Keeping employees safe and guarding against injury

A new employee says he knows how to use our heavy vehicle straightening equipment, but the other workers are concerned that he has never worked with this type of equipment.

What should we do?

Repairing vehicles, especially straightening structurally damaged vehicles with clamps, chains and hydraulics, is potentially dangerous. A significant amount of load is needed and if the equipment is incorrectly used/attached it can come loose and has the potential to cause significant injury.
Clearly there is concern, expressed by the employees that work alongside this individual, and you should investigate and not wait until a serious accident has occurred.

Now you are aware of a potential risk you should investigate and look to remove or if not possible minimise the risk. Speak with the other employees and document/record their concerns and assess whether they are actually valid.

If there is any risk you should instruct the employee to stop using the heavy equipment whilst you consider what action to take. You may be able to arrange an assessment of his skills by the equipment supplier.

Ensure any assessment is correctly recorded and documented and retained in the personnel file. The situation may be rectified by arranging training, or you may discover that the clamps you use vary from the ones the employees has used previously, simply agreeing to purchase a new different style clamp could resolve the matter.

If you are unable to arrange training or if the employee was employed on the basis that he could use this particular type of equipment then it would be sensible to recheck his references, contact his previous employees and ask them what type of work he undertook for them.

When speaking with his previous employer try not to ask questions that they can answer with a yes or no. Ask open questions, questions that generally start with ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and allow the previous employer to tell you what he has done. Don’t fall into the trap of you explaining what you think he has done and simply expecting the employer to agree with a yes or no.

If the employee is unable to safely undertake the task for which he was employed then you should consider whether you will be required to terminate his employment, ensuring of course that you follow a fair procedure.

You should certainly not ignore the warning of your employees because accidents can happen and they can seriously injure and kill employees.

Last month in September 2016 a Bolton based scrapyard was sentenced after an employee suffered facial injuries at work.

Vehicle breakers firm, The Scrappers Ltd and Terry Walker, a consultant for the company, appeared at Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester where they denied breaches of health and safety law.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty to health and safety charges in relation to the incident. Terry Walker was acquitted by jury after trial while The Scrappers Ltd was convicted.

The court heard that Mr Aaron Sparrow, an employee at the firm’s Waterloo Road site was working as a ‘spanner man’ which involved taking batteries, wheels, petrol and catalytic convertors (cats) out of the cars in order to be sold on by the company.

On 10 September 2014, employees were instructed to start taking the ‘cats’ and batteries off the cars.

Giving evidence in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution, Mr Sparrow told the court he and his colleague raised cars off the ground slightly using a fork lift truck (FLT) where they would remove the wheels and the battery.

The FLT forks were then raised above head height so they could place fuel retrieval equipment under the car to take the fuel out. They would then cut the ‘cat’ off the exhaust using a petrol saw with a metal cutting blade. A number of separate cuts would be made into the exhaust depending on the type of car.

The court was told on that morning they had done this to around 10 cars. However, while taking a catalytic convertor off a car exhaust with the petrol saw above his head, the saw flicked back out of the exhaust and spun 180 degrees in his hands before the saw hit him in the face.

He was taken by ambulance to hospital and received over 40 stitches and underwent plastic surgery on his brow and eye lid. He was later told that the saw blade missed his brain by 3mm.

The HSE investigation found there was no record of formal training, and a tool specifically designed for the job was not generally used. There did not appear to be any formal supervision arrangements at the time, and there was no safe system of work in place for operating the petrol saw at the time of the incident.

HSE said the system of work described by workers demonstrated that using the petrol saw in this manner was custom and practice in the company. However the company denied this and told the court this system of work was not allowed and not carried out.

The Scrappers Ltd, of Watling Street Road, Fulwood, Preston was found guilty of breaching Section 2(1) the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £26,687,88.

It is clear from the above that dangerous situations arise and it is essential that you devise, implement and monitor suitable safe systems of work for hazardous activities. If one of your employees was injured, and it is found that the injury was entirely avoidable had a safe system of work been in place, then you personally and the business could face criminal prosecution. Also your employee could be scarred for life or even have been killed.

It is important to regularly review the equipment that you use in the workshop and identify what risks there are from using the equipment and following established working practices so that you can change processes to remove or minimise the risk.