contractors to undertake lift maintenance work absolves the duty-holder of its responsibility under health and safety legislation.

It is not sufficient for an organisation to effect regular inspections on lifts, without ensuring that any known defects have been remedied.  Failure to do so could result in potentially dangerous situations where both employees and members of the public are unknowingly exposed to serious risks.

In mitigation, the firm entered an early guilty plea and told the court that it has subsequently invested in an electronic system to monitor failures on its lifts. It has also put in place a new system of work to ensure that all defective lifts are put out of service as soon as faults are discovered.