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Health and Safety – July/August 2018

Two Health & Safety Inspectors in hard hats overlooking some papers Print publication

31/08/2018

Fire safety guidance consultation; national product safety strategy; gross negligence manslaughter sentencing guideline; other sentencing news and more.

Government consults on fire safety guidance post-Hackitt

On 19 July 2018, the government issued a consultation on proposed revisions to clarify building regulations fire safety guidance, known as ‘Approved Document B’, in the wake of Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety. Her final report was published on 17 May 2018 (see our earlier briefing for details). The stated aim of the consultation is to improve usability and reduce the risk of misinterpretation by those carrying out and inspecting building work. It closes on 11 October 2018.

In a press release, the Secretary of State for Communities said that he will go further by conducting a full-scale end-to-end technical review of Approved Document B. A call for evidence will be published in the autumn. The review will assess, among other things, whether the underlying policy should be updated to reflect modern building practice, the latest understanding of fire risks and technical and scientific innovations.

The clarified Approved Document B and a roadmap for wider technical policy changes will be published early in 2019.

We reported previously that the government has recently consulted on banning combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, and on banning or restricting the use of ‘desktop studies’ as a way of assessing the fire performance of external cladding systems. The outcome of both consultations will be announced in late autumn.

The press release sets out a package of additional measures announced to strengthen safety, including that Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a soon-to-be established Industry Safety Steering Group “to drive the culture change needed to improve safety and hold industry to account”.

Gross negligence manslaughter sentencing guideline

The penalties imposed on individuals for fatal accidents in the workplace are set to increase after the Sentencing Council for England and Wales published its definitive sentencing guideline for gross negligence manslaughter on 31 July 2018. The new guideline comes into effect on 1 November 2018 and applies to individual offenders aged 18 and over who are sentenced on or after that date, regardless of the date of the offence. The Sentencing Council consulted in 2017 on a draft sentencing guideline for gross negligence manslaughter (in addition to other forms of manslaughter). There was previously no existing guideline for sentencing offenders convicted of this form of manslaughter. Notably, the consultation paper said the draft guideline aimed to regularise practice rather than substantially alter it, other than in the case of higher culpability offences arising from health and safety breaches where it was anticipated that sentences would rise. The maximum sentence for gross negligence manslaughter is life imprisonment, with an offence range of one to 18 years in prison.

The guideline is a further indication of the increasingly tough line being taken when it comes to health and safety breaches. As we commented in our recent briefing on the new guideline, there has never been a more prudent time to review and update policies and procedures and upskill managers and directors in their obligations under health and safety legislation to ensure the ‘tone from the top’ is consistent, effective and offers some comfort to those individuals who could ultimately find themselves accountable if disaster strikes. Organisations sentenced for the offence of corporate manslaughter will continue to be assessed in line with a separate sentencing guideline [1].

Other sentencing news

A Wakefield textile company was fined £600,000 after a worker was crushed by a moving conveyor while trying to free a stuck package and later died from his injuries. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had failed to take measures to prevent access to the danger zone and there was no safe system of work for the removal of trapped packages from the machine. The HSE inspector said: “This fatality could have been prevented had the risk been identified. Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery.”

Two companies were fined more than £500,000 after a worker was left paralysed following a fall of over three metres through a fragile plastic skylight during a large house refurbishment in London. The HSE investigation found that neither the principal contractor nor the company engaged to carry out demolition work had checked if the skylight was fragile, or taken action to prevent people from falling through it. Among other things, the investigation found that the supervisor directly controlling the work had no formal training relating to supervision and some of the workers, including the victim, had to rely on unofficial interpreters to pass on instructions and tell them what the health and safety records contained.

A Sheffield hot metal forging company was fined £500,000 after a worker was killed while producing metal parts from alloy cylinders. The HSE inspector said: “This tragic incident could easily have been prevented if the employer had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, put a safe system of work in place, and to ensure that the job was allocated to the appropriate equipment”.

A Gwent-based company, which maintains and repairs aircraft components, was fined £400,000 after around 100 employees were exposed to Hand Arm Vibration and developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome over 22 years. At least 30 employees were exposed to risk of significant harm.

HSE publishes annual figures for fatal accidents in the workplace

The HSE has released annual data concerning workplace fatalities, showing that for the period between April 2017 and March 2018 144 workers were fatally injured, an increase of nine from the previous year. The construction sector accounts for the largest share – the annual average rate over the last five years is around four times as high as the rate across all industries. The report shows that the three most common causes of fatal injuries continue to be due to workers falling from height, being struck by a moving vehicle, and being struck by a moving object.

Office for Product Safety and Standards publishes national product safety strategy

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), launched in January 2018, has published its first ever strategy “to further enhance the UK’s world-leading product safety regime”. See the press release for details. The OPSS vision is “a trusted product safety system that delivers protection for consumers, fairness for business and a competitive market place defined by outcomes of safety and public confidence”. It says that it will drive action through the following four objectives:

  • analyse – make the best use of scientific evidence, incident data, risk analysis and intelligence in decision making;
  • inform – help consumers make informed choices and give businesses the information they need to comply;
  • enforce – use the full range of tools and powers to maintain protection, fairness and confidence; and
  • build – a robust product safety system and infrastructure that delivers today and is ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

Pages 9 and 10 of the strategy document set out the key actions which the OPSS intends to take forward, based around these four objectives.

Review of advertising rules relating to products high in fat, sugar and salt

Rules banning the advertising of high fat, salt or sugar food or drink products in children’s media came into force in July 2017, applying to all non-broadcast media, including social media. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) recently launched a review of those rules. See our July 2018 Food & Drink update. On 3 August 2018, CAP updated its non-binding advice on the rules.

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[1] The Health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences: Definitive guideline

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