More than half of estate agents don’t have lone worker policies

More than 50 per cent of estate agents do not have any safety policies or procedures in place for staff carrying out lone property viewings with potential buyers, a survey has revealed.

Despite all the firms that took part in the study confirming that their employees undertake lone viewings, 58 per cent of staff admitted to never receiving any specific lone worker or personal safety training.

The research was carried out by Yorkshire-based PPSS, The findings, for a 24 month period, also concluded that:

•    30 per cent of the estate agents questioned had been the victims of verbal abuse
•    Almost a quarter felt their safety was being compromised
•    53 per cent didn’t have a lone worker policy
•    16 per cent had been intimidated
•    More than one in ten had been threatened while conducting viewings

The results of the survey have come as quite a shock, particularly as most people will remember the disappearance of Suzie Lamplugh and the kidnap of Stephanie Slater, both estate agents.

“However, despite 100 per cent of those surveyed saying they and their staff met clients by themselves, less than half had ever received any safety training.

“While there is specific guidance dealing with lone working, all health and safety legislation applies equally to lone workers.

“Sadly, employers often forget their responsibilities to lone workers, particularly in respect of issues such as risk assessment. It is the employer’s duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risk where necessary.”

Co-op fined 210,000 pounds after fire safety breaches

The Co-operative Group – the UK’s largest mutual retailer – has been fined £210,000 after pleading guilty to six breaches of fire safety legislation at Southampton Crown Court yesterday.

It follows an investigation in 2007 at one of the Co-op’s Southampton branches. Officers from Hampshire Fire and Rescue found that the store had failed to keep the rear emergency exit doors unlocked, and had fitted a lock on the exit doors that required a security code – making the exit harder to open in an emergency. In addition, the fire alarm call point was found to be obstructed and the alarm had not been tested regularly, while the store’s manager was not instructed in fire safety.

The prosecution under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority also took into account three other offences at other Co-op premises in Southampton and Portsmouth.

A spokeswoman for the Co-operative Group said: “As a responsible retailer, the Co-operative Group takes health and safety issues very seriously. At the time of these incidents, the Group was introducing substantially more stringent health and safety procedures, investing heavily, both in time and money, in all aspects of fire safety.

“The Co-operative Group deeply regrets the breaches but reiterates that its rigorous measures, now established and continually reviewed in conjunction with fire authorities across the country, ensure the safety of its valued customers and staff.”

In 2007, the Co-operative Group was fined what was then believed to be a record £250,000 for 13 offences under the previous Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations in six stores in East Sussex.

Acquittal Of Teacher

Following last week’s acquittal of teacher, Peter Harvey, on the charge of attempted murder, teaching union NASUWT has warned that more needs to be done to recognise and support teachers with mental health problems.

Peter Harvey used a 3kg dumbbell to attack a 14-year-old pupil who had goaded him. The boy suffered a fractured skull. Last week mobile phone footage of the incident from another pupil’s phone was released.

Mr Harvey was cleared of attempted murder but pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm. He will be sentenced on 21 May. Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“The NASUWT is relieved on the behalf of Mr Harvey and his family that he has been acquitted of the most serious charges lodged against him.

“Mr Harvey had accepted from the outset that that he caused the pupil concerned grievous bodily harm. However, as the court heard, and the jury has now determined, there was no intent to cause any harm to any pupil in the class.

“The incident arose out of an explosive combination of events, a teacher who was in a fragile state of health and a group of pupils who recognised this and decided to exploit it.

“Any teacher who has had to deal with challenging and disruptive pupils will recognise, that given the combination of factors that applied in this case, how such a situation can easily spiral out of control.

“There are clearly lessons to be learned from this case. “Employers need to be far more sophisticated in recognising and supporting teachers with mental health problems. The NASUWT will be pressing the Government to look at the whole issue of sickness absence policies and the quality of support teachers are receiving.

“Pupils with a history of disruptive behaviour were a significant element in this case. How school behaviour policies and procedures deal with such behaviour needs to be reviewed.

“Once again inappropriate use of mobile technology in the hands of pupils raises its head and was a catalyst for a large part of the behaviour. Pupils were clearly playing to the camera.

“The NASUWT has welcomed guidance already issued on the use of mobile technology but it is clear all of this needs to be revisited in the light of this and other similar cases.”

Body found after Harrogate hotel blaze

Yorkshire firefighters have found a body following a serious fire at the Majestic hotel in Harrogate.

Around 24 staff and 130 guests were evacuated after fire alarms went off at 5am yesterday morning. The identity of the victim, who was found on the fifth floor of the hotel, has not yet been confirmed but is believed to be a member of the hotel’s staff.

