Housing association ordered to pay £135,000 after fatal scalding

A social landlord located in Birmingham has been fined £100,000 after a man was scalded in a bath at a hostel. The victim died in hospital from his injuries.

The Recorder of Birmingham, Judge William Davis QC, found there had been a level of shortcomings that would have justified a higher fine of £300,000 if the Midland Heart had been a for-profit organization.

At a hearing held on October the 5th, the Birmingham Crown Court heard that the victim, Anthony Ironmonger, 75 years, died due to burns suffered in a bath at the city’s Summer Hill House hostel. Mr. Ironmonger had gone to the hostel’s communal bath area and locked the door. He ran the hot tap, which dispensed water at a temperature of 60-65C. Mr. Irongmonger’s back, shoulders, buttocks, upper thighs and both feet were scalded after coming into contact with the water. A total of 40 per cent of his total body area was burned in the incident. Ironmonger passed away in hospital on December the 17th. The official cause of death was multi-organ failure; this was caused by his injuries.

The incident was the second one involving a person being scalded in a bath at a property owned by the non-profit organisation. Another victim, Kevin Clarke, sustained burns at the Snow Hill hostel on the 24th August 2008. Aged 43 years at the time of the incident, he was treated at hospital and discharged.

Birmingham City Council brought the prosecution. Midland Heart is the largest housing group in the Midlands. The organisation admitted to two breaches of s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 for failing to ensure the water-outlet temperature had been properly controlled to avoid scalding.

A fine of £80,000 was levied against the housing association in the case of Mr. Ironmonger. An additional fine of £20,000 was ordered in the case of Mr. Clarke. The housing association was also ordered to pay an additional £35,000 in agreed costs.

Midland Heart stated to the court that it accepted its failings in this matter and it apologised to the two victims’ families. It also said that it had invested considerable amounts of money to deal with the defects in its hostels to lower the risk of scalding injuries, including a thermostatic mixer valve on the baths being used in its housing stock.

The chair of the public protection committee at Birmingham Council, Councillor Neil Eustace stated: “These incidents were completely avoidable and we want to ensure this doesn’t happen again by working with all residential homes and hostels to make sure they have a thermostatic-control system in place.”

Fire safety for government HQ focus of scrutiny

The office of the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for fire safety legislation in England and Wales, is being scrutinized after an incident where glazing allegedly gave way in the atrium of the building.

In 2010, info4fire reported that Eland House in Westminster was the object of enforcement action in February of that year. Inspectors dispatched to the location had observed several breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. The breaches should have been dealt with by June 2010, according to a statement made by Bob Neill, the Fire Minister.

According to a report released last week, a source indicated that the building had two hundred faults, and many of these were described as being “significant”. The report also claims that a repeat instance of the building’s glazing falling away occurred recently. The incident, which took place on a weekend, required a prompt inspection that identified further weaknesses.

DCLG stated they were unable to state whether the failed glazing had been linked to fire safety concerns. The spokesperson confirmed that no enforcement action has been taken or was being considered by the Crown Premises Inspection Group. This decision is in contrast to the actions taken last year. “DCLG commissioned a fire risk assessment (FRA) for Eland House in 2010 using an external specialist to ensure a competent review of fire management systems, he stated. “All actions raised within this FRA have subsequently been addressed. A subsequent risk assessment, carried out in May 2011 by a different external specialist identified further items for action and additional recommendations. The department is currently addressing each of these items with only five of 22 actions remaining. The department is currently working with its facilities management supplier to ensure the remaining items are completed in a cost effective manner.”

Stress main reason for long-term sickness absence

According to the latest survey released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), stress is now at the top of the list of reasons for long-term sickness absence amongst manual and non-manual workers. The stress experienced by manual workers is now responsible for more long-term absences than musculoskeletal problems. Stress is now ahead of acute medical conditions with non-manual staff.

The results of the survey also indicated that job security and mental health problems are related. Over 50 per cent of employers that are planning to decrease their workforce in the next six months reported that mental health problems among staff were higher. For firms not planning redundancies, mental health issues were only reported by one-third of respondents.

Companies planning redundancies also reported higher rates of presenteeism, to the tune of 32 per cent, as opposed to 27 per cent for companies not planning redundancies. The responding companies, which noted higher presenteeism, were more likely to report an increase in stress-related absences among workers during the same period. A full 49 per cent reported this was the case in their organizations, as opposed to 33 per cent who did not report an increase in workers coming in even when ill.

About half of public sector organisations reported higher numbers of stress-related absences and a number of respondents indicated organisational change and restructuring, including job losses, as the main source of stress on the job. Job insecurity is a common cause of work-related stress in the public sector according to the survey (24 per cent), compared with the previous year’s numbers (10 per cent).

