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Blocks of Flats – Planning a Fire Risk Assessment

Blocks of Flats – Planning a Fire Risk Assessment

Fire safety for common parts of blocks of flats is governed by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (known as the FSO).  The legislation came into force for the first time in October 2006; a key component is the requirement for a fire risk assessment.  In fact much of the actions you may take under the order will be based upon this initial assessment.

The FSO applies to all parts of a block of flats, other than within the individual flats.

The FSO imposes duties on persons who may include freeholders, landlords, managing agents and contractors who maintain fire safety measures and those who carry out fire risk assessments.

With that in mind, here are a few things you may want to know before you begin:

 

  1. You can do the risk assessment yourself or hire a specialist. Most residential block owners choose the latter.
  2. Responsibility always lies with the responsible person – not external assessors. It is the responsible person who will be liable for prosecution from an inadequate risk assessment.
  3. Ensure that the person conducting the risk assessment has adequate experience, particularly in carrying out fire risk assessments of your type of building.
  4. If the responsible person employs 5 or more people the risk assessment must be documented. The minimum information which must be recorded includes:
    1. The measures that have been taken, or that are in progress to meet the FSO standards.
    2. The action plan – including what actions will be taken to achieve compliance.
    3. Persons or groups of persons identified as at risk by the fire risk assessment.
  5. There is no legal requirement for a particular style or format in recording the findings however there are recommended templates available. There are also certain assessment formats you may wish to consider and request from your specialist such as PAS 79.
  6. Risk assessments involve a degree of access to sample flats – There might be a need for access to be provided.
  7. The goal of a risk assessment should be a suitable action plan with steps to improve fire safety where needed
  8. Action plans should include a timescale for recommendations as well as their priority.
  9. There are 4 different types of fire risk assessment applicable to purpose built blocks of flats in the UK.
    1. Type 1 risk assessment (most basic to satisfy FSO reqs) – common areas only
    2. Type 2 risk assessment – common areas only (destructive), may be required after completing a type 1 risk assessment which identifies possibility of structural deficiencies which could lead to a spread of fire. This is usually a one-time risk assessment.
    3. Type 3 risk assessment – common areas and flats (non-destructive). This exceeds the FSO requirements, considering arrangements for escape and fire detection.  A type 3 assessment may be called when there is suspicion to believe there may be serious risk to residents in event of a fire (such as in an aged flat).
    4. Type 4 risk assessment – common areas and flats (destructive). This is the most comprehensive type of assessment and is most likely when ownership of a block of flats changes hands and there is little or no documentation on work which has historically taken place.
  10. Fire safety within flats themselves is outside the scope of the FSO. The required assessment does not include measures to protect residents from a fire in their own flat.  However limited entry to a sample of flats will normally be required to ensure there is not undue risk to other residents in event of a fire.

 

The key difference between destructive and non-destructive fire risk assessments is that destructive checks look at materials which may be of concern, particularly in older buildings, whereas non-destructive does not.    A destructive assessment may require an external contractor in addition to the fire risk assessor.  Note that these assessors do not tend to perform this construction work themselves.

 

Avoiding Prosecution

The FSO says that inadequate safety measures which place people at risk of serious injury or death in the case of a fire are deemed as an offense.  It is the principle aim of such fire risk assessments to remove such risks and as such, their importance cannot be underestimated.

 

Asbestos Still a Threat in 2018

Asbestos Still a Threat in 2018

This week a freedom of information request by the BBC found that 90% of UK hospital trusts run hospitals which contain asbestos.  This accounts for 198 of the 2011 trusts in the country.

It’s shocking that a material known to be so hazardous is still so widely present in the UK.  Crucially however, the news highlights just how far spread the use of asbestos was, and how the threat is still present day, despite the fact it was banned in 2000.

If asbestos can still be present in our hospitals, it poses the question where else can it be?  The impact of our past love affair with this cheap commodity is still very much felt today.  Overall it’s a stark reminder that asbestos is not yet consigned to the past and it is a serious threat that cannot be ignored.

 

Asbestos exposure is still happening

Although the vast majority of asbestos contact occurred in the past, it still happens today.  The most at risk are construction workers who spend time on old building sites where asbestos may be present, however homeowners can be at risk when renovating too.

Fortunately there are stringent regulations in place to help protect workers, however it is still very important to be mindful that the threat may still exist and should be taken seriously.

 

Protecting yourself

  • Any property built before the year 2000 could house asbestos containing materials (ACMs).
  • If asbestos is not removed from a property an effective management plan should be in place.
  • If you are unsure whether your property contains asbestos, give yourself peace of mind with an asbestos survey.

