6 Nov 2014

South London waste firm’s ‘dismal’ safety record - The importance of using an SEMS correctly.

A waste firm in south-east London has been prosecuted after repeatedly putting its employees at risk of injury, or even death, from use of heavy machinery that was often left in a dangerous condition.

Westminster Magistrates today (5 Nov) heard that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had to serve Greenwich-based Murphys (Waste) Ltd with a total of ten enforcement notices between 2009 and early 2014. The most serious breaches related to defects in machines which presented a ‘risk of death or serious personal injury to employees and people on site’.

HSE told the court the latest two failures, relating to a loading shovel and a 360 degree excavator, had prompted the prosecution of the company in light of their poor safety record.

During an annual inspection by an engineer in Oct 2013, several defects were found with the loading shovel. The worst was extensive damage to the bolts fixing the front bucket to the machine, which could have led to the bucket falling off and crushing anyone nearby.

Murphys (Waste) Ltd was advised not to use it until repairs were carried out but were later found to have kept it in use until a visit by HSE in January 2014, when a prohibition notice was served to halt any further use of the vehicle.

In a visit just days later, HSE identified an excavator was being used but had neither its left-side mirror or rear mirror in place, severely restricting visibility of the driver while moving about the site, again posing a risk to other workers. HSE served a further prohibition notice on the company preventing its use.

The court was told that on top of these two breaches, the company had been inspected by HSE six times over five years resulting in eight enforcement notices. Two of these had related to defects on a shovel loader and one had required the firm to introduce a proper system for maintenance of the vehicles.

Murphys (Waste) Ltd of Horn Lane, Greenwich, SE London, was fined a total of £6,000 and ordered to pay £1,287 in costs after admitting two offences under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

After the hearing, HSE inspector John Crookes said:
“Murphys (Waste) has a dismal record of compliance with safety legislation and seemed to be content with repeatedly exposing its employees to unnecessary danger.

“This is a waste management company that takes bulk material from construction sites and uses heavy earth-moving plant. The risks associated with the waste industry are well-documented and widely recognised, but it is one of the most dangerous sectors.

“No company in the industry should be failing to address these risks and no worker should be regularly exposed to such uncontrolled dangers. All work vehicles and equipment must be kept in an efficient condition and in good state of repair.”

Waste and recycling is one of the industries in which employees are most likely to be injured by their jobs according to the latest 2013/14 HSE statistics with 486 major/specified injuries.

Notes to Editors:

1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk

2. Regulation 5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations states: “Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.”

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Safe Equipment Management Systems

Equipment inspection checklists can be an important addition to any company’s safety program - but not all checklists will offer the solution you are looking for. After all they are only useful if they are being used correctly by a competent person and there are several pitfalls that companies can fall into when carrying out their inspection regimes.

Many companies tend to create their own checklists or simply buy a generic checklist that covers a multitude of equipment types. The danger of going down this route is that the design, layout and running order of checks can be confusing and vary greatly, whilst the detail is often inadequate or incomplete – leading to inaccurate and potentially dangerous assumptions.

A good safe equipment management system will:

• Provide you with a comprehensive list of checks to be carried out, specific to the equipment being inspected. Guidance notes offer additional peace of mind to operatives that they are looking in the right areas for potential faults.

• Provide the ability to add notes or comments alongside each check, a useful option where a minor issue has been spotted that can be rectified at a later date without endangering the user or putting the equipment into unnecessary quarantine. Poorly designed checklists checklists simply offer a basic yes/no option.

• Have consistency of design – providing the same layout and style for all equipment types, allowing operatives to feel comfortable in carrying out their checks. The running order of the checklist should also be set in a logical order specific the equipment being inspected. An alphabetical checklist makes no sense and can delay the inspection, forcing them to walk round in circles or waste time trying to find the next check to be made.

• Offer flexibility to the user – allowing them to decide on th frequency of inspection, dependent upon the findings of their risk assessments.

• Allow you to display the findings along with the date of inspection or next due date of inspection. A checklist is of little use if the only person that knows the findings is the person that carried out the check. Management will want to know that the SEMS has been completed as they walk around the facilities. The ability to highlight and quarantine faulty equipment is also a feature that only the very best SEMS can offer.

• Eradicate back-dating checklists. A simple, generic checklist offers no visual indicator that has been carried out. We know that some checklist systems are left unused until the end of a month when it is due to be handed to management, at which time it is back filled in one go – making the system completely useless.

Without the right features, you can be smart and insist on inspection checklists being completed before equipment use—but still end up with poorly performed inspections.

Inspection checklists are about accountability. When used correctly they can reduce maintenance costs and equipment down-time, whilst improving worker safety. Consider the following scenarios, each of which illustrates the importance of checklists.

• An accident occurs due to faulty equipment, and investigators (and lawyers!) want to see proof that it was caused by operator error rather than equipment failure. They want to see evidence that the equipment was in good working order and had been properly maintained.

• Government inspectors arrive and are blown away when detailed inspection records for each piece of equipment are readily available thanks to a documented audit trail.

• An equipment operator goes through the checklist at the beginning of a shift and discovers a problem that wasn’t previously reported. The operator knows that management has procedures in place to ensure his safety and knows exactly what to do upon finding the fault.

• Some part of the equipment isn’t working right but gets ignored because the equipment is still operating. It gets worse and more costly to fix each time it’s used but no one is accountable for making sure that all of the equipment is working correctly. Eventually a major breakdown occurs at vastly inflated costs to getting a minor fault fixed early!

• The driver of a forklift accidentally collides with a racking bay but does not report it (a worryingly common scenario). The racking structure has buckled and weakened but is overlooked as it is not on the list of equipment checks, the scrape on the forklift has been noted during its daily check however. Several months later the racking collapses, causing a domino effect on other racking bays, demolishing stock, plant and equipment.

An inspection checklist, when used properly, is an assurance that a particular piece of equipment has been inspected. As each item on the checklist is ticked off, the person doing the inspection is verifying that each component of the equipment is in correct working order. It gives a sense of ownership to the person carrying out the checks that they have been entrusted to look after the equipment and that management are taking their safety seriously.

Good to Go Safety delivers on all levels, offering a simple, affordable and highly effective equipment tagging and checklist system. At the end of the day you need something that demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that you’re actually checking everything that needs to be checked in compliance with relevant legislation and industry best practice.

If management are seen to be taking equipment maintenance and employee safety seriously, it won’t take long for operatives to buy-in to this newfound philosophy too and before you know it your SEMS will become an integral addition to your organisation.

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