Louise Ryan: Limiting workplace risks amid changes to first aid

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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has made some significant amendments to the way businesses maintain compliance with first aid legislation. Intended to ‘reduce the burden on businesses and put common sense back in to health and safety,’ the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 now state that HSE no longer needs to approve a business’s first aid training and qualifications.

Applied to businesses of all sizes and from all sectors, companies must still ensure their workers have first aid training and that employees don’t conduct tasks without a qualified first aider on site. However, with HSE no longer responsible for managing the provision of first aid for companies, questions are being asked how these changes will affect the quality of workplace first aid.

According to HSE, last year 172 people were killed at work while 111,000 other injuries were reported. The requirement for improved workplace safety undoubtedly remains. While only time will tell how these statistics are affected by the amendment to first aid regulations, we take a look at the most common accidents and the measures we can we take to avoid them.

Trips and Slips

8,929 non-fatal major injuries 

One of the most frequent accidents is slipping on a wet surface in your workplace or tripping over something. This is partly because they can happen absolutely anywhere. The moment someone spills a glass of water it becomes a slip hazard, and not clearing it up promptly could lead to an accident. So always be conscious of the surface you’re on and take measures quickly to limit any risk.

Falling

3,067 non-fatal major injuries 

Tens of thousands of people fall at work every year, many of them from ladders. If you adhere to simple Working from Heights safety procedures, and use harnesses where appropriate, you will radically reduce your risk.

A recent incident that occurred during work on the historic Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, shone a spotlight on the importance of fully adhering to health and safety regulations. In October 2013, a worker fell over four storeys from an unguarded edge, breaking his leg and several bones in his foot. HSE stated that the incident could have been avoided if the edge had been adequately protected and the offending contractor was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £13,365 costs.

Toppling objects

2,347 non-fatal major injuries 

If you have shelves at work then you’re at risk of toppling. The shelves themselves and the objects stacked there should be stable and secured, especially if the items are sharp, heavy, toxic etc.

Neck and back injuries

2,335 non-fatal major injuries from handling, lifting or carrying

A very common injury in any workplace that requires heavy lifting is muscular strains in the neck and back. Proper training is very important for all staff, as is realistic expectations of loads. Back braces also help ensure staff can lift without injury.

A nursery worker recently won a legal battle against her an employee following an incident which left her severely disabled. After placing a baby in a defective cot, the claimant developed a rare back condition, a syndrome which typically attracts compensation well in excess of £1 million.

Impact injuries

495 non-fatal major injuries by moving vehicles

Crashes between cars and trucks are common injuries among delivery drivers and other vehicle related lines of work. Even if the speed is low, serious injuries can occur, so always use helmets and seatbelts where appropriate.

Inhaling toxic chemicals

381 non-fatal major injuries from exposure to harmful substances

Workplaces like labs and factories often have inhalation hazards, and breathing in fumes and gas are another common injury at work. If you want to avoid poisonings and allergic reactions there should always be sufficient protective clothing – like goggles and masks – and ideally staff showers available too in case of skin contact.

A recent case highlighted just how important it is for employers to provide full protection against toxic fumes for their workers, when a bath restoration employee died from over exposure to gases from a paint and varnish remover. HSE inspector, Steve Kirton, said at the time: ‘The use of substances that create toxic fumes must only be used where the fumes cannot build up and affect people, and the work must be properly planned and supervised – none of which happened on this occasion.’

Hearing damage

150 new claims for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

It might not be the first thing you would think of, but over time a loud noise can be as damaging as a blade. A common injury at work is hearing loss from prolonged exposure to noisy machines. Barriers and ear-guards help limit this, and reducing time spent in noisy areas.

Burning

60 non-fatal major injuries from exposure to fire

Burns can occur in more ways than you think. From an exposed flame in the canteen to overheating technical equipment, you need to watch out. It’s the employers responsibility to ensure all such hazards are either removed or well signed, otherwise the individual is well within their rights to take legal proceedings.

In January 2013, a supermarket was ordered to pay costs totalling £25,500 after a catering assistant working in the customer restaurant slipped and fell on hot oil, suffering burns to her back and feet. The local council responded to the incident with a stark warning to employers: ‘This case has highlighted that while a large, sophisticated company may have an extensive portfolio of policies, procedures and risk assessments, these are useless unless they are implemented at grass roots level.’

Cuts and lacerations 

Anywhere there is machinery staff are vulnerable to cuts and lacerations. But you can just as easily cut yourself on a knife or other sharp but commonplace object, so you should always take care not to leave a sharp edge exposed.

RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)

One of the most subtle and often overlooked forms of workplace injury is repetitive strain. Keyboards and other machinery, if the user is not advised on the correct posture, can lead to very real and life-altering problems over time, but breaks and stretching exercises help to reduce the risk dramatically.

It is believed that more than two thirds of workers now suffer from RSI, an affliction which costs around £300million in lost working hours. According to a 2008 study, those who work for smaller companies are most at risk. The group behind the study suggested that this rising issue is one that needs to be addressed and that companies ‘should start assessing the risks and investing in ergonomic solutions where they are needed.’

Article by Louise Ryan at Johnson Law 

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