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Practical tips for mobile or agile working 02/09/2019

Management of musculoskeletal risks from mobile devices – phones, tablets and laptops – offer interesting prospects, writes Ed Milnes, chartered ergonomist & human factors specialist, Guildford Ergonomics.

Mobile devices in their ‘natural form’ are designed for convenience and portability, not for prolonged work. Increasingly we are seeing upper limb and neck issues – from low-level discomfort to conditions such as De Quervain’s (tenosynovitis) and employers are keen to do what they can to manage these issues.

When we think about practical tips to reduce MSD risks from mobile devices, often the first thing that comes to mind is physical alterations/modifications such as external keyboards, styluses, stands to raise screen height etc. These can be helpful, but they are likely to be most effective when they sit within a behaviour-management framework.

The hierarchy of risk control is still a useful starting point; step one - elimination of risk / removal of hazard. 

Practical tip 1: Consider - do people actually need to be using their mobile devices intensively or for long periods or can the work be planned another way, avoiding prolonged device use? 

For example, it is useful for people to be able to check emails and messages on-the-go, but longer periods of data entry are typically better suited to more conventional DSE, which leads to the next tip:

Practical tip 2: Set clear boundaries and expectations for device use – type of work to be done and periods of use.

Depending on how ‘locked-down’ devices are, there is scope for creeping increase in use, simply because they are a familiar format, convenient and increasingly powerful/capable to do what we want them to. Setting clear expectations is one way of keeping use within reasonable levels.

You could even consider steps like the ‘Right to disconnect’ – setting periods when there is no formal expectation to check devices. Although this kind of approach needs to avoid being draconian and should balanced against employees’ needs for flexibility.

Mobile devices are often provided to staff who have mobile/field-based roles. The convenience of mobile devices helps them manage their time and workflow more effectively. However it should still be discussed with them, as part of a DSE assessment how they can limit their device use. 

We need to acknowledge though, that in many cases, efficient work is reliant on device use, hence the next tip.

Practical tip 3: Select suitable equipment for the work being done. 

For example, in roles where people are holding the devices for long periods whilst using them (such as a healthcare environment), consider the size and weight of the device. Or consider if people need larger screens - their tasks may be visual or require quick scanning of larger amounts of data – in which case the screen size requirement needs to be balanced against device weight.

Even with effective device selection, any unavoidable prolonged use should be supported with suitable equipment.

Practical tip 4: Provide equipment to improve working ergonomics.

For laptops in prolonged use, lightweight stands are recommended in combination with lightweight portable keyboards. An ideal scenario is to issue mobile workers with detachables, so only the stand needs to be carried additionally. 

For tablets, prolonged users should also use a stand – preferably a riser that actually lifts the screen – rather than a case stand. This should be combined with a keyboard and – for Android and Windows users – an input device. 

Where tablets are held for long periods, a comfortable handle / grip should be provided, and a strap fitted to allow users to stop holding it.

Phones can also be connected with keyboards – for any longer typing / data entry. They can also be placed on stands and risers to free the hands and improve neck posture. Although the small screen size still limits practical use. Styluses also offer a cheap and effective way of helping users vary their wrist posture during direct use.

Practical tip 5: Provide training in the risks and risk management. 

Employers should provide guidance and training in safe use, and appropriate use of supplementary equipment. 

Advice such as holding the screen up with arms supported where possible, safe typing techniques, keeping responses / typing short, use of dictation facilities and styluses, regular checking of bags for unnecessary weight. These are all things that people don’t necessarily think of independently, because we are so used to using these devices every day, and we don’t necessarily associate our aches and pains with how we are interacting with them.

Training has a threefold impact: helping safer work, encouraging safer use of devices at home (which can itself have an impact on health at work), and putting out information that can be passed on to future generations of workers. 

This third point is perhaps the most important, and it offers employers a valuable opportunity to use mobile device training to contribute to Corporate Social Responsibility; benefitting the long-term health of the wider population.

