Whenever we think of health and safety we tend to think about employees. But what about others who visit our workplaces, such as maintenance and repair contractors. How do we make sure they’re safe too?
One tool often used is the permit-to-work system. A permit-to-work is a documented procedure which simply authorises people to carry out specific work. It sets out the precautions that you have taken before work starts, such as electrical isolation, and it should specify the control measures needed as the work takes place, such as carrying gas detectors and using protective clothing. It is a way of communicating about risks and letting a contractor know that you have made the plant safe for them to work on (or in some cases, in!)
Sounds good, but here’s a simple fact worth noting about permits-to-work – having them is not enough, they need to be based on a solid risk assessment.
Last November, Loughborough Magistrates’ Court heard how a contractor was brought in to service UV equipment at drinks-maker Cott Beverages Ltd’s factory in Derby. Before carrying out the task, 49-year-old Richard Sharp was given a permit-to-work. Unfortunately he was not warned of the presence of ozone-producing equipment.
Whilst servicing the UV equipment he began to feel breathless and was subsequently sent to hospital by his doctor for treatment in the poisons unit. Mr Sharp was diagnosed with acute asthma and has since been unable to return to work as an engineer and struggles with day-to-day activities as a result of high sensitivity to different chemicals and smells.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and found that gas was leaking from an ozone-generating plant inside the room where Mr Sharp had been working, owing to sensor probes not being securely sealed.
The court heard how Cott Beverages had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks arising from the ozone-generating equipment, and failed to implement a safe system of work. In addition, people on site were not adequately trained or supervised to safely issue work permits for the ozone room, and the company failed to implement a system to monitor and review the effectiveness of the permit-to-work system.
Cott Beverages Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,565.