Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Once again, docks a "low risk" workplace

DOCKS can be dangerous places to work. Mechanisation might have reduced the workforce but having human beings and heavy machines moving in the same place brings added risks and requires more care. What comes to mind for me is Simon Jones killed at Shoreham by a mechanical grab chopping off his head.
Factor in employers cutting corners -the grab should not have been in use -and inexperienced casual labour -24 year old student Simon had just been sent by an agency that morning when he died.
William James, 73, did not lose his life, just his legs. He was working at Tilbury, on Stanton Grove Limited's Berth 47, on March 26 2010, when the incident happened. He was returning to a safe spot under a quayside crane when he was knocked down by a 45 ft container being lowered by a reach stacker.
The driver of the reach stacker, unaware that Mr James was on the quayside and had been knocked down, continued to lower the container onto his legs. They were crushed to such a degree that they later had to be amputated.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive(HSE) found that Stanton Groven Grove had failed to ensure the safety of Mr James while he was working on the quayside.
At Basildon crown court Stanton Grove Limited, based at Tower Wharf, Northfleet, Kent, admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £20,000. The awarding of costs was to be determined at a later date.
Mr James's employer Castlekeep Limited was also prosecuted for alleged breaches of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The company was found not guilty at an earlier hearing.
Reporting this case today, the HSE quotes HSE Inspector Toni Drury, said:
"This incident clearly demonstrates why it is essential that the risk arising from the movement of vehicles and large lifting plant at docks is carefully managed.
"It is common for a wide range of vehicles and equipment to have to use shared space on the docks. There may also be workers on foot undertaking tasks such as guiding loads, removing twistlocks or supervising operations. Good co-ordination and co-operation between all those who are in control of the berth, the operations and the workforce is a necessity, and an agreed safe system of work must be properly communicated and training provided to all involved.
"HSE will not hesitate to take action where there is a risk of serious harm to people at work."
It's good to hear that, even if this probably won't get as much media coverage as myths about kids being prevented from playing conkers. Only thing is, the ability of the HSE to do anything for safery on the docks is being restricted. Following the Lofstedt review, the government decided that health and safety in Docks had improved to such an extent that it could now be considered a low risk industry, and that therefore there was no need for routine inspections or that many enforcement actions.
In 1989 Margaret Thatcher met the port employers and business leaders who complained about the National Dock Labour Scheme and its stranglehold on the docks. Thatcher deregulated the entire industry. As anyone knows, once you take away people's job security there is a good chance you will reduce their safety too, as experienced workers are replaced by casuals, union organisation is undermined, and workers who think something is wrong are reluctant to say anything, hoping someone else will be the one. We know from the building trade how often those who raised safety issues were the ones who became blacklisted.
In the docks industry, where memories had been passed down about the bad old days of men waiting or even fighting at the gate, and employers taking their pick for the day, there was concern about the return to casual labour. Then Employment Minister Norman Fowler declared there would be no return to casual labour. Instead the bosses introduced ‘Non Permanent Employees’ who were coincidentally hired and fired by the day.
Once again accidents, deaths and injuries soared. There was an outcry, and employers had to clean up their act to an extent. But now, according to health and safety campaigners and trade unionists, things have been getting bad again as the government plays down the number of serious accidents and deaths, in the cause of eliminating "red tape", and deregulation.
Writing in the Hazards magazine back in January, Unite docks convenor Andy Green noted:
"In the last 3 months 8 people have been killed in separate incidents in the UK’s docks. The first on October 23rd 2011, Ian Campbell, a dockworker in Tilbury was killed when the Container Straddle Carrier he was driving overturned, a few days later a lorry driver was killed in the same port. There then followed further deaths of a Tugman in Liverpool, an Engineer in Sunderland, a Driver in Ipswich, a Crewman in Felixstowe, another Crewman in Hull and the latest on 27th January 2012, an Agency Worker in Immingham was buried beneath tons of coal inside a ships hold".
That's some "Low Risk" environment. But as Andy Green observes:
"Employment Minister Chris Grayling in trying to make a bit of a name for himself when it comes to health and safety, launched his Health and Safety Made Simple
'a package of changes designed to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and promote a proportionate approach to managing health and safety'.
"And so after a round of consultation with business organisations many of the regulatory burdens of health and safety have been removed. Unfortunately the lessons of history are not often learnt and in the case of the Docks, history is repeating itself. Docks were subsequently reclassified as low risk and deaths and injuries began increasing at an alarming rate".
We may not have the hiring pens these days, but as Andy points out,
"Despite assurances that casual labour would not return huge numbers of ‘non permanent’ workers still sit at the end of the telephone hoping for a few hours work. Not daring to complain about the dangers they face at work for fear of losing the little work they have, they tolerate the most dangerous conditions. They are often put to work with little or no training, their own lives and the lives of others put in danger.
"Unite the Union regularly receives reports from workers in the docks about atrocious health and safety conditions and the numbers of reports are increasing.
"Speak with most temporary workers and they won’t even have seen a risk assessment let alone know what one is. The training they receive doesn’t meet any standard at all, even those laid down by the industry itself. When they receive just 30 minutes training to drive a forklift it’s not just the temporary workers in danger, everyone is at risk.
"The hours which temporary workers can be expected to do can be lethal, there are those who are working 26 consecutive night shifts without as break, others who are told to work 24 hour shifts, complain and there’s no more work.
"They are being charged for their PPE and so they scrape together old helmets and ragged boots in which to work, and if they are working with dusty cargo their employer will charge them for their Lung Function tests; despite this being a statutory duty of the employer. But who dares to complain?
"This dreadful situation will only deteriorate further as these companies now see the low risk industry in which they operate as being without HSE interference. The users of these agency (non permanent) companies do not get involved in the health and safety issues of their labour suppliers; after all it is someone else’s problem, right?"
It is clear we cannot rely on employers' "self regulation" to keep disablement and death off the docks, and declaring it a low risk environment only reduces the chance of the HSE being able to do anything. But besides campaigning for adequate inspection and enforcement of regulations, the best way to look after workers' safety is to decasualise the industry so far as possible, and make sure workers have union organisation, and representation. Even frequent inspections can't beat having elected and trained safety reps whom workers can trust, keeping an eye on the job all the time.





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At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Dangerous workplaces said...

How on earth could a dock be low risk workplace?
1. It's near water- that in itself is a risk
2. There's heavy machinery there
3. It's not exactly the most organized environment in the world, at any moment something could be underfoot that could cause you to slip and fall.

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