How does Asbestos Removal Work

How does Asbestos Removal Work

Most people are aware that handling and simply coming into contact with asbestos can be seriously harmful to health.  After confirmation that your home or commercial premises harbours asbestos you may be advised to have it removed (although sometimes an asbestos management plan can be drawn up if it poses no risk).

 

Always use a professional

Asbestos is extremely hazardous and complex to remove, it should always be carried out by an experienced professional.

 

The process explained

  • Preparing the area – Depending on where the asbestos is located and how much there is you may have to temporarily remove furnishings and yourself from the building. Sometimes it is possible to stay on the premises while the work takes place, usually however it is best if the property is vacated.
  • Containing the asbestos – The asbestos must be contained so that it does not become airborne and reach other areas. Plastic sheeting may be used to help keep the fibres contained.
  • Filtering the air – While the removal takes place specialist HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters) are used to trap asbestos dust particles and prevent them from escaping the contaminated area.
  • Removing the asbestos – Removal may involve applying moisture so that the asbestos particles are heavier and less likely to become airborne. Manageable pieces of asbestos or contaminated materials are double bagged and removed from the property.  Once removed from the property the asbestos containing materials are taken to specialist sites to be incinerated.

 

Ensuring the area is safe

An important part of the removal process is ensuring the building is safe to enter again.  Once the asbestos has been removed the property must be declared safe with an air quality test.  Testing the air allows specialists to determine if any asbestos fibres remain present in the property or not.

A safe, standard level is less than 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetre (recognised in the UK).  Once this level has been reached, the containment area can be taken down and the area thoroughly cleaned.

 

How long does the process take?

This depends on the amount of asbestos there is.  Smaller amounts can be safely removed within a day, however larger projects may take up to a week to safely remove.

Health & Safety Considerations in Warehouses

Health & Safety Considerations in Warehouses

When it comes to warehouse health and safety, its importance cannot be underestimated.  While some threats to safety may seem obvious, such as heavy machinery and moving vehicles, they still pose a significant problem in the many factories and warehouses across the UK.

The manual handling of loads for example is the main cause of 3 day + absence from warehouses and factories;  In addition to this as many as 13% of injuries are caused moving/falling objects, and 10% were hit by moving vehicles.  Much of this is however avoidable.   Let’s take a look at some of the considerations warehouse owners should take when it comes to health and safety:

 

Trips & Falls

Trips and falls might seem like easily preventable problems but they continue to pose a threat to worker safety in a large percentage of warehouses.  You may be surprised to learn that ¼ of major injuries are caused by trips, falls and slips (source HSE).  Considerations to help avoid such injuries include:

  • Proper guard rails
  • Installing anti-slip tape
  • Remove obstructions as quickly as possible
  • Ensure adequate lighting in poorly lit areas
  • Remove bumps from flooring
  • Use bright, visible signs to indicate tripping hazards

It’s a good idea to walk around the warehouse, noting any potential hazards, including that of how workers are positioned and whether they are over stretching, or lifting unnecessary weights.  You can take this further with a full risk assessment, this can form the basis for a general health and safety policy within your warehouse and gives staff the confidence that you are invested in their safety.  In fact any business with more than 5 employees must have a health and safety policy written down.

 

Fork-Lifts

The OSHA found that 95,000 injuries are caused while operating forklifts every year.  This highlights the need for good housekeeping which could help to prevent many of these injuries.  Ensure that aisles are kept clear and at busy times extra care is taken.  Consider specific legal requirements for forklift truck drivers and that safe use is enforced.  The HSE has a useful guide for employers regarding fork lift trucks.

 

Ergonomics

Growing in popularity among workers and employers, ergonomic practices have become more prevalent in recent years as people become more aware good working posture.

Many hours of productivity are lost due to poor ergonomics.  Working in one position for several hours a day, leaning or stretching awkwardly can all take their toll on workers bodies.  There is now plenty of advice and research into the topic, with the term coming somewhat of a buzzword in recent years.

There is plenty that can be done to help protect employers from sustaining posture and ergonomic related injuries.  This covers basics such as proper lifting practices, as well as adjusting VDU stations to comfortable positions.

  • Look around the warehouse for awkward postures
  • Utilise lifting equipment where possible to reduce strain on workers
  • Use platforms, ladders and steps to avoid awkward reaching
  • Be wary of situations where workers are in one specific position for prolonged periods of time. Many ergonomic related injuries are caused by repetitive tasks or postures.