HSE will host the Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Summit on 21 March 2018 at the QEII in London.

This summit will explain what HSE is doing in this area, what you can do about MSDs and what current scientific thinking is starting to shape new and re-energised approaches to help us. You can book your place at

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Company fined £1.1m following Red Arrows pilot death 28/02/2018

An ejection seat manufacturer has been sentenced following the death of a Red Arrows pilot in 2011.

Lincoln Crown Court heard that Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd made and supplied the ejection seat that failed on 8 November 2011 after Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, a pilot, was ejected whilst the Red Arrows were preparing to take off from RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that a mechanical fault led to the failure of the parachute deployment mechanism designed to bring the 35-year-old pilot to ground safely. This resulted in the main parachute failing to deploy.

Flt Lt Cunningham suffered multiple serious injuries and was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to hospital.

A number of inquiries took place after the incident, including a police investigation, a Ministry of Defence investigation and an Inquest. HSE worked alongside Lincolnshire Police, the Coroner, and the military investigators throughout these inquiries.

HSE inspectors found that in the 1990s two aircraft manufacturers had made Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd aware of issues with the drogue and scissor shackles, designed to deploy the main parachute for the ejection seat mechanism. The design of the component was such that at zero speed and zero altitude the ejection seat could fail to operate as intended.

Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd of Lower Road, Higher Denham, Near Uxbridge, Middlesex pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. On 23rd February 2018, the company was fined £1.1 million and ordered to pay costs of £550,000.

HSE operations manager Harvey Wild said: “Our investigation found that Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect users from the risk of harm after it was told of concerns regarding the shackles which deployed the main parachute.

“The death of Sean Cunningham was therefore avoidable. Our thoughts today are with his family, who are both devastated by these appalling events and proud of Sean for fulfilling his ambition of becoming a pilot with the Red Arrows.

“We understand that a great deal of time has passed since this tragic event. However, this was an extremely complex investigation and no prosecution could be initiated until after the Inquest and other inquiries had concluded.

“We would like to publicly thank Sean’s family for their patience and support throughout.”

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Tata Steel fined £1.4m after health and safety failings lead to death of worker 06/02/2018

A steel producer has been fined after the death of 26-year-old maintenance electrician, Thomas Standerline.

On 2nd February 2018, Hull Crown Court heard how, on 23 April 2010, Mr Standerline, an employee of Tata Steel, was examining a crane as part of his inspection duties as a maintenance electrician. Whilst carrying out this work, an overhead crane travelled over the cage he was in, trapping and then crushing him. Mr Standerline died instantly.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Tata Steel had failed to enforce its own safety procedures, despite having two previous incidents before Mr Standerline’s death. The HSE investigation also found Tata Steel failed to put in place essential control measures which would have prevented the overhead crane that killed Mr Standerline from even being in operation.

Tata Steel UK Limited of Millbank, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 and Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £1.4 million with costs of £140,000.

Speaking after the hearing, a member of Mr Standerline’s family said: “Thomas’s death has devastated us as a family. There’s not a day goes by when we don’t think about him. We miss him always, especially on family occasions when he should be with us. He was well loved by everyone who knew him, and had lots of friends. Every day we think about what might have been if he had still been here. We would like to thank, once again, all those who have helped and supported us over the course of the last eight years. It means a great deal to us.”

HSE principal inspector Kirsty Storer said: “This tragic loss of life could have been avoided had the company adhered to and enforced its own safety procedures. Despite two previous incidents sharing features with the one which ultimately cost Mr Standerline his life, the company failed both to take these as a warning sign and to act on safety recommendations.”

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London Borough Council fined after HSE investigation 05/02/2018

A London Borough Council and large waste company have been fined after a worker was crushed by a reversing dust cart, suffering significant injuries.

Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 9 May 2016, an employee of London Borough of Croydon, working within the motor vehicle repair undertaking of Veolia as a workshop cleaner, was struck by a reversing 17 and a half tonne dust cart.

