Electrical Flashover

Case Summary

Employees at BAS Castings Ltd. used a screwdriver to bypass the interlock mechanism on a fuse panel door and suffered serious skin burns due to an electrical flashover.

What is an ‘Electrical Flashover’?

Electrical arcing (sometimes called a ‘flashover’ or ‘arc flash’), perhaps as a result of a short circuit caused by unsafe working practices, can generate intense heat leading to deep-seated and slow-healing burns, even if it persists for a short time. The intense ultraviolet radiation from an electric arc can also cause damage to the eyes. Often those working with or near electricity do not appreciate the risk of serious injury and consequential damage to equipment that can arise from arcing.

Electricity at work: Safe working practices HSG85


  • No rules for electrical safety
  • No safe systems of work
  • No permit to work system
  • No risk assessment
  • No work instructions

Legislative Breaches

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, Reg. 14

Stockwell Safety Comment

Flashovers are a very common factor in electrical incidents. A significant cause is workers failing to follow the correct procedures. Underlying this is the failure of management to have a robust management system infrastructure in place.

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Posted 138 weeks ago

Hotel Prosecuted - No Lifeguards

A hotel swimming pool in Leigh has recently been prosecuted for (amongst other things) failing to provide trained staff to provide an emergency rescue response.

Swimming pools operating in the hospitality sector should take note.

The Health and Safety Executive provide guidance on whether constant poolside supervision is necessary in their publication HSG179 Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools.

Stockwell Safety have produced an interactive tool, based on the HSE guidance, that will allow a swimming pool operator to complete a pool supervision risk assessment in less than 60 seconds.

Hope you find it useful. Feel free to share.

Posted 169 weeks ago

Health & Safety Sentencing


The Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines came into force in February 2016. Since then, there has been a sharp increase in the size of fines and other penalties handed to those organisations and individuals found guilty of causing harm and/or breaching health and safety legislation.

The courts will take a number of factors into account when deciding on an appropriate sentence, but the main factors are:

  1. The culpability of the guilty party, rated from low (minor failings etc.) to very high (flagrant disregard for health and safety etc.).
  2. The level of harm risked. This considers not only the actual harm, but also the risk of harm that could have occurred (even if there was no actual harm). This is rated at level A (death, lifelong disabling injury/illness, reduced life expectancy etc.). B (long-term disabling injury/illness. C (anything not falling into categories A or B).
  3. The likelihood of harm, rated low, medium or high.

So, the courts will go through a process when deciding on a sentence that is pretty much the same as a standard health and safety risk assessment.

Full sentencing guidelines here.

Posted 171 weeks ago

Safe Systems of Work Are Not the Same as Method Statements


There can sometimes be confusion between Safe Systems of Work (SSoW) and method statements. The two terms often get used interchangeably. But they are actually two different things.

Method Statements

These are step-by-step, documented procedures that explain how to perform tasks safety. They are intended to be used by those people actually carrying out the work. Therefore, they should be as user-friendly as possible and not crammed with useless information or technical jargon. If they are, they are very likely to be ignored. Some organisations don’t use the term ‘method statement’ and might instead refer to them as 'work instructions’. Here’s how the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define method statements…

“…describe in a logical sequence exactly how a job is to be carried out in a safe manner and without risks to health. It includes all the risks identified in the risk assessment and the measures needed to control those risks. This allows the job to be properly planned and resourced.”

Safe Systems of Work

In order to produce and implement a method statement (aka: work instruction), you’re going to need to…

  • carry out a risk assessment
  • provide training
  • purchase the correct equipment
  • maintain said equipment
  • supervise staff to ensure they follow the use the method statement
  • have emergency procedures in case things go wrong
  • etc. etc.

Without these things in place, the method statement is not going to be of any use. These are the 'Systems or Work’. They form inputs into the method statement, but there is no need to duplicate them within the method statement.

Take a look at our graphic for a visual representation of how these two areas of health and safety integrate with each other and the broader health and safety policy.

We hope you find it useful.

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Posted 172 weeks ago

Typical Qualitative Risk Assessment Descriptors Don't Work


You’re probably familiar with the risk evaluation matrices that require you to rank severity of harm and multiply it by the likelihood of that harm being realised.

