Don't fall victim to workplace hazards

Edmund Tirbutt
Friday, September 13, 2013

Red tape. Definitely something that features prominently on printers' top-five-things-to-grumble-about lists. And yet seemingly overly prescriptive government legislation is often there for good reason. And nowhere is this more the case than when it comes to health and safety.

Even the most apparently minor oversight could result in being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or sued by an injured employee. In some cases this could create a financial catastrophe for a small business because, although employers’ liability and public liability policies can cover injury and legal costs, fines are always excluded.

Fines are limited to £20,000 in a magistrates’ court but unlimited in the Crown Court – where the sentencing guidance is that fines for incidences involving corporate manslaughter should be at least £500,000. Additionally, in some cases business owners or directors with responsibility for health and safety issues can also become personally liable.

The BPIF reports that printing equipment has caused a number of deaths during the past six years. Interventions to machinery have been primarily responsible: two employees being killed by hand-fed platens, and two by being on the delivery ends respectively of a cut-crease machine and a web press in a folder merger unit.   

Fractures to fingers and hands and major degloving incidents necessitating surgery – and sometimes resulting in finger losses – have also resulted from failure to carry out safe interventions while working on adjustments to folding machines.

But employers can significantly reduce the chances of such incidences occurring and of having successful claims made against them for failing to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and associated legislation. The first step is to draw up a health and safety policy.

Sally Roff, head of the safety, health and environment team at law firm DAC Beachcroft, says: "The policy should identify who is responsible for health and safety and how it’s going to be managed, and detail the overall profile of risks within your business. These can then be assessed in more detail by the risk assessment process, which will focus on specific hazards."

Onsite hazards
Risk assessments should identify the risks that employees and visitors to the premises are exposed to so that they can be avoided or, if this isn’t possible, suitable control measures can be implemented. For example, inks, lacquers, adhesives, cleaning solvents and other chemicals used in printing can cause skin problems, asthma, drowsiness, eye damage and even cancer and damage to internal organs. Control measures can include using pump dispensers, substitute solvents and inks, ventilating work rooms and providing suitable protective equipment, such as respirators, gloves and eye protection.

Noise can also be a major problem in printing. Short-duration exposure to high noise levels can cause temporary hearing loss, and permanent hearing loss can result from longer-term exposures, so it’s important to work out the risks faced by workers based on the range of jobs they do. Employers are required to reduce noise exposure to at least 85dB, and preferably 80dB or less, and can consider using acoustic hoods for noisy equipment, separating noisy machines and processes in different rooms and providing personal equipment like earplugs and headphones.

Simon Lunken, head of health and safety for the BPIF, says: "My major message is to consider the risk assessment for the activities of machines, including the removal of misfeeds, jam-ups and cleaning and maintenance tasks. These are areas often omitted from risk assessments, which only focus on safe operations but should be assessing things like the removal of guards and the implications of that."

"Workplace transport is another key area where you need good risk assessment in place and should, whenever possible, introduce segregation to ensure safe walkways, so people aren’t at risk from forklift trucks and reversing vehicles."

Jayne Nevins, solicitor and team leader at DAS Law, says: "If you have systems and policies in place to limit the risks as far as possible and these are followed properly, it can be a complete defence against negligence claims. In an industry like printing where there is a lot of machinery and noise, it would be foolhardy not to take these steps."

It would also be foolhardy not to regularly review a health and safety policy, says Nevins. "It’s important to review your arrangements regularly and to keep an eye out for changes in the law," she says. "For example, the way in which injured workers are able to claim will change dramatically after 1 October this year. The current position is that just a breach of statutory duty of care automatically imposes liability on the employer, without the need to prove negligence. But an amendment to the Health and Safety at Work Act means that the majority of injured workers will have to prove their case under the principles of good old common law negligence."

Katharine Vickery, partner at law firm Eversheds, adds that procedures should always be tailored to the specific company in question. She says: "If you can embrace health and safety and not see it simply as a box-ticking exercise, you can get a lot more out of it and it will benefit the whole business in the long run. For example, there should be fewer accidents and less time lost, and encouraging a responsible culture can boost morale.  