The worker suffered multiple fractures to his right fibula, femur, knee, ankle, wrist and hand. He also suffered an injury to his right hand requiring a skin graft. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the workshop cleaner was employed as a ‘supported employee’ due to his learning difficulties with a recognised need for heightened supervision.

Due to his work, he was often required to work in parts of the site, such as the workshop, where large vehicles with low rear visibility for drivers were manoeuvring. He was known to have a history of standing in the path of moving vehicles, an issue known to both duty holders which they failed to address adequately. The court heard that direct management or supervision of the individual had diminished over time and the worker was left with no active management. It was found that London Borough of Croydon failed due to their presumption that Veolia were managing the injured party and that they should have communicated with Veolia to keep their employee safe.

Veolia ES (UK) Limited did not recognise this ‘agreement’ nor did they require the services of the workshop cleaner but, nevertheless, the worker continued to operate within their workshop and had done since their contract began.

London Borough of Croydon has guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,842.83. Veolia has pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and has been fined £250,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,359.83

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Megan Carr said: “This serious workplace transport incident could have been avoided if both duty holders had taken the appropriate safety precautions when planning this activity. Failing to identify the risks led to this man suffering serious life changing injuries.”

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HSE decide against softening asbestos checks 23/01/2018

Plans to water down medical checks on asbestos workers have been abandoned.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has abandoned plans to reduce the period between medical examinations for asbestos workers after being lobbied by unions including Prospect.

Following a review of the Control of Asbestos Regulations published in 2017 the HSE decided to launch a consultation on one aspect of the regulations. Views were sought on reducing the frequency of asbestos medical examinations for licensed contractors from two years to three years.

Prospect’s submission to the consultation strongly opposed the change and analysis by the HSE of the responses found that 61 per cent did not support the proposed amendment.

Commenting on the outcome of the consultation, Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect said: “Asbestos is a silent killer of thousands of workers every year. Frequent medical checks for those engaged in the dangerous removal of asbestos from old buildings is vital to pick up any symptoms as early as possible. We welcome the HSE seeing sense on this issue.”

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HSE food manufacturing inspections target the causes of workplace ill-health 03/01/2018

Companies and people working in food manufacturing are being told they must pay closer attention to how they manage workplace health risks or face serious penalties.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) programme of proactive inspections will review health and safety standards in food manufacturing businesses across the country, and the sector is being warned that a programme of unannounced inspections will begin on 8th January.

The inspections will focus on two of the main causes of ill-health in the sector which are currently occupational asthma from exposure to flour dust in bakeries, cake and biscuit manufacturers and grain mills and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – predominantly lower back pain and upper limb disorders from manual handling activities and repetitive tasks across the sector.

The inspection visits come as HSE recently released its Manufacturing sector plan which prioritises the reduction of cases of occupational lung disease and MSDs.

Exposure to flour dust is the UK’s second most common cited cause of occupational asthma. MSDs are the most common type of work-related illness in food manufacturing with handling injuries, accounting for around 20% of reported employee injuries (RIDDOR). HSE insists that such ill-health can be prevented when organisations have proper risk control systems in place.

The inspections will ensure measures are being taken by those responsible to protect workers against health risks and HSE will not hesitate to use enforcement to bring about improvements.

The HSE’s head of manufacturing sector, John Rowe, said: “The food manufacturing sector is made up of over 300,000 workers and its health and safety record needs to improve. This inspection initiative will look to ensure effective management and control of targeted health risks. 

"HSE is calling on anyone working in the industry to take the time to refresh their knowledge of our advice and guidance, available for free on our website. 

Food manufacturing companies should do the right thing by protecting workers' health; everyone has the right to go home healthy from work.”

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Construction company fined after worker seriously injured 02/01/2018

A construction company has been fined after a worker suffered serious injuries when the first floor of the building he was standing on collapsed underneath him.

Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court heard how Huntsmere Projects Limited was the principal contractor for the construction of a new house in Alderley Edge. A subcontractor had installed the first floor but a gap left between the concrete beams on the landing was not identified by the Huntsmere site manager nor the contractor’s supervisor.

On the 22 April 2014, a 47-year-old worker fell approximately 3.5 metres when the concrete block beneath his feet gave way and he fell between two concrete beams, suffering serious multiple fractures.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the collapse occurred as a result of some of the installed floor blocks becoming displaced during the work on site because of the gap. Huntsmere Projects Limited did not take all practicable steps to prevent danger to workers from collapse of a part of the new building. The investigation found that the company should have ensured that the floor was installed as per the design and failed to identify the gap which allowed the floor blocks to move.

Huntsmere Projects Ltd, of Alderley Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £240,000 with £14,439.53 costs.

HSE inspector Deborah Walker said after the hearing: “As principal contractor, Huntsmere Projects Limited was responsible for safety on the site including ensuring proper planning and co-ordination on the part of all involved in the project.

“Huntsmere Project Limited also had a duty to monitor and control the other contractors that it had engaged – the collapse could have been avoided had the company fulfilled its duties in its role as principal contractor.”

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Recycling company fined after worker crushed by machinery 21/12/2017

A waste and recycling company has been fined after a young worker was paralysed after becoming trapped in machinery.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard how the 24-year old Mercian Recycling Limited employee, who was undertaking routine maintenance work inside a conveyor, fell approximately four metres to the floor when the machine was switched back on with him inside.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident, which occurred on 22 December 2016, found that the company had insufficient controls in place for the management of these risks at their premises.

Mercian Recycling Limited of Ebury Road, Kings Norton, Birmingham pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and has been fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,498.34.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Paul Cooper said: “This is a case where the company failed to have in place any controls whatsoever for ensuring routine maintenance operations were carried out without risks to safety. It reinforces to companies in the waste industry the need to identify risks to their employees and others and to put the necessary control measures in place.

“The waste industry is a known high-risk industry and for this reason HSE is currently targeting the sector with an inspection initiative to ensure effective management and control of risk”.

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Port company fined after 600kg bag falls on employee 18/12/2017

A port company was sentenced for safety breaches after a bag of fertiliser fell and struck an employee.

Ipswich Magistrates’ Court heard how a 600kg flexible intermediate bulk container (FIBC) bag of Ammonium Nitrate fell onto an employee as he was removing pallets from the front of a stack. The incident caused him to sustain multiple fractures, a dislocated ankle and knee and back injuries, and he was unable to work for thirteen weeks.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident which occurred on 16 May 2016, found that the company had failed to follow their own risk assessments, by stacking FIBC bags directly on top of one another, rather than in the recognised industry standard of stacking in a pyramid fashion. The company had also failed to review their stacking practice following earlier incidents of bag spills and stack collapses at their Ipswich and King’s Lynn docks.

Associated British Ports of Bedford Street, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and have been fined £666,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8688.23.

Speaking after the case HSE inspector Tania van Rixtel said: “This case highlights the importance of ensuring FIBC bags are stacked according to industry guidance.

This incident could so easily have been avoided if the company had followed their own risk assessments and reviewed their systems following previous bag collapses.”

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HSE to take lead of investigation into death of five workers at Birmingham recycling plant 15/12/2017

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced it will be assuming primacy from West Midlands Police of the investigation into the death of five workers at a metal recycling plant in Birmingham on 7 July 2016. HSE will now be leading the investigation into whether any health and safety laws have been breached.

Five workers aged between 40 and 56 were killed when a wall collapsed on them at the site in the Nechells area of the city.

 Geoffrey Brown, principal inspector leading the investigation, said: “This remains a criminal investigation into the five deaths. We will be considering whether there were any breaches of health and safety law relevant to the circumstances of this tragic event.

“HSE’s thoughts remain with the families of those who lost loved ones that day. We will of course keep the families updated as our investigation continues.”

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