All staff have a right to work in environments where risks to health and safety are properly controlled and under health and safety law the primary responsibility for this falls to employers.
Employers must ensure they are following all the necessary regulations relating to their industry and that they are up to date with any new legislation that is introduced. They also have a duty to consult with their employees – or their representatives – on health and safety matters.
There are so many individual things that you need to remember when it comes to health and safety that it is easy for company bosses and managers to become overwhelmed and for things to get missed.
A few weeks ago there was a sad case at Luton Magistrates Court involving incorrectly labelled oil drums which illustrated how devastating the results can be when even the smallest details are overlooked.
The court heard on 21 April 2017, Christopher Chatfield, an experienced agricultural engineer, was making metal pheasant feeders for the local game shoot at Puddock Down Warboys, Cambridgeshire. This involved converting empty 200 litre oil containers by cutting open the lids using a plasma torch. While cutting open the third drum it violently exploded resulting in fatal injuries to Mr Chatfield.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the empty drums, labelled as having contained motor oil, were found to have also previously contained highly flammable gasoline, but had not been labelled correctly.
The residual gasoline vapour present within the drums violently ignited upon the action of the hot cutting process, causing fatal injuries to Mr Chatfield. There was a failure to provide any labelling to show the empty motor oil drums had been repurposed to store gasoline and this created a risk of fire and or explosion.
Stonehill MOT Centre Ltd of Stockley Meadows, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, which supplied the drums, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 6(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. They were fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,167.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Parmjit Gahir said: “Those who are involved in the sale or supply of an article or substance, in this case used oil drums, have a responsibility to ensure that adequate information is provided so that the person buying the article can ensure that it can be safely used, cleaned and maintained.
“Failure to provide any labelling information on the used drums, to show that they had also contained gasoline, did not allow for the necessary precautions to be considered and adopted when cutting the drums open. If appropriate labelling had been in place this incident could have been avoided.”
Unfortunately, this tragic incident isn’t an isolated case. In fact it reminded our health and safety manager, John Crockett, of a separate incident involving an oil drum explosion that happened at an industrial site in the 1980s.
John explained the oil drums were being cut in half with a saw and were then going to be filled with concrete so they could act as barriers along the driving routes within the site boundary.
The drums came from an external supplier and all was going well for a couple of days but one suddenly exploded whilst being cut.
The person who had been cutting the drums caught the full blast. The local fire brigades attended, hosed him down and wrapped him in foil blankets until he was stable enough to be transferred to hospital but unfortunately he didn’t recover.
An investigation found the drums were not vented or uncapped, and whatever fumes they contained had remained inside. A spark from the saw ignited the fumes and with nowhere else to go, the drum exploded.
John said if a risk analysis had been carried out to include the source of the drums and how they were to be used, this event could have been avoided.
Our team at Acorn Safety Services has more than 40 years of experience of working in the health and safety industry. This means we have all the necessary skills to help organisations, from all sectors and of all shapes and sizes, to assess the health and safety risks in their workplaces.
Risk assessments are an essential part of Health & Safety Management Systems to ensure that hazards, such as those identified through consultation with employees or inspections by occupational health professionals, are reduced or eliminated before they cause injury or death among workers.
Our health and safety consultants will help you think about what, in your business, might cause harm to people and help you decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm.