by Drew Underwood, Senior Consultant, HCS Safety Ltd

The recent fire at the Ocado factory raises some interesting issues with regards to protection of people and buildings from fire risk.

Ocado’s facility in Andover is one of the most advanced automated facilities in the country, with a team of over 1000 automated robots controlled by a bespoke 4G network and far fewer human staff than would be found in almost any other warehouse of its size.

It is also protected by a sprinkler system which has won global awards and received the highest insurance protection rating possible.

Despite this, the facility suffered a serious fire which started in the early hours on Tuesday 5th February and was not brought completely under control until the end of the week. Fire crews are expected to remain on site for several weeks and it will be many months, and maybe even years before the building is fully operational again.

The good news? There were no human casualties.

The less people are exposed to risk, the less chance there is of harm. This is one of the advantages of increasing automation in business, but one that many companies just do not have access to. What we cannot forget is that fire brings with it the potential for the ultimate consequence whenever it breaks out.

Fire regulation, as is correct, places the majority of its emphasis on the protection of people. Buildings are viewed largely through the prism of a tool, which when properly designed can help to deliver this aim.

There is no single answer when it comes to controlling fire risk. As with almost all other health and safety laws the emphasis is placed on risk assessment and the identification of practical and proportionate controls.

The fire at Ocado shows that even with the best protections in place, the risk of an out of control fire is always present. Make sure that your business is doing everything it needs to keep its staff and premises safe by ensuring that you have a robust fire risk assessment in place.

If you need any help with your fire risk assessment contact us, we’re always available to help.

Andy Bishop, Health and Safety Consultant

This is my motorbike, it’s a Yamaha FZ1, it is a 1000cc engine with 152 bhp and 106.8Nm of torques (whatever that means), but I do know its great.  It will reach speeds of up to 98mph…. in first gear (its got six!).  I enjoy riding it, I like the looks I get when I roll up at the lights, I imagine their faces as I accelerate away leaving them for dust! It makes me feel so manly.

It even fits with my name …Andy…short for Andrew which means ‘manly, brave, strong, courageous and warrior’.  My parents got that right as I left home and pursued a long a fruitful career as a soldier, a proper man’s job.

I suffer with atypical male pattern baldness as a result of the overload of testosterone coursing through my veins. A beautiful bushy beard adorns my chops, my body is embellished with a collection of tattoos from the four corners of the globe. If someone asked you to draw a man, a tough man, I suspect it might look like a cartoon version of me (or maybe Bruce Willis, you choose).

I took the photo of my bike during one of my regular visits to one of my favourite places.  It’s a quiet little car park in the New Forest where I like to sit and spend some time in quiet contemplation.  It hasn’t always been like that though.

The first time I went there, I had no intention of returning.  I had decided that my life was not worth living and that I was becoming a burden to everyone in my life.  A decision that is repeated by men like me around 84 times every week in the UK alone. Thankfully I survived the night and since the morning that I shouldn’t have woken up I have made the decision to never visit that place in my mind again.

Part of that commitment involves telling my story to anyone who will listen; I discovered a way back from the edge, I found a path and discovered tools to help me along the way.  Perhaps the most powerful tool is talking, if something is bothering me I tell someone, if I’m happy, I laugh- if I’m sad I cry.

I have learned that it’s ok to not be ok and that it’s not weak to speak.  If I need help, no matter how small I think it is, that if I ask for help, I will get it. This is where the magic happens, when I follow this advice, I feel better, I feel supported and able to get through whatever fog my brain is enveloped in and thus it starts to look rosy again.

In a journey of a thousand steps- the first one being the most important.

It’s ‘Time to Talk Day’ on Thursday 7 February.

Where ever you are, who ever you’re with, ‘start the conversation’.

by Drew Underwood, Senior Consultant, HCS Safety Ltd

With the process of our exit from the European Union continuing, it seems a good time to look at an issue on which European lawmakers have always disagreed with their British counterparts; our approach to implementing sensible, proportionate measures to protect people from harm at work.

The phrase ‘So far as is reasonably practicable’ is a fundamental phrase in health and safety law in the UK. It is also one that Europe has long disliked and have in fact tried to prevent us from using during a 2-year long case in the European Courts. Which we won.

British health and safety law is based around the idea that competent people should be able to make sensible decisions based on their knowledge of risks and how to control them. In short it is what allows us to have proportionate solutions rather than prescriptive ones.

Where the phrase ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ is used, it allows us to balance the time, effort and cost of the control measures against the risk that we are seeking to control. Of course, this does mean that we have to assess the risks of our work, but it allows us to avoid the more ridiculous measures that would be in place if we tried to have a rule for every scenario.

Risk assessment is the linchpin of this process. By understanding how dangerous a job really is, we can find ‘reasonably practicable’ ways of completing a job safely without going over the top. Done right, a risk assessment allows us to find ways to safely carry out the most dangerous of activities rather than banning people from taking part in them.

It may not be perfect but its our way and regardless of what happens during Brexit negotiations, we will be keeping it.

For more info on how to make ‘reasonably practicable’ decisions, our risk assessment course can help you come up with your sensible solutions.

by Zoe Drew, Director HCS Safety

As we get into this new year, we’ve had a smashing start by completing one each of all the CITB Site Safety Plus courses (SMSTS / SMSTS Refresher / SSSTS / SSSTS Refresher / Health & Safety Awareness and Director’s Role for H & S). It is a real honour that these 103 people put their trust in us to get them through these challenging qualifications, and a testament to the hard work of our delegates and the tutors (in this case Mr Leon Maidment GradIOSH and Mr David Hilton Tech IOSH) for supporting them all the way.

Last year at HCS Safety we saw 6000 delegates leave our premises with an enhanced knowledge base in this vital subject of Health and Safety, at all levels from basic to degree level. That’s a lot of people who are better equipped and better informed about the hazards they and their colleagues face, not to mention better qualified to move forwards in their careers. Our training calendar for 2019 includes increased capacity for many of our most popular courses, including IOSH Working Safely, IOSH Managing Safely and IOSH Leading Safely, as well as the CITB Site Safety Plus favourites. Alongside these we are proud to provide some new additions in the vital field of Mental Health and Occupational Stress.

We recognise our duty as the South’s favourite safety training provider and consultancy to be there when you need us; so not only can you rely on us to run the courses we advertise, but to offer the best facilities possible in which to run them. If you’ve noticed the scaffolding up on our building, recently, you can see that we are investing in our premises, and despite the uncertainty of the times, we promise we will be here for you come what may.

Take care out there, everyone – and if you need us, you know where we are.

On Saturday 22nd August, a pilot tragically crashed a plane into a main road in Sussex.

The Hawker Hunter jet, piloted by Andy Hill, was taking part in the annual Shoreham air show. During a stunt where the plane makes a loop, the pilot lost control and failed to pull out of the manoeuvre and crashed into the A27, colliding with traffic. 11 men were killed.

Today saw the opening of Andy Hill’s trial for Manslaughter by Gross Negligence, charges he denies.

The court were told how the vintage Hawker Hunter, which was in ‘excellent working order’ had ascended to about 2,800ft (850m) when Hill attempted the manoeuvre- 1,000ft below the required height at the top of the loop.

Tom Hark QC, prosecuting, explained to the court how Mr Hill should not have started his descent, but nevertheless continued the manoeuvre”.

“He did not have the height to pull the aircraft out of its dive, back to level flight at a safe height and, as a result he crashed into the ground… The aircraft disintegrated and that crash caused a massive fireball…The effects of that crash were devastating and eleven people lost their lives as a result.”

Hill survived the crash due to his cockpit becoming separated from the rest of the aircraft and landing in a nearby ditch.

Hill is deemed an experience pilot, serving in the RAF between 1985 and 1994 before becoming a commercial pilot. However, he has been known in the past to take risks, with a previous air show halted due to his dangerous flying.

Display pilots hold a heavy responsibility in ensuring that they plan their displays carefully so that no-one is put at risk.  The prosecution case is that is was Hill’s ‘serious negligence’ that led to the loss of 11 lives on that fateful day.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.

On June 28th 2017, David Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell were formally charged following a formal inquest into the infamous Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

This week the trial opens, where Duckenfield will be tried for Manslaughter by Gross Negligence of 95 men, women and children.  Mackrell, the Safety officer for Sheffield Wednesday at the time, will be tried under breaching section 3 of the health and safety at work act, namely ensuring as far as reasonably practicable that persons other than themselves or employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety.

The trial is closely monitored by those that have campaigned for justice since the fans were blamed for the tragedy.

The “exceptionally bad failings” of police match commander David Duckenfield were “a substantial cause” of the Hillsborough tragedy, the court was told.

The focus on Mackrell is provided by the Safety certificate and its alleged breaches.

At condition 6 (1), the certificate required the club to agree, prior to an event with the Chief Constable (in this case, Duckenfield), the “methods of admission to be employed in connection with a Specified Activity (including a football match) and … the methods to be used for the segregation of home and visiting supporters.”  This was a particular condition that the club had to agree on in regard to the methods of entry into the stadium- in this case, the amount of turnstiles to be used for admission in to the west stand and north west terraces.  Mackrell is accused of ‘turning a blind eye or neglect of part of his duties as a safety officer.’

Richard Matthews, QC, who is prosecuting, stated “The Safety Certificate was never updated or amended from the date it was granted in 1979 until the day of the disaster” and there was “a recognition by all concerned that the safety certificate was very out of date… Few of those involved with the Safety Certificate appear to have performed their function diligently in this regard.”

The trial is expected to last several months.

How have the events unfolded so far?

by Andy Bishop, Health and Safety Consultant

It’s time’, I announce after dinner, the mutterings have gone on long enough, the constant question now gets an answer.   I prepare the equipment in silent anticipation.  The rest of the gang start pacing, the air of nervous excitement lies heavy in the air, ‘It’s time’ they say to each other with big grins across their faces.

As I clambered through the hatch and located the treasure, I allowed a smile to break across my face.  I blew the dust from the top and prepare to heave the weighty chest from its resting place. It’s been a while since this treasure has seen the light of day, its long-forgotten value has been discussed over every meal recently.  Everyone start to get impatient and the mutterings get louder and more frequent as the days march on and the evenings draw in until I can stand it no longer.

With a final effort the treasure breaks free from its hide and is passed eagerly to the hands stretched above the beaming faces below.  They run off with it ready to open the dusty container and get their hands and eyes on the treasure as colourful bounty spills freely, released at last from its restraints.

I suspect most families go through a similar ritual around this time of year as they retrieve their winter garments from their summer storage in order to ensure that we are all as warm as we can be as the mercury starts to dip. But do we change the way our business operates?

As a business we not only have a moral duty to keep our employees, contractors and visitors warm we also have a legal duty to do what is reasonably practicable to protect the health of our employees whilst at work. It seems strange that whilst we have a minimum temperature of at least 16°Celcius indoors (which can drop to 13°C if the work is arduous) that we don’t have one for outdoor work.  In general, an employer is obliged to give access to adequate warm clothing, suitable for the work activities, regular hot drinks and frequent rest breaks to allow workers to warm up.

It’s no coincidence that as the temperature drops, the incidence of heart attacks increases as our blood is concentrated on the core resulting in an increase in blood pressure and more strain on the heart. If a person’s normal core body temperature of 37°c drops by a mere 2°c hypothermia can set in which prevents the bodies vital organs from working correctly and can ultimately lead to death.

The spread of viral infections like colds and flu increases as does ‘the winter vomiting bug’ norovirus, of course these all exist all year round, but the combination of closed windows and the heating being increased added to us spending more time indoors in close proximity to each other lead to rapid spread.  Viral infections can run laps around the workforce as immune systems are overwhelmed and can’t produce enough of the all-important white blood cells as the blood flow is concentrated around the core.

Control measures for one worker may not fit another, so it is vitally important that health surveillance is completed regularly in order to identify the potential hazards mentioned above.

So, what is the link between brass monkeys and this blog? A ‘brass monkey’ was the name given to a triangular or square tray formed from brass on which to stack one’s cannonballs. As the mercury plummets, the soft metal contracts and the cannon balls are spilled across the decks, therefore, ‘freezing the balls of a brass monkey’.

For information on how we can help you combat the cold with effective control measures from the top, take a look at our IOSH Managing Safely course.

by Ian Ball, HCS Safety Director

18 years ago this October, Zoë and Ian started working together in the health and safety sector.

Early on we had relatively few clients and we often answered “yes we can…” as soon as the words “can you…” were asked by someone.  Often before we knew what they wanted.  We would undertake any work that we thought would help us grow and get noticed.  Zoë joined contractors on a sponsored week which was covered in the local news.  Ian was often asked when he would get a proper job.

The first few years were quite tough, working from when we got up until we had done everything that we could think of for that day.  We worked from our respective homes, the smallest bedroom, or the back room, with Zoë graduating to the garage (with heating) when she moved house.  We tried to speak to each other each day to see how the other was doing, but often only saw one another once per week to catch up.

Training was carried out by Zoë using the local village hall or sports venue. Carting everything she needed there; food, drink, crockery and training aids, and then packing them all away at the end of the training session after washing up etc.

A few years went by and our client base started to grow, most of whom we still know very well today.  We realised that we had two of most things – printers, scanners, fax machines etc.  Training was becoming a bit tedious for Zoë with all the side work that went into the training day.  I did use to offer to help if I was around…

We decided to look for premises.

18 months later we finally moved into Chevron Business Park.  This was 2000 sq ft over two floors.  One floor was a training room and breakout area, the other floor was for staff – Zoë and Ian.  We bought the building on a mortgage and things were very tight after we moved in, only two of us and money was so tight that we didn’t use the heating system, choosing to share a fan heater under the desk.

One thing we didn’t share was the task of the accounts for the company.  Ian always thought that it was such a drudge dreary job that he couldn’t ask Zoë to participate, there are limits.  When the company finally broke free of excel and started using Sage, that was it.  Game over, far too complicated to get involved.  When Sage started to complain that too many errors were being made, Sara joined the company.  Then there were three of us.

With a dedicated training room that could be left set up, we started to increase our training days.  The site visits to construction sites also increased and we took on other staff to cover this work.  With the increase in staff we then found out what it was like to be an employer; with one person who was due to start turning down the position the day before they were due to start.  This was after we had bought the car, mobile ‘phone, laptop and mobile printer (remember those, what a headache it was at getting them to print).

A few years went by and our staff level was increasing.  We had a few office refurbishments in order to accommodate all the staff, but the day came when we had to have more space, so we took the ground floor over of the office next door.  We were a few yards apart, but it may as well have been a mile.  Even though we had one printer for all to use so we still saw each other at those times, it felt as if there were two different companies.  We had to move to bigger premises.

18 months later we moved to where we are today, occupying two floors in a building with three.  It took a long time as we needed to find premises with ample parking spaces for all of our clients attending training courses.  At Holbury we managed to pack cars in tighter than the ferries crossing the Solent.  The floors we took over needed a total makeover, we stripped everything back to basics and fitted it out.  Three classrooms, a large welcoming breakout area for delegates and a staff area that we could all fit into comfortably.  Plus, we had a kitchen with a cooker.  We could now indulge in Friday Fry-ups without going to a takeaway.

We still continued to grow and we had by now diversified away from construction activities to include boatbuilding, manufacturing, leisure, estates, insurance, nail bars, and the European Weather Centre!  Our staff were undertaking and passing the top NEBSOH course in health and safety – The Diploma, so we needed to ensure that their new skills were utilised fully.

After we had been at Millbrook Road West for three years, Zoë and Ian realised that space was getting tight, and that an additional classroom would be helpful to cover training course expansion.  The tenant on the ground floor moved out, and once again we went in and stripped everything out to put in the best that we could afford.  Our administration staff moved to the ground floor, but we were determined to try to make sure that staff still mixed in with each other and had regular conversations.

Each year in March we have a Membership Annual Forum. For quite a few years we have hired the Concorde Club at Eastleigh, a lovely friendly venue.  Unfortunately this year we found out that we had outgrown it, and hence next year we will be at the Hilton Ageas Bowl in the ballroom.  Plenty of space and parking there.

