Look out for your friends when they come to visit

By Hannah Jordan, Monday 10 April 2017

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Accidents in printing and its related industries are relatively uncommon but when they do happen, the outcome is all too often life-changing or, worse still, fatal.

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Commonly too, the victims are not employees, but third-party contractors carrying out maintenance, installations, servicing or other such specialist work.

Such was the case with West Bromwich-based corrugated packaging manufacturer Diamond Box, which was recently fined a whopping £400,000 after a contractor sustained severe injuries to his foot while servicing a machine at the company’s site. 

In this case the employer was held wholly responsible for the contractor’s accident, while in others, such as the fall from height in 2008 that killed 32-year old contractor Thomas Sturrock at former Fife-based paper manufacturer Tullis Russell, both contractor and employer were found to be responsible. In 2012, after a lengthy court battle, Tullis Russell took the brunt of the fine with a £260,000 penalty for health and safety breaches, while self-employed contractor Boyd Lamont was forced to pay £20,000 for failing to ensure the health and safety of his employees, and not making a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for the work at height. Essentially, cutting corners.

Employer beware

According to the BPIF’s health, safety and environmental advisor Mandy Robson, taking short cuts, or worse still lying about training and certifications, are generally the only situations where blame for an accident will fall on third-party contractors. In most other cases, she says, the buck stops with the end employer.

“A company has a duty of care for their staff just as much as anyone else coming onto the site. They should understand exactly what is going to be done on their site, exactly what the risk assessments are for the work and what the method statements are and actually sign them off and the contractors need to be advised of all site safety rules before they even get on site,” she explains.

“Companies must be sure these people are qualified to do what they say and that they aren’t just ticking a box. Time and time again people do actually say to us ‘I don’t have time for all that’. We have to really lay it on the line that if anything happens, in general they are going to be held responsible,” Robson asserts.

The fact that any employers, in this day and age, are even saying that may be shocking, but for some companies the time and manpower needed to fulfill the sheer amount of health and safety paperwork and procedures involved with just one contractor site visit, may indeed be enough to cause employers to turn a blind eye.

But with new Sentencing Council guidance, in force from February last year, giving judges a tiered-penalty framework where the size of the punishment reflects the turnover of the organisation, culpability and seriousness of harm risked as opposed to the outcome, employers need to think on. The new guidance, unlike its predecessor, covers all health and safety offences, not just fatalities, and has already resulted in some record-breaking, headline-grabbing fines. 

Indeed, Keith Baldock, safety manager at the vast Newsprinters site at Knowsley, points out that increasingly, and importantly for printers, it is not the company that will take the fall but an individual.

“For smaller companies, especially SMEs, it’s the director of the company that is being held responsible rather than the company,” he says. “No-one wants to put a company out of business, but if you can be held culpably responsible, these days there are plenty of gross negligence cases that are brought against individuals,” he adds. 

One of three Newsprinters sites in the country, Knowsley is a 30-acre plant hosting 380 workers, only 72 of whom are actually employees of Newsprinters. “Everything before and after the press is done by our third-party contractor, Aktrion,” he explains.

“We look on them as our business partners. They are here full-time, we all wear the same uniforms and as such all management share the same office and work as one big team. Health and safety procedures are the same for everyone.”

Baldock, a member of the Institution of Occupational Safety (IOSH) and a health and safety specialist by trade, says that in the past, employees and contractors had received different training due to Aktrion providing its staff with their own off-site safety officer, but that the same training was now provided by Newsprinters for everyone on the Knowlsey site.

In terms of other third-party contractors coming onto the site for incidental work, Baldock explains that a computerised system is in place, which initiates a comprehensive process of requests for evidence, method statements, risk assessments, permits and approvals and generates notifications for the company’s security as well as any supervisors that need be present.

He is realistic however. “It doesn’t matter how many safety procedures you have in place – especially on a 30-acre site – you can’t supervise everyone 100% of the time; all we can do is as much as we can until we are satisfied that a job is going to be done safely, but accidents might still happen.”

SME options

Most printer operations however, aren’t 30-acre sites with a 380-strong workforce, so how does your average ‘Joe Bloggs’ printer without a dedicated health and safety manager go about ensuring that they are meeting or surpassing health and safety requirements for their contractors? 

There are plenty of general, non-print specific resources around of which the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Health and Safety Guidance 159 document, ‘Managing Contractors’, is particularly useful on the dos and don’ts of engaging with third-party contractors and clearly sets out why they must be carefully managed, where the employer stands with the law and offers a five-step plan for ensuring a safer working environment. 

The HSE is also currently in the process of creating a new health and safety guidance for 19 sectors including the manufacturing sector, as part of a major shake up of safety in the British workplace that aims to bring practices up to date. In the manufacturing sector the HSE has identified the emergence of robotics and 3D printing and the development of new materials as among the biggest challenges to tackle. It is unclear whether the new sector plan will address contractor engagement, but it will undoubtedly be a useful resource, nonetheless, once published. Further general reading resources, training and certification can be accessed through membership organisations such as the British Safety Council and IOSH. 

But for advice tailored for the print industry the BPIF offers a comprehensive list of services from checklists, documents and templates to send to prospective contractors to full company health checks and access to the Legal Register, a regularly updated list of legislation applicable to the printing industry. 

Robson says the key to getting it right and not falling foul of the law is preparation and that means giving a contractor enough time, at least a month she says, to produce their supporting documents. 

She explains: “Before they engage with third-party contractors we make sure our members have all the resources they need to gather all the right documents, risk assessments and method statements well in advance. 

“It’s quite long-winded but it’s pretty standard stuff and we try to make it as simple as possible. If the contractor is professional, they will have all of this information together anyway.” 

Communication with regular staff is also key, Robson says, to make sure they know when and who is coming to the site and what work is going to be carried out. 

She adds: “If an accident happens it’s going to cost increased insurance premiums and lost production time, and it will cost in terms of an investigation and that’s even before any legal costs. We lay all of this on this on the table; we can’t force companies to do the right thing but we try to make people think about consequences.” 

One company that has benefitted from the BPIF’s health and safety package is Oxford University Press print division Oxuniprint, whose recent Komori press purchase prompted managing director Ian Wilton to commission a complete health and safety check for the company.

“We don’t do any maintenance in-house so we need to know that all our contractors are working safely and this install crystalised for us how important it is to get all the information you need and provide the right training before anyone comes on site,” he explains.

Wilton thinks that many printers tend to be reactive rather than proactive, and says that working with the BPIF to enhance safety procedures for contractors as well as staff has helped the business mitigate as much risk as possible.

“There will always be accidents because that’s the nature of the beast but you have to make sure you take away as much risk as possible and ensure everyone is working safely, which is what we’ve done” he says.

“Is this the norm? That’s a good question to ask others in the industry. I would suggest probably not but I can only control what goes on in my business.” 

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