February 28, 2022
South Yorkshire businesses have been sharply reminded of their health and safety responsibilities after a series of surprise inspections from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) led to a wave of prohibition and improvement notices being issued to local firms, and the possibility of future claims being launched by affected employees.
Over 12,000 people died from lung disease in the UK in 2020, many of which were most likely linked to a past exposure to welding fumes or the use of metalworking fluids at work. This is thought to have been combined with reported workplace incident figures showing three deaths and 594 injuries in the South Yorkshire region in 2020/21, and this has led to a crackdown involving 22 inspectors from HSE’s Yorkshire and North East Field Operations teams.
The surprise inspections involved 71 different organisations involved in the metal fabrication, engineering, general manufacturing and waste and recycling sectors in South Yorkshire, and resulted in 46 of those firms (65%) being issued with firm orders to make immediate improvements to protect their workers. This included the issuing of three prohibition notices (immediately ceasing the operation in question until corrective actions have been successfully implemented) and 31 improvement notices (involving operations where corrective actions must be implemented within a reasonable timescale).
In addition, a further 23 organisations received a formal written warning from the HSE which compelled them to improve health and safety in specific areas.
The identified breaches were predominantly linked to a poor control of carcinogenic welding fume and metalworking fluids, but the number and severity of the notices issued has led to a widespread re-evaluation of workplace practices across the sector in South Yorkshire, and an audit on the controls currently in place.
An HSE response highlighted that where obligatory action has been demanded “risks were not being adequately controlled”, and that the HSE’s action was “proportionate action to deal with serious risks”. Now, firms where workers regularly undertake welding and use ‘metalworking fluids’, which include oils and fluids for lubrication and cooling, are implementing actions to protect their workers and themselves. Exposure from these activities can be harmful on skin or when fume or substances are inhaled as a ‘mist’, and these are health issues which often only become apparent some time later, often years and even in retirement.
This is why businesses in this sector are being warned by the HSE not to be complacent on the back of satisfactory accident or illness figures currently being reported to them by their own health & safety representatives, because this doesn’t necessarily mean controls are suitable and adequate, because health issues may only become apparent at a later date.
While businesses were at the sharp end of these unplanned HSE inspections and are the focus of the high profile raft of notices issued, employees are also reminded of their own responsibilities. Where an organisation has protective and preventive controls in place with regards to exposure to welding fume and metalworking fluids, an employee has a duty to comply with these measures and use them correctly, such as wearing personal protective equipment and using fume extraction equipment provided. If sufficient controls have been provided and it can be evidenced that an employee hasn’t used them, this will most likely invalidate any future claim an employee may choose to make.
If your business works in this sector and you need to better understand your responsibilities, our team of experts can help you extend your knowledge and implement key controls and procedures. And if you have experienced an accident at work, a personal injury or have experienced an illness you think might be linked to a recent or past exposure to harmful substances at work, we can talk to you about your rights to a possible claim for compensation. In addition, we can discuss with you the possible health implications and give you access to the right medical advice.
Contact Spencers Solicitors today for expert help with issues of exposure, illness, accidents and injury at work.
Posted in: Employment Law