There are some regulations employers should be wary of too, including the display screen equipment regulations 1992.  This applies when workers use visual display units.  Employers must:

  • Assess and reduce risk
  • Provide eye tests on request
  • Plan work so there are breaks or changes of activity
  • Avoid aches and pains by adjusting chairs & VDU equipment

 

Contractors and Agency Workers

When hiring external contractors it should be assumed they have adequate knowledge of good health and safety practices, however you may wish to make them aware of your own procedures.  Their level of experience should be a good indicator of health and safety knowledge and adherence.

When it comes to hiring agency workers employers should risk assess and take into account their familiarity with the job and level of experience.  It is in an employers best interest to consider the health and safety of all agency workers and provide basic training applicable to each job role.

 

Training and Involvement of Staff

It can be tempting to cut corners, skipping or minimizing training to keep costs low.  Often however health and safety is overlooked.  It may be assumed that workers have the adequate knowledge; however this is when accidents happen.  Inadequate training can end up costing more money in the long term from lost productivity, time off and potentially legal matters.

Make sure that all staff more than enough training related to their job role, consider:

  • Heavy machinery – Many injuries are caused by inadequate training on the equipment staff are using such as press machines.
  • Moving parts – In a lot of warehouses there will be equipment with a lot of moving parts, staff should be aware of warning labels and the proper procedures for safe use of such equipment.
  • Refresher/updating training – It’s good practice to check that staff are still using equipment and working in the correct way from time to time. Consider refresher training and if equipment changes, updating training if necessary.

 

Harmful Substances

One of the more obvious health concerns.  You should be well aware of your requirements as an employer in relation to COSHH (control of substances hazardous to health).  Another consideration for factories and warehouses may be asbestos, particularly if the building was built before the year 2000.

 

When Should You Remove Asbestos?

When Should You Remove Asbestos?

Asbestos is well known as a dangerous substance since it was fully banned in the UK in 1999.  Once breathed in the fibers can eventually lead to serious health issues, including cancer.

Upon discovery that your property has or might have asbestos it is only natural to want it gone.  It might seem counterintuitive but when it comes to the best methods for dealing with asbestos, removal isn’t always the right choice.

Buy why? If it’s so dangerous shouldn’t it be removed as soon as it is discovered?

Asbestos is most dangerous when it is disturbed and the fibers are released into the air, this includes attempting to remove it.  Definitely do not try to remove it yourself, or hire someone inexperienced.

While this is true for most cases, the only way to know for sure is with an

.  By getting a survey from an experienced asbestos survey company, you will be able to determine exactly what state the asbestos is in and whether removal is needed or not.

Removal Can Pose a High Risk

Sometimes removal is not the best cause of action.  In some cases removing asbestos containing materials poses a high risk in both the removal and disposal process and you may be advised against it.

If it is out of the way it may be less likely to be disturbed and any deteriorating fibers are kept away.  One of the methods to managing asbestos is to make it safe by containing it.  This means that even if any fibers are released through deterioration they will be contained and you won’t be at risk from breathing it in.

Cost Can Play a Role

Asbestos removal is time consuming and costly. It can also be disruptive to businesses and homeowners. For these reasons alone many people opt for a maintenance plan instead.  This doesn’t mean it is an inferior, or less safe option.  In a lot of cases little action if any is required. So long as the asbestos is contained or not disturbed it doesn’t pose a risk.

If money and disruption isn’t a concern you may choose to have the asbestos removed for complete peace of mind.  Again, before making this decision be sure to have a survey to ensure that the asbestos can be safely removed.

Thinking of Refurbishing? You Need an Asbestos Survey..

One case where removal may be needed is if you plan to do any refurbishments.  Since such work can disturb the asbestos, it may be necessary to have it removed before the work commences.  It all depends on the location of the asbestos.  Again, as asbestos has no obvious warning signs, it is critical to know where all, if any asbestos is in your property.  The only way to know this is through a professional survey.

Other people are having asbestos removed, does that mean I should?

Asbestos is being removed from buildings up and down the country all the time, but that doesn’t mean it is unsafe to leave it.  Every case is different and removal isn’t always the appropriate cause of action. In most cases it is perfectly safe to keep it where it is, with the appropriate measures the dangerous fibers can be kept from being released and the asbestos poses no threat.   Never assume this to be true without first getting a professional survey done!

 

What Are the Risks of Asbestos

What Are the Risks of Asbestos

What is Asbestos and why was it used?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in construction for thousands of years.   It was a cheap, convenient material used in buildings for its strength, ability to add insulation and fire resistance.

The use of asbestos was widespread in the 1930s – 1960s.  For many years the reported dangers of asbestos were ignored, particularly by the construction industry.  It wasn’t until the 70s that regulations came into force once the dangers of asbestos were more known.

What are the dangers of asbestos?