For almost a year now an Operations Manager has been gradually taking over areas that were covered by the Directors, leaving them more time to find new clients and engage with existing ones.  The building is about to have new windows, more space for cars to park, and a new bespoke CRM software package so that our training delegates and clients can be served better.

We couldn’t have achieved all this without tremendous support from all our staff.

So maybe it is a proper job after all.

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by Andy Bishop, Health and Safety Consultant

A few weeks ago, I travelled to Brighton to deposit my youngest daughter and all her associated belongings into her Halls of residence at University.  In strict adherence to the law stated by one Patrick O’Murphy, her flat was on the top floor of the four available and the lift had decided that it would be best if it didn’t exert itself on moving in day!

I completed a dynamic Manual Handling Assessment and introduced a number of control measures to ensure my state of health was the same at the end of the job as it was at the start, they involved utilising the power invested in my appearance.  With my bushy grey beard and baldy head it’s easy to be mistaken for a frail old man! As well as looking good, my beard, like Gandalfs has magical powers!  It has other benefits, it allows to continue using a comb, I can still look in the shampoo aisle in Boots (other suppliers of hair care products are available) and it keeps my chin warm in winter.

In short, I love my beard! As I go about my business, I meet other bearded men and we often share a ‘nod of respect’ as the first feelings of ‘beard envy’ arise.  As the great Bard, William Shakespeare once remarked ‘He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man.’ It gives my colleagues a handy point of reference if they need to describe me ‘Oh you mean Andy, big bloke, baldy head, grey beard’ I hear them remark!

I first started dabbling with full facial topiary about six years ago after I left the Army.  In the military all males ‘must’ be clean shaven below the top lip! Soldiers are permitted to wear a moustache but never a ‘full set’ (beard, moustache and side whiskers). Sailors in Her Majesties Royal Navy are however permitted to wear a full set and can be ordered to shave it off if it is not full enough! On operations in Iraq, shaving was compulsory every day, on operations in Afghanistan, this was relaxed to three days and sometimes up to a week.  The reason for this is the weapons that the enemy had in their arsenal, the Iraqis quite famously had possession of chemical and biological weaponry, the Taliban did not.  The basic Personal Protective Equipment provided to protect soldiers in a chemical environment is the standard issue respirator, a full-face mask with particulate and vapour filters that relies on a close seal to the face to be effective in filtering out what ever nasties those pesky enemies put in the air.

I’m lucky these days to be in a situation where I can choose to wear ‘a full set’ without fear of disciplinary action and extra weekend guard duties or similar summary punishments for not being clean shaven every day of the week.

However, if my boss decides, following risk assessment that RPE is required and they choose to provide me with a close-fitting respirator or face mask to protect my health, then I shall have no option but to shave off my beloved beard and put my chubby babyface on display to all and sundry.

I can guarantee that I would be less than enthused by this, but as I am not practicing a religion that requires me to wear a beard and I don’t have a valid medical reason to wear one, then I’m afraid that I will have to comply with their wishes.

They could look to source me a hooded powered respirator that doesn’t rely on a close seal, but they are really expensive to procure, store and maintain, I’m pretty sure that I’d be dusting off the old Wilkinson Sword (endorsement enquiries welcome) and putting the boar bristled shaving brush into action around my chiselled jaw.

All employers know that they must, as far as is reasonably practicable, protect the health of all of their employees.

This general duty is reciprocated by the employee’s duty to cooperate with the employer, particularly on arrangements that are made to protect the employee in question.

So, when the day comes that I am supplied with respiratory protective equipment that relies on a close seal to my face, I shall wearily trudge to the bathroom and succumb to the prospect of a cold, unadorned, silky smooth chin.

 ‘…Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action’

Click here for more information on Face Fit Testing.

by Andy Bishop, Health and Safety Consultant

I had a long day yesterday; roadworks and traffic jams meant my schedule slipped a little.  I was reminded by my smart phone every time I was nearly late with an annoying little ‘ping’ and a notification on the dashboard but thanks to the wonders of the satnav and its route planning ability I made each appointment!  Every hour or so my watch vibrated violently against my wrist to tell me to move as I was starting to resemble a three toed sloth (in case you didn’t know a three toed sloth is a large hairy ape like creature that hangs upside down in trees and takes about three months to do anything!)  I typed a few emails and sent a few messages, each time my laptop or my phone guessed the correct recipient after just a few letters, it even stopped me from sending one email as I’d mentioned an attachment and subsequently forgot to attach it.

