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Report on government PPE procurement crisis 02/12/2020

WITH THE Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic coming under growing parliamentary scrutiny, Arco has published a Position Paper: Personal Protective Equipment and the Government’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

With a right and responsibility to comment, Arco’s report offers insight into their experiences dealing with Government bodies and other agencies as part of the PPE supply chain. It proposes a 10-point set of recommendations to prevent a repeat of the high-profile issues that were seen during the first wave of the crisis and to ensure the country is better protected in any future pandemic.

With over 135 years of safety experience, its own UKAS-accredited product assurance lab, a 400,000 sq ft National Distribution Centre and a team based in China, Hull-based Arco has been at the forefront of the most significant recent global emergencies, including the response to both SARS and Ebola outbreaks. When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in the UK, the company played a key role in the response, navigating the global supply chain restrictions that led to an international shortage of certain types of PPE. Arco’s product and supply chain specialists worked quickly to source, procure and distribute over 140 million face masks, 18 million gloves, over 50,000 coveralls and 5,000,000 hygiene products to the NHS, ambulance services, other public health bodies, local authorities and critical industries.

The first stage of the crisis saw a severe global shortage of PPE at a time of exceptional demand and a poor centrally coordinated response. Early in the pandemic there were many examples of a broken supply chain with frontline workers left without critical PPE. A number of suppliers, like Arco, were holding stock but unable to work with the Government and its agents to supply PPE where it was needed the most. More recently, a National Audit Office Report has highlighted examples of PPE supply contracts being awarded opaquely to organisations with no history of PPE manufacture and supply, who were ultimately unable to fulfil orders. In some cases, non-compliant products were supplied that increased the risks to the public, care home staff and NHS workers. Much money was spent unnecessarily. 

To address these issues and ensure future preparedness, Arco has developed a set of recommendations based on its experiences during 2020, set out in its Position Paper. Key highlights include:

  1. Registration of competent PPE suppliers to be allowed to supply Cat II and Cat III products, ensuring product compliance and quality.

  2. The Department of Health and Social Care to conduct a thorough review and stress test of its systems from the perspective of suppliers and buyers.

  3. Reform of the Government’s purchasing portal to screen out unsuitable, or unqualified, companies.

  4. An education programme to upskill NHS Trusts, local authorities and care home procurement officers in how to understand PPE standards and source and purchase suitable equipment.

  5. The Government to publish a roadmap for the full reimplementation of the PPE Regulations, to reduce the likelihood of poor quality or ineffective products entering the UK.

Thomas Martin, Arco’s chairman said, “2020 will be a year that none of us forget. It has been a year of sadness and uncertainty for so many people. Our core purpose is to help keep people safe and we responded immediately the pandemic was declared, working 24/7 to help make sure those at the frontline of the response were properly protected. 

“From the outset, we were both frustrated with the procurement system and deeply concerned by some of the simple mistakes made across the UK through a lack of experience of procuring the PPE needed. The NAO report and findings very much reflect this experience. As an established safety business, we feel it’s our duty to report on our experiences and to support the Government in continuing to help deal with the pandemic. We urge the Government to act on our recommendations to ensure we can all be better prepared for any future emergencies.”

To see the full report visit www.arco.co.uk/recommendations

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Fine after overturned truck traps employee 02/12/2020

A CONSTRUCTION company was fined after a driver was trapped when a dumper truck overturned at a site in Liskeard, Cornwall.

Plymouth Magistrates’ Court heard how on the 12 April 2019 an employee became trapped when the truck overturned on the construction site. The employee was not wearing a lap belt and was operating the dumper truck without deploying the roll-over protective structure. He suffered multiple crush injuries to his body, when the dumper overturned.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company, Jim Elliot & Son, had failed to assess the competence and the skills of the operator ahead of work on the refurbishment project. The company also failed to induct the employee on starting work at the site thus failing to identify that the employee had the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to operate the dumper.

It was also identified that the company had failed to undertake a risk assessment or prepare a construction phase plan. These measures, along with a suitable site induction would have identified that the employee did not have the required competence, training, skills and knowledge to ensure that the work was carried out safely and the dumper operated in accordance with its operator’s manual.