CIPD advisor Dr Jill Miller stated: “Stress is a particular challenge in the public sector, where the sheer amount of major change and restructuring would appear to be the root cause. To a large degree, managing stress is about effective leadership and people management, particularly during periods of major change and uncertainty. Line managers need to focus on regaining the trust of their employees and openly communicating throughout the change process to avoid unnecessary stress and potential absences. They also need to be able to spot the early signs of people being under excessive pressure, or having difficulty coping at work, and to provide appropriate support.”

Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, said that too many employers fail to appreciate the effects of stress on workers. “These figures show that the cuts, job losses, restructurings and pay inequalities are having more than just an economic effect,” he explained. “They are having a serious impact on people’s health. Unfortunately, there is still a tendency among many employers to think of it as ‘just stress’ but this is a real issue, which can devastate people’s lives and tear apart families.”

More than 29 per cent of respondents – including more than two-fifths in the public sector – said they have addressed the issue of employee health and well-being, as it pertains to uncertain economic conditions.

Tea urn incident leads to fines for football club and catering manager

The former catering manager of the Barnet Football Club and the organization itself, have been fined £13,000 after an incident where a teenage worker was burned in an accident.

Barnet FC Ltd. and its former catering manager, Allan Collinge, entered a plea of guilty at Hendon Magistrates’ Court to health and safety violations that resulted in a young girl being scalded. The severe injury occurred in a tea hut located at the Underhill ground, when a leaking tea urn containing boiling water was dropped.

The victim, Charlotte Lytton, was 17 years old when the accident occurred in November 2008. She sustained serious injuries to her arm, lower legs and feet.

The court heard testimony that the teenager was getting ready for work in the hut while two co-workers tried to move the urn, which was obstructing a service hatch. When the urn was moved, boiling water leaked out of the unit onto the two young men, who could not hold it. The urn fell onto the floor, resulting in the water being poured onto Ms. Lytton. She slipped and fell while trying to get out of the area, which led to more serious burns.

At the hearing, Barnet FC admitted that as an employer it had failed in its duty to take reasonable measures to protect its employees at Underhill Stadium. The company was fined £6,000. It was also ordered to pay an additional £5,000 because it had also failed to properly determine the potential risk to the health and safety of its workers. The Club’s former catering manager, Allan Collinge, was ordered to pay £2,000, as well as £535 in costs. He admitted to breaching the provisions of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself or others.

Cabinet Member for Safety and Resident Engagement, Councillor David Longstaff, stated: “This is the second health and safety prosecution brought by the council this year which has involved a young person being injured while at work. I hope that these sentences will serve as a powerful reminder to employers about the paramount importance of doing all they can to ensure the safety of staff, and in particular the safety of their younger employees.”

Following the sentencing Charlotte’s father Steve said: “We want to express our relief that Barnet Football Club Ltd has been held to account for the health and safety breaches that led to Charlotte’s injuries. Charlotte was just 17 at the time of the accident, and although her scars are a constant reminder of that day, she is moving forward with her life and wishes to make no further comment at this stage.”

Directors that fail to protect well-being should be disqualified

The Liberal Democrats have released a new policy paper calling for employers who fail to protect their employees’ well-being to be disqualified. The disqualification would be similar to the way companies are dealt with for financial impropriety. This measure would be used for “serious failures.”

The policy paper, entitled, A New Purpose for Politics: Quality of Life, states that employers should take measures to improve the workplace. Their success is measured through employee satisfaction. The paper also states that employers should be prepared to offer flexible working to employees.

The paper states: ”We do not believe it is for government to set targets for employers to meet these challenges, but we do believe it is a liberal approach for employers to provide information on them. By 2014, the 9,000 or so large organisations which together employ 50% of the UK workforce should report on employee satisfaction and the extent of flexible working.”

Simon Hughes, Deputy Liberal Democrat leader and the person who released the report, said: “In the UK we have one of the most unequal distributions of work in the developed world. Almost four out of every ten men and nearly one out of every eight women work more than 45-hours a week – more than twice as many as our western European neighbours. This is a particular problem in the financial sector and at the top of large businesses, where many people work extremely long hours accumulating huge amounts of money, which they barely have the time to spend. At the same time we also have one of the highest rates of people who work less than 20-hours a week. It is simply not justifiable or sane for so many to be so overworked when even more young, and the not so young, are standing by with no productive work to do.”

