Tragic strimmer death leads to European ban

Tony Robinson, 37, from Ulverston, died after a link from a chain, spinning at around 300 miles an hour on a petrol strimmer, became detached and struck him on the back of the neck, causing fatal injuries at Ramsden Dock in Barrow on 8 February 2010. Three Shires Ltd, which specialises in ecological and forestry work, has been sentenced over the death of a father-of-four in Barrow-in-Furness, who was struck by a piece of metal that flew off a strimmer at high speed.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the work had not been planned or carried out safely.  Barrow Crown Court heard Mr Robinson, a self-employed contractor, had been hired to help clear undergrowth at the site during the construction of the new Waterfront business park. He was using a chainsaw to cut back the overgrown vegetation, with another worker using the strimmer on a nearby bank. The chain attachment had been added to the strimmer so it could be used for more heavy-duty work. But the HSE investigation found ThreeShires had not properly considered the risks of using the attachment, and had allowed Mr Robinson to work close to where the strimmer was being operated.

Tony Robinson’s widow, Jenna, said  “Even though I am no engineer, when I was shown the piece of equipment, common sense told me that it was an accident waiting to happen, with links that could easily fly off. It is obvious that insufficient care was taken to protect anyone in the vicinity. “I cannot comprehend that a company, supposedly experienced in this type of groundwork, didn’t use common sense to realise the equipment was dangerous. This oversight has shattered and ruined my life and that of our children. “The only small comfort is that the equipment has now been banned so hopefully another family will be spared the anguish we have had to go through and continue to experience with every birthday, Christmas or family occasion.”

ThreeShires Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of workers. The company, of Kings Gardens in Grantham, Lincolnshire, was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in prosecution costs on 12 March 2012.
Speaking after the hearing, Allen Shute, the investigating inspector at HSE, said:  “This was a tragic case which has resulted in the needless death of a worker because the company responsible for his safety didn’t do its job properly. The chances of him being struck by a piece of metal when the chain became detached were increased by the fact that the strimmer was being operated nearby on a bank above where he was working. The company should have properly considered the risks of using a heavy-duty piece of equipment before it allowed the work to take place. If it had, then Mr Robinson’s death could have been avoided.

“The chain attachment has since been banned across Europe, and I would urge anyone who still has one to dispose of it immediately.”

HSE issued a Safety Alert following Mr Robinson’s death, warning that there was a risk of death or serious injury from the use of the strimmer attachment.
It also served an immediate Prohibition Notice against the sole importer of the chain attachments in the UK, which resulted in a nationwide ban on the sale or supply of the product. The attachment has now also been banned across Europe, after HSE alerted the European Commission to the issue.
HSE issues Safety Alerts when major faults are identified in a product, which require immediate action to reduce the risk of death or serious injury. More details are available at http://www.hse.gov.uk/safetybulletins.

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Work at height regs change pressure brought about by the scaffolding industry.

Responding to the recent government report by Professor Löfstedt on the review into existing Health and Safety legislation, the NASC (National Access & Scaffolding Confederation) react in particular to the recommendation to review the Work at Height Regulations by 2013.

Since their introduction in 2005 these regulations have provided an increased awareness to both operatives and employers on the inherent risk when working at height, including what the requirements are to work safely and legally. However some aspects of the regulations can be improved.

One particular ‘grey’ area is the use of the terms ‘competent’ and ‘competence’ which occur frequently throughout the current legislation. These terms are both ambiguous and open to interpretation. This non-specific term has resulted in different interpretations and hence different standards of safety protocol – yet these terms are also at the ‘heart’ of the regulations.

The NASC recommend that these terms be replaced by the term ‘qualified’ (as already adopted in the gas fitting industry). The work at height industry, including scaffolding can demonstrate clearly and accurately that an individual is ‘qualified’ by virtue of the fact that he has completed suitable training, which includes theoretical, practical and on site experience – the aptitude of the Scaffolder to continue to carry out his/her skilled works is also challenged every five years to ensure continued compliance. Scaffolding contracting companies are also able to be audited to ensure continued compliance/qualification via existing regulated protocol such as the NASC’s membership criteria which is already acknowledged by many clients and main contractors as the only method of determining scaffolding prowess that meets all current Scaffolding and Health & Safety legislation.

By replacing the terms ‘competent’ and ‘competence’ with the clear and indisputable term ‘qualified’ the new edition of the regulations in 2013 will help achieve the objectives of the report’s recommendation – ensuring that those actions carried out in accordance with the Working at Height legislation are proportionate. Adoption of the term ‘qualified’ will also help overcome those continually legislation challenging sectors, such as SMEs and the self-employed.

Plus Safety comment: Providing “qualified” means a proper course of training backed up by examination and relevant experience checked by an independent authority, then OK! But all to often “qualified” can mean anything you want it to mean, particularly length of time in the job,which doesn’t always mean fully competent or qualified! Someone needs to qualify what qualified actually means! Which is exactly the problem with competence! Interesting!