I listened to Chris Evans on Radio 2 discussing how the administrators and programmers behind Siri, the apple voice activated system, had starting programming it to only respond to a request that ‘asked politely’ as parents were blaming Siri for their children’s lack of manners! I mean, just what is the correct etiquette when conversing with a computer!

I eventually got in from work and after my car had parked itself, I wandered into the house and as I walked through the hall, a soothing electronic voice asked me if I would like to listen to some music as she/he  (I’m not sure how computers fit into the whole gender thing)  had prepared a play list for me based on my preferences and my recent listening history.

As the very well-chosen play list sparked in to action, I spoke to the lights and set the ‘ambience’ to my preferred level commensurate with my mood as identified by an app on my phone.  She who must be obeyed was running late so to while away the time I started to prepare some food. I took some meat from the freezer and chucked it into the microwave, which enquired as to my intentions then set about defrosting the meaty goodness as I busied myself asking a computerised voice for recipe suggestions (the multitude of recipe books were just too far away – and if I’m honest I’ve forgotten how they work!).  I began preparing the meal, receiving voice prompts and reminders at the key stages throughout the project (yes – cooking is a project that must be suitably managed throughout).

In case you hadn’t noticed, I really take advantage of the ‘internet of things.’  I do love a good gadget, I have literally got one for every application in my life, I talk to the lights in my house, my car virtually drives itself, I generally just have to be there.

It seems that I’m not the only one though. I watch the news regularly and every couple of weeks there seems to be a new robot that is threatening to take the place of people. I read through trade journals and publications to keep abreast of new innovations and the latest safety related invention.

It worries me slightly that so called ‘wearable technology’ and ‘AI systems’ are being introduced to protect people.  I have seen hard hats with sensors and haptic alarms that start buzzing when you enter a ‘danger zone’. I have seen Hi Visibility clothing that does the same but adds strips of highly visible LED lights when you wander too close to the edge of the giant hole in the ground.  I have even seen a system that you can attach to a high-speed circular saw that will sense when anything ‘fleshy’ gets near it and stop it in a very abrupt fashion. The video demonstration makes good use of a sausage to replicate the operator’s errant appendage.  It works, however, the catastrophic damage to the machine means that a whole new machine is required, still easier than replacing a severed hand though.

I spent some time working in the high hazard industry of explosives manufacture where we used robots to handle the highly volatile pellets as they moved around the production from process to process.  Every now and again, there would be a glitch and a hiccup in the system and the robot would go rogue and start dropping highly sensitive explosives around the place.  Part of my role when this occurred was to go into the room and make it safe for the engineers to come in and calm the robot down and show it the error of its ways by giving it a new programme to work with.

These robots were introduced to remove people from the danger areas and to increase efficiency and productivity, great results all around, especially for the extra six ‘robot babysitters’ that were employed as a result.

The reason I am worried about the onset of artificial intelligence and replacing humans with robots are twofold.  The first issue I can see is the growth in reliance on this technology to keep the work force safe. It’s all very well equipping all workers on site with a sensor or an alarm which warns them of the hole in the ground, or the heavy machinery in close proximity – but aside from buzzing like an angry bee – they don’t physically stop or prevent you from exposure to the danger. The second worry is the likely adoption of more and more absurd inventions like the ‘hi vis coat’ that lights up when its dark.  By the increasing use of these technologies we run the risk of forgetting the basics of harm prevention.

If you want some proof of this, observe anyone who normally drives an automatic when they jump into a car equipped with a manual gearbox, I guarantee that they will stall the engine at some point in the journey!

For advice on choosing robots or hi vis jackets with haptic alarms and LED strip lighting, I’m afraid you will have to look somewhere else.

If you want friendly, practical advice or training from a real flesh and blood experienced Health and Safety professional then come and see what HCS Safety have to offer.