Check your flood risk, EA urges business owners

The Environmental Agency (EA) has announced that a high number of properties located in the areas with the highest risk of flooding have been added to its free national flood warning service. The Agency is still advising property and business owners to check their local flood risk and to sign up for the free river or coastal flood warnings. According to the EA, one in six properties in the country are at risk for damage from flooding. The number of homes and businesses already signed up for the EA’s free flood warning service has risen to 1.1 million from 300,000 in 2008. The percentage of properties in high-risk areas, which are already signed up, is sitting at close to 60 per cent. This is a significant increase from 2008, when the percentage of homes signed up was 14 per cent.

The organisation made the decision to extend its flood warning service on the recommendation of the Pitt Review, conducted after the floods that occurred in the summer of 2007. The EA has indicated that it will continue expanding the eligible areas of the country that can register for the flood warning service.

Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Dr Paul Leinster, stated: “Many communities are at lower risk of flooding from rivers and the sea as a result of major improvements to defences. We’ve completed more than 300 new flood schemes since 2008, increasing protection to more than 182,000 households. We continue to reduce flood risk through better flood warnings and improved plans to respond when flooding does occur. However, the reality is that flooding can’t be totally prevented. More people are becoming aware of the risks a flood might pose. Everyone should check the Environment Agency’s website to see if their house is in a flood risk area and to find out what simple steps they can take to prepare for flooding, such as signing up for free river and sea flood warnings.”

Richard Benyon, the Floods Minister, said: “We want to reduce the threat of flooding and the anxiety it brings for as many people as we can. An easy way to improve your flood protection is to be better prepared, which is why I encourage those at risk to continue to sign up for the Environment Agency’s free flood warnings.”

Retailer does not apologise after £1m for asbestos risk fine

On September the 27th Marks & Spencer expressed its disappointment at being fined £1 million for exposing its staff and customers to asbestos at its store in Broad Street, Reading.

The Bournemouth Crown Court handed down the sentence to the retailer and two of its contractors. The charges stemmed from refurbishment work performed in 2006 and 2007 at the Reading store as well as a store located in Commercial Road, Bournemouth.

In addition to the fine the company was ordered to pay court costs of £600,000, since it was found guilty of breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974. The company was charged with failing to protect its staff and customers at the Reading store from the risk of exposure to asbestos between the 24th April and the 13th November 2006. M&S was acquitted of four other charges relating to conditions at its Bournemouth store, as well as a store in Plymouth.

The three-month trial concluded in July at Winchester Crown Court. It heard that the company did not allocate sufficient time and space for removing asbestos from its store in Reading. The contractors working on the site were to work overnight to remove small pockets of asbestos before the shop opened to the public each day.

The HSE put forward that M&S did not ensure that the work was performed according to the required standards. M&S did provide own guidance on how asbestos should be removed inside its stores. Contractors did not follow these procedures carefully during the store refurbishment.

The contractor at the Reading Store, Styles & Wood Ltd, admitted that it had used a method of asbestos removal that did not seal the area properly, resulting in risk to contractors working on site. The contractor was fined £100,000 plus costs of £40,000, after entering a guilty plea to contravening sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974.

PA Realisations Ltd (formerly Pectel Ltd), another contractor, was found guilty of contravening reg.15 of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 by failing to reduce to a minimum the spread of asbestos to the Reading shop floor between the 5th of May and the 12th November 2006.

A witness called to testify at the hearing said that areas which had been cleaned by the company were re-contaminated when air moved through the void between the ceiling tiles and the floor above, as well as by the company’s shoddy work standards. The company, which had been based in Manchester, went into administration in December 2008 and is awaiting dissolution: it was fined £200.

Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd, of Hertfordshire, the principal contactor of the store, was fined £50,000, plus costs of £75,000 for breaches of sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974 committed between the 5th and 28th of February 2007.

The court also heard that M&S also failed to plan, manage and monitor the removal of asbestos-containing materials appropriately. It did not take steps to prevent the possibility of asbestos being disturbed by its workers in areas that had not been surveyed extensively. Willmott Dixon Construction is applying to appeal its conviction.

When handing down the sentence, Judge Christopher Harvey Clark QC commented: “The response from Marks & Spencer was, in effect, to turn a blind eye to what was happening. . . it was already costing the company too much money.” He added: “There was systemic failure on behalf of M&S management, and there has been no hint of a proper full apology for what happened.”

M&S released its own statement, saying: “We are very disappointed with the result of this case, as we believe that we have always acted responsibly and with a ‘safety first’ attitude. The health and safety of our employees, customers and contractors is of the utmost importance to us. We hope to continue to work closely with the HSE in the future to ensure that strict regulations and safety standards relating to asbestos are maintained.”

