The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has reported the findings of a survey of its members which suggests that 44% of teachers are unaware of whether any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are at their workplace.
NUT estimates that ACMs are present in 86% of schools. Only one in six teachers who knew there were ACMs at their school had been shown an asbestos management plan. Worryingly, of those teachers who knew there was asbestos at their particular school, a third of them reported at least one incident where there could have been exposure to airborne fibres. The Union reports that 22 teachers died of asbestos-related disease in 2012 alone.
Following consultation, the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland has decided not to follow the lead of the rest of the UK with regard to accident reporting.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997 will stay in force, leaving the over-three- day reporting criterion intact. Elsewhere the trigger point for reporting rose to over seven days back in 2013.
Draft guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council include potential increases in fines. The most serious health and safety offences could attract penalties of up to £10m whilst firms convicted of corporate manslaughter might end up with more than £20m to pay.
For each category, there are a number of steps to be taken into account. These include the size of the organisation, how far the offender had gone below the required standard, the true financial performance of the organisation, and how the size of the fine might affect innocent parties such as employees or beneficiaries of the organisation’s work..
Shortly before Christmas, the Government launched a programme called Fit for Work, which aims to support people in work who have health conditions. An advice line has been set up and a national rollout will take place over the next few months, with an expected coverage across 45 NHS Occupational Health teams at more than 100 sites offering face-toface appointments.
The target is to facilitate a meeting within five days of a person being referred to the service. A study of General Practitioners suggests that around a third of employees likely to be incapacitated for four weeks or more might be referred.
The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that referral rates will be somewhere between 10% and 70% of those eligible. Critics claim that employees may be steered back to work before they are fully fit, and a poll of 1500 workers found that four out of five people supported this negative view. On the basis of this scepticism, it remains to be seen how many employees will be prepared to take part in this voluntary scheme.
Despite the World Health Organisation calling for e-cigarettes to be banned in enclosed spaces, the Department of Health has confirmed that it has no proposals to legislate for this. It is understood that the Welsh government may introduce its own restrictions for use in enclosed public spaces.
None of this affects each employer’s ability to make a policy decision on whether e-cigarettes should be prohibited at individual workplaces. PHSC’s experience to date is that the majority of employers who have considered this issue have decided to treat the use of e-cigarettes in the same way as ordinary tobacco.
The Health and Safety Laboratory has published a research report into the efficacy of cleaning products being used as an alternative to handwashing. The lengthy report is very technical in nature, but an interesting outcome is a recommended hierarchy of choice for hand hygiene methods.
The five alternatives in order of effectiveness are: washing with soap and warm water, washing with soap and cold water, rinsing with water alone, using moistened wipes, and finally the use of hand rubs or gels.
Dr Richard Judge, a Chartered Engineer, will start work as the chief executive of HSE in November 2014, moving from his current role as chief executive of the Insolvency Service. His earlier career includes posts in the nuclear, rail and environmental sectors. Dr Judge replaces an acting chief executive, Kevin Myers, who has covered the post since August 2013.
An independent report has concluded that the Fee for Intervention (FFI) system, whereby the Health and Safety Executive levy a charge on transgressors for time spent dealing with material breaches of legal requirements, is fit for purpose.
Key findings are that FFI has proven effective in shifting the cost of regulation from the public purse to those who break the law; there is no viable alternative, given the Government’s budgetary constraints; the policy is being implemented fairly and consistently, and there is no evidence that HSE are misusing FFI to rake in extra revenue. The report also concluded that despite this new financial disincentive to break the law, there is no evidence that fewer contraventions are taking place.
In the 40th anniversary year of the Health and Safety etc at Work Act 1974, figures have been released to show that there have been huge reductions in the number of workers killed or injured.
There is no doubt that much of the 77% reduction in injuries, and the 85% fewer fatalities, can be attributed to safer workplaces and improved safety management. Less clear is the contribution of changes in technology and the general shift away from jobs in manufacturing to the service sector.
Despite these other factors, it is unarguable that Britain leads the way in occupational health and safety. Minister of State for Health and Safety, Mark Harper, said: “Our workplace safety record is now the envy of the world, with businesses and governments queuing up to tap into our expertise. Britain is now officially one of the safest places in Europe, and the world, to work.”
The Crime Survey for England and Wales reports that there has been a drop of around 25% in physical assaults at work over the last decade. Verbal threats have reduced even more, showing a 30% decline.
The occupational groups most at risk are those interfacing with the public. The police experience five times as many assaults as the average occupation, and there are also above-average rates for those in the healthcare and social service professions.
The findings, in an HSE report, can be seen online at http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj/ violence/violence-at-work.pdf