"So make sure you have policies and procedures that work for you as a company because too many employers just tend to purchase a set of health and safety procedures without ever implementing or communicating them properly. So they’re just paying lip service to the law rather than complying with it."

In an ideal world, risk assessments should be carried out by two or three suitably trained staff in conjunction with an onsite health and safety adviser as this can help to create employee engagement – which is key to ensuring compliance. But the majority of printers lack the resources to have an employee fully, or even partially, dedicated to health and safety, so they will have to buy in the services of an independent consultant or BPIF adviser.

However, they can’t simply delegate responsibility to third parties. The owners of the business need to drive health and safety behaviour, ensuring that any consultants or advisers used are competent and that their performance is reviewed regularly.

BPIF benefits
All BPIF Platinum members have access to a free health and safety check to make sure they are legally compliant and following industry best practice. Silver and Gold members can purchase the same one-day service for £595. Although it may be possible to find an independent consultant with a cheaper rate, few of them actually specialise in print.  

David Thompson, head of regulatory at Moore Blatch solicitors, says: "You must publish the results of risk assessments internally and train people adequately in how to use kit and in what risks to look out for when in close proximity to it. Training must be repeated at intervals, possibly by issuing bulletins every few months or doing toolbox talks, so it remains fresh in people’s minds. It’s also very useful having a ‘near miss register’ to document when people were nearly harmed, and this can form a valuable part in training."

Printers should also remember the importance of keeping adequate records of risk assessments and training carried out. The BPIF’s Simon Lunken has noticed a recent trend for printers who have implemented suitable measures losing civil court cases as a result of not being able to demonstrate the fact.

Of course warding against litigation isn’t the only reason for ensuring a healthy workforce. Protecting employees is also a matter of boosting morale and reducing absenteeism. And warding against comparatively small or cumulatively created injury is important on both of these counts.  

For example, if work stations are not set up properly, then an employee’s neck, arms and wrists could be in a position that exacerbates repetitive strain injury (RSI) and other work-related upper-limb disorders.

Pamela Gellatly, chief executive of occupational health risk consultancy Healthcare RM, says: "Making sure screens, keyboards and chairs are at the right height can help prevent RSI, as can making sure employees have regular breaks away from work stations and are doing appropriate exercises to hands and necks. But it is also important to assess whether there are personal risk factors to be taken into account.

"If, for example, an individual has a forward head in relation to their posture, which is fairly common, it can lead to restrictions in blood flow and cause a variety of musculoskeletal problems, including RSI, which can be addressed via corrective exercises. Similarly, the way in which an unfit overweight 50-year-old is likely to get injured is different to that of a young fit 30-year-old."

Gellatly warns that employers should look out for behaviour changes in employees, as these can be signs of stress and depression, but emphasises that SMEs tend to be better placed than larger firms to spot such symptoms as they are closer to employees. She also stresses the importance of employees having a lunch break and being encouraged to follow a healthy diet and engage in at least two and a half hours exercise a week outside work.   

So when it comes to protecting a workforce, the small stuff definitely counts. But of course so does the large – namely that potentially highly hazardous hand-fed platen. So printers will need to make sure they are protecting staff with a thorough, regularly reviewed and formally implemented risk assessment and then health and safety policy. And then protecting themselves with careful documentation, just in case the unthinkable happens.  