Richard Boland, the regulator’s southern head of operations for construction, stated: “This outcome should act as a wake-up call that any refurbishment programmes involving asbestos-containing materials must be properly resourced, both in terms of time and money – no matter what. Large retailers and other organisations who carry out major refurbishment works must give contractors enough time and space within the store to carry out the works safely. Where this is not done, and construction workers and the public are put at risk, HSE will not hesitate in taking robust enforcement action.”

In 2010, Marks & Spencer plc earned before-tax profits of £714.3 million – representing an increase of approximately 13 per cent above the previous year. In its annual report for 2011, chief finance officer Alan Stewart stated that these figures were indicative partly of the company’s focus on “building an efficient business, with prudent operating cost management”.

Health and Safety prosecutions will be resolved more quickly

The Work-Related Deaths Protocol (WRDP) will change as of October the 1st, meaning that health and safety prosecutions will be settled much more swiftly going forward. It also means that health and safety prosecutions will be held before any coroner’s inquest, which should speed up the wheels of justice for a victim’s family. As the law currently stands, health and safety charges will only be dealt with before the inquest if a manslaughter charge is being heard. Now the prosecution will proceed independently from manslaughter or homicide charges.

Richard Daniels, chair of the Work-Related Deaths National Liaison Committee (NLC) announced the changes and said: “All signatories are committed to seeking justice for bereaved family members when a work-related death has occurred and someone should be held to account. The changes will help us deliver this justice more effectively and sooner in less complex cases.”

These changes are not mandatory. Each signatory organisation has to decide how to approach implementing them. The HSE has decided to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Coroners’ Society, which outlines the parameters for cooperation that will exist between coroners and health and safety inspectors.

When determining whether to commence criminal proceedings, either before or after any inquest, the MOU indicates that the HSE will consider several issues, including:

  • Available dates for an inquest
  • The wishes of the coroner, Police, Crown Prosecution Service, as well as the bereaved family
  • Whether the investigation has complied with the WRDP
  • Whether any holding of an inquest will lead to any further information being revealed.

The MOU outlines the procedures to be taken for the disclosure of documents if the HSE decides to await the outcome of the inquest. The MOU directs the coroner to act fairly in considering what information to disclose to interested persons. This consideration will need to be balanced against any claim of prejudice put forward by the HSE.

The document notes, for example: “[The] HSE may obtain evidence to rebut potential ‘defences’ that may be raised by an employer. This evidence may not have any bearing on the death but, if disclosed, would raise a significant risk of prejudice to the criminal investigative process, which will continue after the inquest.”

Fatal ladder fall leads to fine for manager

A site manager and the bread production company that he works for have admitted that they failed to provide a safe work environment after a handyman fell off a stepladder at the premises. He sustained head injuries that proved fatal.

The Magistrates’ Court of the City of London were told that the incident happened at Ovenpride Wholesale Ltd’s bakery in Finchley Road, London on the 22nd April 2009. Amjad Mahmood, the site manager, had instructed Rocco Carofalo to build shelving in a storeroom.

Mr Carofalo was assigned to work in the storeroom on his own. Nearby staff heard a loud bang and rushed into the room, finding Carofalo lying on the floor. He was bleeding from a severe head wound and the stepladder was lying next to him. Carofalo was taken to hospital but died several weeks later as a result of his injuries.

When two inspectors from HSE visited the bakery the day after the incident, they found that the ladder was in a poor condition. The stiles on the ladder were bent and damaged. The investigation also revealed that no risk assessments had been carried out for any of the work done at the site. As a result, the inspectors issued a Prohibition Notice so that no work would be performed on the site until the safety issues had been dealt with, and the proper equipment had been provided for workers.

Amjad Mahmood was named because he was the manager responsible for safety on site. He had given Mr. Carofalo his instructions that day. Inspector Linfoot stated: “The consequences of this tragic incident will be felt by Mr Carofalo’s family for ever, but it was so easily preventable. As the risk of a fall was foreseeable, Ovenpride and its manager should have carried out a full site-specific risk assessment, and planned and organised the work to be carried out in a safe manner…where access to heights is required, even for relatively short-term work, [employers] are ultimately responsible for assessing and planning the work and ensuring that it is carried out in a safe manner using suitable access equipment.”

The company, Ovenpride Wholesale, appeared in court on the 24th August and entered a guilty plea to the charge of breaching s2(1) of the HSWA and was fined just £1 (due to the firm being in liquidation). Amjad Mahmood also attended the hearing on that day. He pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £300. Mahmood was also ordered to pay £200 in costs.

Mahmood stated that he had told staff that the ladder was not safe for use and that any work at height should be done by using a pump truck, which was on site.
He told the court that the company had failed to provide him with proper support, or training. Mahmood entered an early guilty plea and he expressed his regret for the role he played in the incident.