Asbestos is very harmful to human health.   Once released into the air and breathed in, asbestos particles can remain in the lungs for many years and cannot be removed.  In the worst cases asbestos exposure can lead to lung disease and cancer.  Symptoms do not always present themselves until many years down the line, which is what makes it so hard to spot.

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, however most problems occur with repeated exposure.

It is important to remember that buildings built with asbestos are generally safe.  The risk to health only occurs when the asbestos has been disturbed.

Use of asbestos was not fully banned until 1999, so houses and buildings built up until this period could still have asbestos containing materials present.

If you are concerned, you can put yourself at ease with an inspection from a reputable asbestos survey company.

Who is at risk from asbestos?

The people most at risk from asbestos are those doing work in old buildings such as roofers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and even homeowners doing DIY.

People may come into contact with asbestos through drilling, or cutting into walls or removing roof tiles.

As a building owner, especially commercially, proper steps must be taken to manage the risks associated with asbestos.

There is far less chance of coming into contact with asbestos containing materials today.  Strict regulations help to protect workers.  By knowing that asbestos is present procedures can be put in place to keep people working on older buildings safe.

If you are not sure whether your home contains asbestos or not, it is safest to not drill or cut until you are sure that the area is safe.

Asbestos is still present in many buildings and there is still a risk that should not be ignored, even for homeowners.

Kent Tyre Firm Fined £1million

Kent Tyre Firm Fined £1million

To highlight the importance of employee training, the following article defines the risks faced when a strategy for staff training has not been clearly defined and implemented within an organisation.

A Kent-based tyre company was fined £1 million after pleading guilty to breaching sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 that led to safety failings that caused the death of a 21 year old tyre worker.  The incident took place on company premises when the individual was carrying out repairs on the tyre of a ‘dresser loading shovel’ when it exploded and killed him.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that he was not properly qualified or competent enough in this particular area of expertise to be completing these repairs safety. The equipment provided was also inadequate..

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Prosecution for Canterbury School – the importance of strategic approach to staff training and competency

Prosecution for Canterbury School – the importance of strategic approach to staff training and competency

In August 2014, an incident took place at a school in Canterbury that highlights the seriousness of this issue. The school was running a summer camp for local children and during one of the swimming sessions, a seven-year-old boy got into difficulty whilst in the water. It took approximately three minutes for the lifeguards to notice that he was in distress, they then removed him from the water and performed CPR. As a result of the incident, the young boy developed a condition called pneumonitis, which is inflammation of the lung tissue.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive concluded that the lifeguards were not effectively managed by the employer to ensure that they were fulfilling their duties as lifeguards. In this instance, the employees were not properly vigilant whilst on duty, which resulted in the incident that took place. It was also discovered that two of the three lifeguards on duty at the time did not hold current, up-to-date lifeguard qualifications. The school was taken to court where it pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; it was fined £18,000 and had to pay £9,669.19 in costs.

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Addressing musculoskeletal conditions within the catering industry…backs and reducing the likelihood of ill health from repetitive minor injury

Addressing musculoskeletal conditions within the catering industry…backs and reducing the likelihood of ill health from repetitive minor injury

Working within the catering industry can result in a number of musculoskeletal conditions that can affect the back, hands, neck and legs. They are often caused by repetitive, forceful tasks, and/or poor posture whilst performing such tasks; lifting heavy loads can also cause issues in the longer-term.

There are a number of ways that management can help to reduce the risks of employees developing musculoskeletal disorders. In order for this to be deemed suitable and sufficient in the eyes of the law, the hierarchy of control measures must be followed. The hierarchy of control measures require an employer to eliminate a risk activity wherever possible. This can be as simple as ordering smaller boxes to reduce the size and weight to carry, arranging storage to prevent the need for lifting and providing lifting aids and trolleys where possible. The residual activities of the task must then be subject to a risk assessment – drawing out the detail of the task to address specific areas of risk, and adopting suitable control measures. The risk assessment should use the MAC tool provided by the Health and Safety Executive if it includes manual handling tasks, such as pushing, pulling, lifting or carrying. Continue reading

Work Equipment and Staff Competency – Know the pitfalls

Work Equipment and Staff Competency – Know the pitfalls

The Provision and use of Work Equipment Regulations and their applicability within the catering industry.

All work equipment whether manual or mechanised will fall under the Work Equipment Regulations 1998. This requires an employer to ensure that all machinery and tools provided are suitable for use, and that the people using them have received training in their correct operation.  Even very simple equipment within minimal operational requirements can pose a significant risk if procedures stipulated by the manufacturer are not communicated to staff.

One such example of this was when a supermarket was taken to court after failing to ensure that their workers had access to appropriate equipment for safely emptying deep fat fryers, in line with the requirements of the equipment design. Continue reading

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