Are your apprentices in safe hands?

When company bosses and managers have worked in a profession for years it’s natural that large parts of their day-to-day work become second nature.

Decades of experience can become ingrained and as long as this is complemented by ongoing training to ensure you’re continuing to meet the latest rules and regulations it can be invaluable to an organisation.

However, it can sometimes blind bosses and managers to the potential pitfalls and hazards that younger members of their team may be facing. When you’ve worked in a job for a long time the safe way of doing things can seem so obvious that it can be difficult to remember the correct way of working may not always be clear to trainees and apprentices who are at the beginning of their careers.

We were recently reminded of the potential perils apprentices can face by two cases which were reported on by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In the first case, a manufacturing company was fined after an apprentice’s hand became caught in machinery.

Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard on 21 November 2018, a 17-year-old apprentice, who had been working at Amber Industries Limited in Oldham for 18 months, was reaming work pieces using an unguarded pillar drill whilst wearing gloves. The glove on his right hand became entangled in the drill bit resulting in three of his fingers being severed.

An investigation by the HSE found there were no guards in place to prevent access to rotating parts and that the company had failed to provide suitable information, instruction and training to the apprentice, including clear instructions not to wear gloves. They also failed to provide adequate supervision and monitoring.

Amber Industries Limited of Crompton Street, Chadderton, Oldham, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £52,500 and ordered to pay costs of £14,442.

A few days later, the HSE reported on a separate court case in which Herefordshire-based construction company, Greenway Partnership Limited, was fined after an apprentice electrician fell two metres during the demolition of part of a school premises.

Bristol Magistrates Court heard on 8 February 2018, the apprentice electrician fell from height, and suffered facial and head injuries. He was in the process of removing the flat roof of Block 2 Lydney CofE Community School in Lyndney when the incident occurred.

An investigation by the HSE found the Greenway Partnership Limited did not adequately plan for the removal of the flat roof. Operatives had not been trained in working at height or demolition, and there was inadequate supervision of the work. As a result, no measures were put in place at the time to prevent or mitigate a fall.

Greenway Partnership Limited of Bromsberrow Heath Business Park, Bromsberrow Heath, Ledbury, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Despite being in liquidation the company was fined £21,319 and ordered to pay £6,284 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing at Bristol Magistrates Court, HSE inspector Stephan Axt-Simmonds said: “Apprentices should not be left unsupervised to plan and undertake work on construction sites – it is those in control of work who have the responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision.

“If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, injuries sustained by the employee could have been prevented.”

Employers have a duty to ensure their staff are safe – whether they are on a construction site or working in an office. Different jobs have different hazards; we all need training on how to avoid them or what control measures need to be put in place to minimise the risk of them occurring.

Employers should not expect people without training to perform tasks just because they are ‘easy’. Take using a step ladder. You would think that most people would know how to climb and use a stepladder. However, recently we visited a site where we saw an operative balancing one side of a step ladder on the floor with the other on a stack of plasterboard. This obviously made the step ladder unstable. Fortunately, in this instance, the site manager saw what was happening, stopped the works and sent the operative to retrain.

It is vital that apprentices receive the necessary training and that if standards of working do fall short they are addressed immediately, as they were in this case. Failure to do so could see the employee in question being injured and their company being prosecuted.

At Acorn Safety Services, our leading health and safety consultants have more than 40 years of experience of helping businesses to protect themselves, their staff and their visitors.

We offer consultancy services on Health and Safety legislation, inspection advice, risk assessments or training programmes; we can help with anything you need.

If you need health and safety consultancy advice visit today or contact us at or on 01604 930380.

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