Cardiff Crown Court was told that 30 of Nordam Europe’s employees were exposed to risk of “significant” harm. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that workers at the company’s site in Gwent, South Wales, used various hand-held vibrating tools, including orbital sanders, rivet guns, grinders and drills. It said Nordam Europe “should have carried out a suitable assessment of work activities which exposed employees to vibration and should have implemented additional controls to reduce exposure so far as was reasonably practicable”.
The Environmental Audit Committee has published a new report, Heatwaves: adapting to climate change, in which it makes a series of recommendations to help workers cope in overheating work environments. These include a review of the building regulations for a new standard to prevent overheating in new buildings, as well as formal guidance from Public Health England to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working during heatwave alerts.
This is an average of 4.1 days per employee and corresponds to a sickness absence rate of 1.9% (the proportion of working hours lost to sickness absence). The average number of sickness absence days taken by UK workers has almost halved from 7.2 days in 1993 when records began, though the rate started to fall overall from 3% in 1999. Absence levels varied between occupations, from a rate of 0.9% for managers and senior officials to 2.8% for those working in caring, leisure and other service occupations.
In early 2015, the Glasgow Subway’s operator, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), engaged civil engineering company Freyssinet UK for a £16m programme to modernise 10 km of tunnels.Appointed as principal contractor and principal designer, Freyssinet had 22 months from the April 2015 start date to complete the works, which posed significant challenges from the outset.
Besides age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), environmental factors can have an impact too. Noise is the most obvious occupational one, but exposure to some substances, known as ototoxins, may harm our hearing or compound the damage noise causes.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that between 2002 and 2011, Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions (BBUS) had regularly exposed workers to the debilitating condition while they were operating handheld power tools such as hydraulic breakers and floor saws. The HSE found that although the company had detected ill health early on, it did not act on this information to prevent ongoing exposure. BBUS failed to assess the risk to workers’ health, did not adopt control measures and had no suitable system of health surveillance in place.
The report is based on a recent study commissioned by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) that examined the issues faced by workers affected by cancer. Researchers said optimising the rehabilitation and return of those affected by cancer would improve their wellbeing and reduce the financial impacts of the disease on European businesses. They have recommended the development of new legislation that obliges all employers to offer return-to-work programmes for their employees.
“Some people will say ‘you can’t do zero harm, that’s just ridiculous’ but how come we have sites that can go for years and years without harm? We are saying that day by day you always have to aim for zero harm and we expect those gaps to get bigger and bigger so sites go for more and more years [with no accidents].”