The ranking of severity usually poses no major problems, eg:

5 - Catastrophic loss of life  
4 - Fatality
3 - Life changing injury/illness
2 - Lost time injury/illness
1 - Minor injury/illness

The ranking of likelihood is a bit more challenging though, eg:

5 - Very likely
4 - Likely
3 - Probable
2 - Unlikely
1 - Very unlikely

Is everyone going to be on the same page when it comes to the difference between ‘probable’ and ‘unlikely’, or, for that matter 'very unlikely’ and simply 'unlikely’?

Posted 172 weeks ago

Common Hazard Identification Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them


Hazard identification can be a bit of a balancing act. You want to make sure that all the hazards are identified, but you don’t want to end up with an excessively long list of hazards to trawl through, taking up too much time and resources.

I’m going to go over some of the common mistakes I see being made with the hazards identification stage of the risk assessment process.

Just before I get into it, a quick reminder of the overall risk assessment process:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed (and how)
  3. Evaluate the risk and select controls
  4. Record and implement
  5. Review and update as necessary

Here are the common pitfalls I see people fall into with step 1 (Identify the hazards):

1. Not involving enough people.

There’s really no need to attempt to build a hazard profile across an entire organisation or department all on your own. You’ll get far better results (and keep your own stress levels under control) by utilising the skills, knowledge and experience of  your team.

The people who actually do a particular job can often bring your attention to hazards you might otherwise have missed. The added bonus is that this collaborative approach can help to demonstrate that you’re consulting with people with regard to health and safety matters, which is a legal requirement.

2. Not being systematic.

The range and number of hazards in a typical workplace means there is the possibility that some might get missed, unless an efficient, systematic approach is adopted. To help with this, use common hazard categories, such as:

  • mechanical
  • physical
  • chemical
  • biological
  • psycho-social
  • ergonomic
  • environmental

This will allow you to focus in on a particular group of hazards at a time.

Also, when appropriate, use a range of techniques and information sources to help you with hazard identification. You could probably list quite a few of the hazards in your workplace during a desktop exercise, but there will be others that might only become noticeable through direct observation of work activities. Even then, if it’s not a work activity that you personally engage in on a regular basis, you still might miss some of the less obvious hazards. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to talk to those people who actually do the work and interact directly with the hazards. Asking them for their valuable input can be very beneficial.

  • Other information sources include:
  • HSE Approved Codes of Practice and Guidance
  • Manufacturers and suppliers information
  • Accident and near-miss reports
  • Routine monitoring (inspections and audits etc.)
  • Health surveillance
  • Staff and/or public complaints
  • Departmental meetings

3. Copying and pasting from generic risk assessments.

You can find risk assessments on-line for any number of different hazards. And you might have existing risk assessments within the business that identify various hazards.

Whilst these documents can be of value when it comes to identifying hazards, there’s little to be gained by simply copying and pasting from these various sources without consideration of the actual relevance and applicability of the information.

4. Not prioritising.

The third stage of risk assessment - evaluating the risk, will provide the opportunity to assign a score to each hazard. This will enable you allocate resources to the most significant areas of risk and not get distracted with the relatively trivial.

However, there is much to be gained from beginning this prioritisation process during the hazard identification stage. As you are working through the task of identifying hazards, exercise judgment and discretion to ensure you don’t end up at the end of the process with a list inflated with inconsequential hazards to go forward to the next stages of the process. This would be a huge waste of time and resources and will divert attention away from where it is really needed - the hazards that present a real risk of harm.

5. Missing difficult to spot hazards.

Some hazards are quite obvious…

  • an unguarded piece of machinery
  • a blocked fire escape
  • someone working on a roof with no fall prevention/ arrest equipment

Some are a little more tricky to spot though. This might be because the harm that the hazard causes does not manifest itself immediately, but instead take a long time (sometimes, many years) to become apparent. A few examples…

  • symptoms of lung disease due to asbestos may not show up until decades after inhalation of the fibres
  • permanent hearing damage is usually caused by exposure to only moderately loud noise over a period of years
  • absorption of lead via skin contact with certain substances might only be detectable in the early stages via blood testing

You can avoid missing difficult to spot hazards by ensuring that people who conduct risk assessments are competent to do so. The IOSH Managing Safely course covers the methodology of risk assessment and control and can be delivered on company premises, minimising costs and inconvenience.

So, these are just a few of the more common problems I come across when it comes to hazard identification.

Posted 172 weeks ago

If You See Health & Safety As A Cost - You're Wrong!


