Hidden dangers

Related tags Risk Employment Health and safety executive

Hidden dangers
Fall foul of the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations or Health and Safety at Work Regulations and you could face unlimited fines or even corporate manslaughter charges, says Andrew Litchfield

Last May, an employee at Strathmore Foods in Forfar, Angus, slipped from a step while cleaning. Reaching out to break his fall, his hand became lodged in the unguarded hopper of a horizontal screw conveyor, became trapped at the elbow and had to be amputated on site.

Earlier this year, the company was found in breach of the Management Of Health And Safety At Work Regulation (1999) for failing to conduct adequate risk assessment at the factory, and forced to pay a substantial fine.

If this sounds like a gruesome freak accident, trawl through the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) list of food and beverage companies found in breach of the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) or health and safety legislation over the last five years and you'll find another 296 cases just like it, some with even more horrific and occasionally fatal consequences.

Not surprisingly, the HSE's patience is running out; fines are going up, and prosecutions are increasingly being brought if companies are not taking risk assessment and training seriously.

The civil courts have also adopted an increasingly hard attitude in interpreting the legislation against employers whose employees suffer injury caused by defective work equipment. It seems that employees who make a claim of this sort against their employer will nearly always be successful -- liability is strict. So what can employers do to ensure that they meet legal requirements?

The aim behind PUWER is to control access to dangerous machinery; to ensure that proper safeguards are in place; to set standards for proper maintenance and servicing; and to ensure users know how equipment should be used. 'Work equipment' means any material, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work. This includes knives for chopping fruit or meat.

Employers should ensure that work equipment is suitable for the use, purpose and conditions in which it is used. It should also be maintained in a safe condition so that health and safety is not at risk, for example by carrying out regular services and inspections.

Risk management is key. Employers should consider what could be done to prevent risk, for example, by providing better protective clothing, safety devices or more regular training. Records should also be kept to ensure that employees have received adequate training by qualified instructors.

Taking these steps will not provide the employer with a defence against a claim by an employee under PUWER. But, regular maintenance and inspection, and identification of risks, will help to reduce the chances of injuries from work equipment occurring.FM

Andrew Litchfield is a health and safety law expert in Wragge & Co LLP's food and drink team

Oil storage regulations

Time is running out for food manufacturers to ensure that their oil storage tanks meet new legal requirements, warns Ron Reid, a partner at law firm Shoosmiths.

From September 1, 2005, all tanks for storing more than 200 litres of fuel, vegetable oil or other liquid pollutants must be protected by a secondary containment facility such as a bund or drip tray to prevent leaks.

This means that manufacturers must either replace old tanks with modern, double bunded ones, or surround them with a watertight enclosure, says Reid.

Failure to comply could lead to fines and potential prosecutions, particularly if a leak is reported and the tank in question is found to be in breach of the legislation, he warns. "If your oil storage facilities are found to be inadequate by the Environment Agency, it will provide guidance and advice to assist you with compliance.

"But if you fail to act on this advice, the Agency could serve a notice requiring facilities to be brought up to standard. Failure to comply is a criminal act and you could be prosecuted."

Although modern manufacturing sites are more likely to have double bunded tanks, many older sites do not, says Reid. "There's a lot of old kit out there, especially at smaller businesses. However, many large companies also have tanks that need replacing or modifying."

The Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) Regulations only cover England, but Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are expected to bring in similar rules.

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