IMPLEMENTING AN EFFECTIVE H&S POLICY

Making a risk assessment

  • Walk around your workplace and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm
  • Ask your employees what they think. They may have noticed things that are not immediately obvious to you
  • Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in spelling out the hazards
  • Consider the various activities on machines that present a risk, such as removal of misfeeds, jams and cleaning and maintenance tasks
  • Be aware of the risks associated with inks, lacquers, adhesives, cleaning solvents and other harmful chemicals
  • Keep workplace transport in mind as a key risk. Introduce segregation wherever possible to ensure people are kept safe on walkways, away from forklift trucks  
  • Reduce noise exposure to 85dB, preferably 80dB or less. Consider acoustic hoods, separating noisy machines in different rooms and earplugs and headphones
  • Have a look back at your accident and ill-health records – these can help identify less obvious hazards
  • Remember to think about long-term hazards to health such as RSI as well as safety hazards
  • Assess who might be at risk, remembering that new starters, migrant workers, and pregnant, disabled or older workers may have specific needs. Visitors to your site, including regular visitors such as cleaners or maintenance staff, all need to be considered
  • Consider external help. Ideally risk assessments should be carried out by two or three staff trained in this area, but few printers have employees with these specific skills, or the funds to employ dedicated staff. They may, then, want to enlist the help of an independent consultant or BPIF adviser. Advice specifically on fire safety should be sought from the Fire and Rescue Services

Devising an H&S policy

  • If you have five or more employees, you must have a written health and safety policy. This does not necessarily need to be complicated or time-consuming, though it should be tailored to your company. It is customary for businesses to divide their policies into three areas.
  • The first area should be a statement of intent, detailing the firm’s responsibilities and how it intends to carry these out. The statement will acknowledge the firm’s obligations under the law and commit the firm to providing a safe working environment. Included will be the names of those in the business who have ultimate responsibility for health and safety, and it should point out that all employees have a duty to be mindful of their own and colleagues’ health and safety.
  • The second and third areas should detail who is responsible for various health and safety matters and how the business intends to minimise these risks. For larger businesses, it may be necessary to detail the precise allocation of responsibilities on a departmental or managerial basis. This document should be signed and dated by the employer. A useful template for this part of the policy can be found at: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg449.pdf.

Implementing your policy

  • All staff members should be trained on any health and safety issues which might affect them
  • This training should be repeated at regular intervals to make sure staff are always bearing health and safety considerations in mind
  • Refresher training will be particularly important where there are modifications to kit or to working environment logistics, or when an employee changes roles
  • Consider different, creative ways of refreshing training, such as bulletins every few months and external courses or talks from external experts
  • Reviewing your policy regularly is critical. This ensures any new issues coming to light, perhaps from changes in circumstances, are formally highlighted, to all staff not just one or two
  • Motivate staff by highlighting that avoiding accidents is not just about keeping them safe, but keeping the factory efficient and workloads manageable as well. No one enjoys the increased pressure or workload when a member of the team is absent

What the law says

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is criminal law aimed at protecting staff and others who may be affected by work activities. It is enforced mainly by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities. It states that employers with five or more employees are required to:
  • Have a written health and safety policy that sets out their general policy and the arrangements for putting it into practice
  • Notify all employees of the policy, and any revision of it
  • Carry out a risk assessment of employees’ work activities
  • Consult their employees on health and safety matters
  • Where there is a recognised trade union, they must consult safety representatives on matters affecting the staff that they represent
  • Where there is no recognised trade union, they must consult their employees either directly or through an elected representative

Employees are required to:

  • Follow the training they’ve been given when using any work items the employer has given them
  • Take reasonable care of their own and others’ health and safety
  • Cooperate with their employer on health and safety
  • Tell someone (their employer, supervisor, or health and safety representative) if they think the work, or inadequate precautions, are putting anyone’s health and safety at serious risk
  • The law and claims
  • Employers’ liability insurance is required by law, and it would be foolhardy not to have it anyway. Typically employers’ liability insurance covers you for up to £10m and you must purchase a minimum cover level of £5m
  • You can be fined if you are required to have employers’ liability insurance and do not. Fines can be up to £2,500 per day for every day you don’t have it
  • Family members that work for you do not need to be added to an employers’ liability policy, however, part-time workers and temporary staff do
  • You can buy employers’ liability insurance through insurers or intermediaries like brokers or trade associations. You may find that it often comes as part of a package designed to cover a range of business needs. Your policy must be with an authorised insurer. The Financial Conduct Authority has a list of these at www.fca.org.uk
  • Public liability insurance is also essential. Make sure you get the right cover for your particular circumstances
  • Remember that neither of these policies cover fines, only injury and legal costs. Crown Court fines can be £500,000 or more
  • Keep records of all assessments and training to use as evidence where a claim is being made


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