Many businesses are guilty of not investing enough in adequate health and safety arrangements, because they see only cost. Training, equipment, procedures, communication, taking the time to plan a job properly - it all costs money. And what is there to show for it? Nothing. So, why allocate precious resources to it? Better to focus on the revenue-generating aspects of the business. Besides - the business has been operating for years now without a serious incident, so it would be a waste of time, effort and money anyway, wouldn’t it?

If this sounds like your thought process, or worse - your boss’s, it’s time to wise up! Consider this - according to recent research conducted by Arinite Health & Safety, the average fine for a breach of health and safety legislation in 2016 was £115,000. That figure is the average, not the top amount - that was £5 million! According to the same research, the average cost of ensuring health and safety compliance for SME’s is around £40,000. 

The figures cited above reveal that there is a potential £75,000 benefit to a business from not being short-sighted when it comes to investment in health and safety.  Now that there is clearer guidance provided by the sentencing guidelines, you can have a look at the figures for potential fines (and also the likely custodial sentences) as they apply to your own situation.

If You Think Health & Safety Is Expensive - Try A Prosecution Under The New Sentencing Guidelines!

Let’s say you are the Director of a small company that is doing well, but because of that, and a failure to lead effectively, there has been a lack of attention paid to health and safety. This has left you in a position where there is a fragmented health and safety management system in place, resulting in there being some work activities for which no risk assessment has been carried out.

Let’s also say that there has been some recent wet weather that has revealed the guttering on the roof is blocked and you ask one of your managers get the problem rectified. This results in one of the workers getting some ladders, getting up on the roof and clearing the blockage. While the job is going on, a member of the public contacts the HSE because they are concerned about the fact that there is no fall prevention measures in place and you are paid a visit by a HSE Enforcement Officer. They discover there is no risk assessment and decide to prosecute.

According to the guidelines, a court is likely to find you ‘highly culpable’ in terms of your failure to put in place measures that are recognised standards in the industry. The courts might take an even sterner view if they believe there has been a deliberate breach of or flagrant disregard for the law (risk assessments are, after all, an absolute duty). They are also likely put this issue into harm category 2, because of the potential seriousness and high likelihood of harm. It is not likely to be harm category 1 (which would be worse for you) because they also need to take into account whether or not the offence exposed a number of workers or members of the public to the risk of harm (the greater the number of people, the greater the risk of harm) and whether the offence was a significant cause of actual harm (in this scenario, there was no actual harm, but that was only down to blind luck!). This means that the fine your business is likely to be looking at will be between £50,000 – £450,000!

That’s The Business Punished - Now It’s YOUR Turn!

Because you are the Director of this business - the buck stops with you! You are accountable for the breach of legal duty to ensure that there are risk assessments in place (even if you’re not the one who actually conducts them). Referring to the guidelines again, it might be reasonable to imagine that the courts would assess your individual culpability as being medium as the offence was committed through an omission (no risk assessment) which a person exercising reasonable care would not commit. Again, because of the factors discussed in the previous paragraph, it’s harm category 2. You’re going to be looking at a Band E fine (300–500% of relevant weekly income) or medium level community order (e.g. 80–150 hours unpaid work) or up to 26 weeks’ custody!

Factors that would make it more likely that you would receive a custodial sentence would be:

  • Previous convictions
  • Motivated by financial gain
  • Deliberate concealment of illegal nature of activity
  • Established evidence of wider/community impact
  • Breach of any court order
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Poor food safety or hygiene record
  • Refusal of free advice or training

Factors that would make it less likely that you would receive a custodial sentence would be:

  • No previous convictions or no relevant/recent convictions
  • Steps voluntarily taken to remedy problem
  • High level of co-operation with the investigation, beyond that which will always be expected
  • Good food safety/hygiene record
  • Self-reporting, co-operation and acceptance of responsibility
  • Good character and/or exemplary conduct
  • Mental disorder or learning disability, where linked to the commission of the offence
  • Serious medical conditions requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment
  • Age and/or lack of maturity where it affects the responsibility of the offender
  • Sole or primary carer for dependent relatives

Just Because You Can’t See It - Don’t Assume It Isn’t There

Please bear in mind that so far, this article has only explored some of the costs associated with fines. There are many other costs that need to be considered if you want an intelligent perspective on investment in health and safety. Take a look at the following (non-exhaustive) list of examples:

