The Dangers of Breaching COSHH Regulations
Updated: May 4, 2020
This morning I've been looking into breaches of the COSHH Regulations.
And I'm completely baffled by how many companies have been fined, directors put in prison and unfortunate workers injured. It's 2020 and companies are still cutting corners with safety? As a safety professional, it deeply upsets me that these employers can be so cavalier about the lives of their workforce. And yes, there have been deaths as well as countless injuries; a worrying amount of them life-changing.
Why do they cut corners when they know they will eventually get fined?
Or even locked away? Failing to properly control hazardous substances and allowing your workers to come into contact with them in the workplace can carry series penalties. So, in my mission to improve current chemical safety (COSHH) training I'm going to go over the dangers of non-compliance. COSHH or the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, requires that businesses prevent or reduce their employee's exposure to substances that are dangerous to human health. I've been over COSHH before, why we need it and the importance of the symbols. It's there to protect not only your workers but you and your livelihood too. Why would anyone ignore the pretty hefty penalties? And the guilt? Some of the cases I've been reading are pretty horrific. Arm amputations, severed fingers, chemical burns, unprotected exposure to hazardous substances causing myriad health problems and even death. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) don't care if your business fails, but they do care if your employees are injured because of that business' negligence when it comes to safety. I want to quickly go over a couple of those cases, which happened within the last year or so. That's right, and even as recent as three weeks ago. I still can't believe it. With the amount of information that is readily available, and injuries and deaths being reported in the media... How is it that there are companies out there that aren't only non-compliant; they're willfully ignoring HSE notices to address their chemical safety issues.
Take this first case from the 16th of November 2016. The director of Margam Hall Upholstery Limited and three of his managers receive suspended prisons sentences for repeatedly endangering employee lives.
Not only was the company almost completely non-compliant, they ignored 7 out of 10 of the HSE's improvement notices sent to them, again disregarding the health of their employees. HSE Inspector Helen Turner, said, "When directors or managers who have the power to make the improvements blatantly disregard their workers’ health and safety we have no option but to prosecute.” It wasn't their first prosecution either. The same four people were charged previously, at the same premises, under a different company name for similar breaches of health and safety regulations. The director and all three of his managers were sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for 2 years and ordered to pay £2,500 in costs, each. Now let's take a look at a more recent case, this one from the 26th of September 2017. ESL Fuels Ltd, an oil storage company were fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £17,000 in costs because of an explosion inside a pressurized tank. Contractors hired by the company cut into a sealed pipe and caused the explosion. The pipe and the tank were being used as part of a waste oil recovery process and since that's chemical waste, it's flammable and it exploded. The HSE Investigation found that the company was having on-going problems with waste oil recovery process and it was overflowing out of the vessel and filling its bund.
ESL Fuels had, unfortunately, ran inadequate tests on their equipment and were not able to identify the generation of flammable carbon monoxide gas, which was ignited when the contractors cut into the pipe. The company made a decision to connect the problem vessel to a suitable emergency relief dump tank via new pipework. And repeating their past mistakes, they failed to risk assess the design and modification of the vessel and the pipework. The HSE also reported an inadequate Permit to Work system and systemic failings with the company’s management of contractors. HSE inspector Matthew Lea said: “Even though nobody was injured this incident could have been prevented if the problems with the process and the subsequent design modification had been properly investigated, risk assessed and dealt with, and if the work of the contractors had been adequately controlled. “HSE has brought this prosecution because failures took place that could have resulted in death or serious injury and we believe every person should be healthy and safe at work.” And rightly so. We all, as employers, should have the health and well-being of our employee's at the top of our priorities. Putting aside moral and ethical obligations, you are required by law to ensure a safe working environment for your workers. It's also your responsibility to ensure that your workers are aware of the risks and are properly trained to do their work. And while it's mostly on you, your employees need to be responsible too. You should make it abundantly clear to them their own safety, and that of their workmates is their concern too. Your workers are the people actually doing the work, they are also the best people to spot danger if they're properly trained to identify hazards and report them.
Are you an employer? Are you worried your business may not be COSHH compliant? Take the new COSHH Risk Assessor Certification™. Or are you an employee? Do you feel safe at work? Are your bosses properly assessing risks to your health and preventing them?