Dangers of working at height

Stevenage Magistrates’ Court fined a Cambridgeshire based roofing contractor, Kerry Parmenter, for safety failings which put three workers at risk.  The firm was contracted to carry out roof work at the premises of Cottage Linen Limited in Hertfordshire.

Following a site visit, work on the roof was stopped by the client after they were informed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of unsafe working methods.

In January 2015 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that workers were being put at risk by working on the fragile roof without adequate controls and using inappropriate equipment Kerry Parmenter had failed to adequately plan, manage and supervise the work.

Kerry Parmenter, of Paddocks Toll, Forty Foot Bank, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 13(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, and Regulation 9 (2) of the Work at Height Regulation 2005 and was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,459.

HSE inspector Rauf Ahmed said after the hearing:

“Work on fragile asbestos cement sheet roofs is a high risk activity with a history of fatal injuries. Workers are at risk of falling through the roof or from open edges if protections are not in place. There is publically available guidance on HSE’s website highlighting the control measures required for carrying out this type of work.”

For further information on working safely at height visit the HSE website

Using mobile phones when driving – is merely complying with the law sufficient?

More than a quarter of all road traffic incidents may involve someone who at that time is driving as part of their work (Department for Transport figures).  Furthermore, there is a substantial body of research that shows using a hands-free mobile phone whilst driving is a significant distraction, and substantially increases the risk of the driver having an accident.


Drivers using a hands-free phone get just as distracted as those holding it in their hand, researchers have found. Scientists at the University of Sussex found conversations can cause the driver to visually imagine what they are talking about. This uses a part of the brain normally used to watch the road, the University of Sussex study said. The findings made the case for all phones to be banned from cars, according to the lead researcher. The study involved 20 male and 40 female volunteers who took part in video tests while sitting in a car seat behind a steering wheel. One group of volunteers were allowed to “drive” undistracted while another two heard a male voice from a loudspeaker 3ft (0.9m) away. Those who were distracted by the voice engaging them in conversation took just under a second longer to respond to events, such as a pedestrian stepping off the pavement, an oncoming car on the wrong side of the road or an unexpected vehicle parked at a junction.

This article aims to review whether merely complying with the law is sufficient. It seeks to influence employers and employees in changing policies and behaviours in order to reduce what could be perceived as the most significant risk they face at work.


Policy v Practise

There remain a substantial number of employers who condone the use of hands-free mobile phones whilst driving on company business – after all it’s not against the law! However, this practise is arguably now more problematic to justify. Although these employers may have established driving safely policies, which include restrictions and sometimes prohibitions on mobile phone use, there is sometimes a disconnect with general business demands namely, the need to meet customer response times and liaising with prospective clients. Furthermore, some organisations actually view driving as ‘downtime’ which needs to filled and be made productive by ensuring staff make and receive calls to clients and colleagues alike.

What We Know

Drivers who use a hands free mobile phone are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them; they fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed; are more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front; and they react more slowly, taking longer to brake and longer to stop. Using a hands-free mobile phone whilst driving does not significantly reduce the risks because the problems are caused mainly by the mental distraction and divided attention of taking part in a phone conversation at the same time as driving.

However, as a society we all receive mixed messages regarding whether hands-free mobile phone use causes significant distraction whilst driving. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of cars are fitted with Bluetooth technology, a technology that promotes safer mobile phone use, but not safe mobile phone use.


The Law

In order to understand the law relating to using hands-free mobile phones when driving, we will have to firstly remind ourselves of the law relating to using hand-held mobile phones when driving. It is illegal to drive using hand-held phones or similar devices. The rules are the same if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic. You can get an automatic fixed penalty notice if you’re caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving and you will get three penalty points on your licence together with a fine of £100. Your case could also go to court and you could be disqualified from driving and get a maximum fine of £1,000. However, if you are the driver, you can use your mobile phone in a vehicle if you need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop or when you are safely parked.

In relation to using hands-free mobile phones when driving, these may be used legally. However, if the police think you are distracted and not in control of your vehicle, you could still be stopped and penalised.

These offences apply simply if you are seen using a mobile phone while driving. If your driving is bad, or if there is a crash while you are using your phone, you could be prosecuted for careless driving, dangerous driving or, if someone is killed, for causing death by careless or dangerous driving. Fines can be much greater, and prison becomes almost certain if a death is caused.