At an earlier press conference at nearby Cairns Hotel, which has also taken in guests following their evacuation, North Yorkshire police superintendent, Ken McIntosh, said: “At this stage the cause of the fire is not known and a full examination of the scene will be carried out by fire investigators and police. It is too early to say if there are any suspicious circumstances.

“There is one person, a member of hotel staff, unaccounted for; enquiries are currently ongoing to locate the man. Until it is safe to enter the building and the area of the fire, we will not be in a position to confirm any casualties.

Around 90 firefighters attended the blaze at its height, using 16 appliances and three special aerial appliances.

A joint police and fire investigation is to take place.

Community service sentence for fire safety breach landlord

A landlord who pleaded guilty to five offences under fire safety legislation has been ordered to carry out 120 hours of unpaid community service.

Esther Bartlett, of Plymstock, was also ordered to pay a total of £6,929 in costs by Plymouth Magistrates Court on 19 April.

The service was alerted to suspected breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order by a housing officer in June 2009. An audit was then carried out and the residents told to move out of the flats the same day, after it was found the premises did not have adequate fire alarms, firefighting equipment or emergency lighting.

In the same week, another landlord was sentenced at Plymouth Magistrates Court and ordered to pay £2,549 in costs and a fine of £3,500.

Philip Penprase pleaded guilty to three offences under the Fire Safety Order on 22 April, following investigations at his property in the Stoke area of Plymouth in June 2009.

Lincoln College Fined

Lincoln College has today been fined £1,500 after a window cleaner fell four metres – suffering broken ribs and a serious back injury.

James Theaker, 50, from Lincoln, was employed by A Nicoll & Son Ltd, when he was contracted to clean windows at Lincoln College, Monks Road in the city on 4 November 2008.

Mr Theaker accessed the roof of the main reception building using a ladder and leaned against the building to clean nearby windows, when he fell.
He spent a week in hospital and was forced to stay off work for months. Even now he can only carry out restricted duties.

Lincoln College pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court today for failing to conduct a sufficient risk assessment. As well as the fine, the college was also ordered to pay £9,500 towards prosecution costs.

A Nicoll & Son Ltd, of Crofton Drive, Allenby Road Industrial Estate was prosecuted in October 2009 by HSE after pleading guilty for its role in the incident and was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay costs of £2,948.20.

Following the hearing, HSE Inspector Judith McNulty-Green said:
“Mr Theaker has suffered life-changing injuries as a result of his fall. Lincoln College had a legal duty to check its contractors had proper procedures in place but failed to do so.

“Every month more than a thousand people suffer serious injuries as a result of slips, trips and falls in the workplace. These shattering injuries can be avoided by sensible and proportionate assessment of the risks, but sadly that was not done in this case.

“Employers and organisations that hire contract staff have a joint responsibility to ensure the safety of all staff who work on site, to avoid serious incidents such as this.”

Woman was crushed to death by falling lift

Two companies have each been fined £233,000 after a woman was crushed to death by a lift at a health club in central London.

Southwark Crown Court heard that Katarzyna Woja, 32, was stepping out of a lift at the Holmes Place health club in the Broadgate complex, when the incident took place on 12 March 2003.

As Ms Woja was leaving the lift, she became trapped in between the doors as they closed. The elevator suddenly dropped, which caused her to be crushed against the wall of the lift shaft. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Following an investigation, City of London environmental health officers were unable to establish a reason for why the lift had dropped. But it is believed there was either a hydraulic problem, or the lift’s mechanisms froze or crashed.

The court heard that the lift had dropped the day before the incident and an engineer was called to inspect the fault. The prosecution confirmed there were 41 separate call-0outs to the lift between January 2002 and March 2003.

Holmes Places Health Clubs Ltd appeared in court on 14 May and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, and reg.5 of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998, for failing to protect people being trapped or crushed by the lift. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay £170,000 in costs.

The lift manufacturer Thyssen Krupp Elevator UK appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was ordered to pay £205,000 in costs.

Judge Debora Taylor said the accident was “highly foreseeable” and was due to “the complacency of both defendants.” She added: “There was no proper system of work for highlighting failures and the lift should have been taken out of service until the fault was identified.”

City of London director of environmental services, Philip Everett, said: “Both companies were guilty of not ensuring that their employees and their agents were fully aware of the consequences of failing in their responsibilities to manage and maintain the lift. In not dealing with the lift’s well-established erratic, and ultimately deadly, operation, the situation was allowed to go unchecked for many, many months. Employees and contractors simply went about their work unsupervised.“Health and safety management is about both making sure the right checks and balances are in place and that they are actually working. Tragically, for the deceased and for her family, in this case they clearly were not.”