  • Lost time - sick leave, absenteeism etc.
  • Lost time - directors and managers involved with investigation, remedial actions, solicitors etc.
  • Recruitment costs - because of high staff turnover
  • Training - again, because of high staff turnover and also filling-in for staff on sick leave
  • Damage - to plant, property, premises, equipment etc.
  • Insurance - your insurers will increase your premiums to cover their own risk
  • Compensation - your insurance covers most, but courts can and do make businesses pay some
  • Loss of contracts - potential clients will not want to work with businesses that have health and safety convictions
  • Loss of reputation - potential customers will not want to buy from businesses with health and safety convictions
  • Overhead costs - energy, wages, rates etc. are all still coming out of the business  

These other costs listed above could actually be far beyond the amount of any fine, yet there are many business owners and bosses who simply don’t see it. They don’t see the bigger picture because either they are not thinking strategically (as any leader should do), or they are simply prepared to take the risk and hope for the best, which is morally reprehensible when the impact of poor health and safety on the lives of real, thinking, feeling people and their families are considered.

Could You Live With Killing Someone?

Think about it. Really let it sink in. If someone was hurt, maimed, diagnosed with a terminal illness, or killed in connection with their work. And that it was as a result of poor standards of health and safety, for which you are responsible - would you be able to come to terms with that? The impact a serious injury or illness can have on a person and everyone connected with them (sons, daughters, wives, husbands, wider family, friends, colleagues) is absolutely devastating. 

Ask almost anyone: “What is the most important thing in the world to you?” and you will, more often than not, get an answer that involves health and safety - their own and/or their families. With this in mind, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone who works for a living to consider the health and safety function of a business or organisation to be not just an important one, but actually - the most important one! More important than profit, more important than sales, more important than branding, marketing, administration, finance. More important than any of it. No question.

Consider that, then try to argue that health and safety costs too much money!

Posted 172 weeks ago

You might not be as pro-active as you think


By treating near misses as seriously as you would an actual accident (investigating, trying to uncover the direct, underlying and root causes), you are going some way towards minimising the risk of an accidental happening in the future.

It’s not pro-active though.

It’s reactive because there was an undesired event that happened.

If you want to be pro-active, don’t focus on trying to prevent accidents by looking at near misses. Instead, focus on preventing the near misses.

But there’s the problem.

Because what you need to devote time, effort and energy to in order to prevent near misses are the undesired conditions, circumstances, situations and behaviours that exist all around us every day in the workplace.

They’re not always easy to spot. And even when you’ve figured out what you need to be looking for, you need a functional system in place to ensure that they are subject to due consideration on an appropriate frequency.

This involves conducting such activities as:

  • audits
  • spot checks
  • inspections
  • …and so on

It’s hard, difficult work. All-too-often, it gets pushed down the priority list by other, more urgent tasks (we’re all busy).

Big mistake though! Because pro-actively seeking to identify those undesired conditions is one of the most important things you can do to make a real impact on the health and safety of yourself and others.

Posted 173 weeks ago

You Can’t Have It Both Ways!


If you think that Health & Safety has gone over the top in the UK, you may have fallen for some of the misleading rubbish that gets published in the press.

It’s a fundamental right that a person that goes out to do an honest days work in order to provide for their family should come home safely at the end of the day, without being exposed to anything that could injure or kill them, or damage their health in any way.

Shift the focus onto someone you care about. Your wife, husband, or your child who has reached working age and is now entering the world of work for the first time.

I’ll bet that if anything happened to them, you would be asking some tough questions about what went wrong and why. Who was responsible? If they turned round and said they didn’t abide by the relevant Health & Safety legislation because in their view it was too burdensome, would you accept that?

Posted 173 weeks ago

Rectum Protectum!


I see the job title of ‘Compliance Manager’ quite a bit these days. I don’t think that the over-emphasis on compliance is useful. 

The three main drivers for health and safety management are moral (ensuring people health, safety and welfare because it’s the right thing to do), financial (if you think managing health and safety is expensive, try an accident!) and legal (avoiding prosecution and/or compensation claims).

I think the most important driver is the moral one. If organisations managed their health and safety systems with the emphasis on the moral driver, rather than the legal one, if they managed as if they genuinely cared about their workers rather than the emphasis being compliance with legislation, the benefits would be exponential.

Compliance would then happen anyway, by default.

Posted 173 weeks ago