Hands-Free Mobile Phone Use

As mentioned earlier there is abundant evidence that using any sort of phone has a considerable effect on accident risk, so simply complying with the law does not make you a safe driver. While it’s not a specific offence, using a hands-free phone can have a major bearing on whether or not you could be found guilty of careless or dangerous driving.

So we know that using a hands-free mobile phone presents a significant distraction to drivers and yet it is still common for colleagues and customers to continue with calls in the knowledge that one or both are driving. This behaviour is ‘driven’ by the health and safety culture of organisations, which influences individual behaviours, not least of which, how drivers choose to behave in their own cars.

Adopting even the most straightforward risk assessment approach to this issue would lead to the conclusion that something needs to be done. Herein lies our challenge!


So What Needs To Be Done?

Well, the battleground is changing behaviours of employers and employees in relation to driving and mobile phone use. Employers must develop robust policies, which acknowledge and support a zero tolerance to making and receiving calls whilst driving. Also, employees must plan to make additional stops to pick up messages and to make calls when stationary. ‘That would never work in our company’ could be an expected response from some organisations, however, the task for all of us involved in reducing risk must surely be to challenge that cultural stance. Personal experience has shown that one approach to this is to ask an audience to envisage the scenario that they knocked someone over whilst driving and using a mobile phone – would they still use their phones whilst driving? Of course they wouldn’t!

In practise organisations can take the following steps which go beyond merely complying with the law, but aim to further reduce risks presented by driving for work:

1. Develop and support policies that prohibit the use of hands-free mobile phones whilst driving – ‘zero tolerance’.
2. Ensure policies are communicated and introduced effectively to all stakeholders (business leaders, managers, staff and customers).
3. Silence and place mobile phones out of sight to avoid the temptation to pick up calls.
4. Disconnect mobile phones from in-car Bluetooth connections.
5. Add to personal voice messages that calls cannot be taken at that time because of meetings or because of driving.

When these steps are introduced, it is important that everyone is signed up. Everyone must agree to the policy (including all senior managers), talk positively about the policy and then consistently practise the policy. If there is a perception the organisation is not fully supporting the introduction of a zero tolerance policy to mobile phone use, then individual behaviours are unlikely to change.

So in conclusion, by adopting a risk based approach to this important area of health and safety management, merely complying with the law as it stands does not go far enough. We need to change perceptions and cultures so that organisations eventually talk about a zero tolerance policy to mobile phone use whilst driving as being the norm, and something that does not have to be regularly re-communicated and enforced.

By: Phil Jones is a Chartered Member of IOSH and part owner of Quantum Compliance.

Flat Living Live 2016

Join us this year at Flat Living Live.  We are looking forward to another fantastic few days, this year at the new venue; Olympia 6th – 7th July.

This will be the event’s second year.  As a dedicated exhibition for the Residential Block Management sector, we are proud to attend and further develop our client relationships.  This year we will also be hosting a seminar on both days.  In attendance we will have with us some of our most expert consultants.  We will open the floor to questions and aim to answer them thoroughly for you.

For more information on our seminars, or on the event, please feel free to contact us.


Fall from height sadly caused loss of life

Birmingham Crown Court heard how H20 Plumbing Services Limited, a Birmingham maintenance company, were contracted to carry out repairs to two motor rooms situated on the roof of a building on Hagley Road, Birmingham.  H20 Plumbing Services Limited has been fined after a worker died after falling from the roof of a five-storey building.

Two workers set up a station immediately outside of a protected area in which to mix some mortar due to lack of space. The mixing station consisted of a tarpaulin sheet placed on top of the roof with a plasterer’s bath placed on top. The corners of the tarpaulin sheet were weighted down with bags of rubble.

At the end of the working day, the employees were cleaning up and as they moved the mixing bath, the sheet of tarpaulin blew open due to the wind and landed over the edge of the building. As one of the workers attempted to retrieve the sheet he stepped off the side of the building, falling 14 metres, suffering fatal injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 10 October 2014 found that H20 Plumbing Services Limited failed to ensure the safety of its employees during the external repair work.

After the incident, HSE Inspector Amy Kalay commented:

“This incident was obviously foreseeable. The employees of H20 working at the site were effectively left to their own devices with equipment and a system that was not wholly suited for the task at hand.

“A suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk, suitable planning, implementation of suitable control measures and adequate and effective site supervision would have prevented this incident from occurring.”

H20 Plumbing Services Limited, of Lee Trading Estate, College Road, Perry Barr, Birmingham pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,000.