Jim Elliott of The Grove, Crow’s Nest, Liskeard, Cornwall was found guilty of breaching Section 13(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. The company was fined £850 and ordered to pay £2,000 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Georgina Symons said, “This incident could have easily been prevented if the company had assessed the risk related to operating site dumpers and ensured that its workers had the skills and competence necessary to do so safely.”

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Catastrophic fall lands wholesaler £120,000 fine 02/12/2020

A GLASGOW-based company has admitted a health and safety offence after an employee fell through a fragile plasterboard ceiling, sustaining life-changing injuries.

Alfa (Wholesale) Limited, a wholesale grocery, catering supply and household goods company, pled guilty to a contravention of Sections 2(1) and Section 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 at Glasgow Sheriff Court on 20 November 2020 and were fined £120,000 today (26 November 2020).

The court heard that on the 5 November 2017 a 24-year-old warehouseman was retrieving stock from a mezzanine in the company’s warehouse in the city’s Lancefield Street when he stepped on to an unguarded area of fragile plasterboard.

The employee fell through the plasterboard, landing on a concrete floor at the bottom of a stairwell. A drop of more than five metres. He was taken to hospital where he was initially unresponsive and diagnosed as having a skull fracture, bleeding on the brain and other significant injuries.

He has been left with cognitive difficulties, hearing loss, facial palsy and problems tasting food and the family has been significantly impacted.

The case was investigated by Glasgow City Council who found that the company had a generic risk assessment for a wide variety of activities within the premises. The risk assessment did not refer to or identify any risks associated with working on or accessing the mezzanine level. The company had not implemented any control measures for employees working near the plasterboard. Stock was being stored very close to the plasterboard and employees were regularly called upon to access this area to retrieve stock.

The investigation found that it was entirely foreseeable that an employee might step onto this unguarded plasterboard. The incident had happened as a result of the company’s failure to identify the risks of staff accessing the stock items stored near to the plasterboard ceiling on the mezzanine area.

Since the incident, the company has changed its working practices.

Alistair Duncan, head of health and safety division said, "This was a foreseeable and avoidable accident resulting in the severe injury and permanent impairment of a young man. It is easy to imagine this having been a fatality. 

"Alfa (Wholesale) Limited accepted liability and the Crown accepted their guilty plea to the contraventions of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. 

"This was an accident that resulted in life changing injuries that could have been avoided if the appropriate measures had been in place at the time.

“Hopefully this prosecution and the sentence will remind other employers that failure to fulfil their obligations can have serious consequences and that they will be held to account for their failings."

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£125,000 fine after employee severs finger 01/12/2020

A PLASTICS manufacturer, who specialises in the manufacturing of traffic barriers and cones, has been fined after an employee’s finger was severed due to inadequately guarded machinery.

Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 5 November 2018, the 36-year-old employee of Melba Products Limited had been refilling the hopper of a blow moulding machine with plastic granules from bags at their site on Manchester Road, Bury. Work gloves that had been inside one of the bags fell into the hopper and through the guard. Whilst reaching through a large gap in the top of the hopper guard to retrieve the gloves, his middle finger contacted dangerous parts of the blender resulting in it being severed down to the knuckle of his second finger.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the blender had not been sufficiently guarded to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery. There was a large gap of approximately 4 x 5 inches towards the top of the hopper guard. The injured employee had only been operating the machine for one week prior to the incident.

Melba Products Limited failed to carry out a risk assessment of the blender, to put in place appropriate control measures to prevent access to dangerous parts and to implement a suitable system of training and supervising of new starters.

Melba Products Limited of Bury, pleaded guilty of breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £125,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,387.

HSE inspector Alex McFarland said after the hearing, “This injury was entirely preventable and could have been avoided by ensuring the machine was being operated safely, with a suitable guard in place. Adequate supervision should also have been in place to ensure the machine was being used safely by newer operatives.

“Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery.”

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Double prosecution after construction worker fatally crushed 02/12/2020

A COMPANY director and project manager were sentenced after an untrained and unsupervised worker was killed when the forward tipping dumper truck he was operating overturned.

Swansea Crown Court heard how on 1 October 2016 the employee was working alone at a construction site in West Aberthaw, Vale of Glamorgan. He was operating a dumper truck around a construction site, which had no designated traffic routes. 

The worker was operating the vehicle when it overturned causing him to either be thrown or jump from the vehicle. The worker was not wearing a seatbelt. 

The 38-year-old man was found two days later with fatal crush injuries at the bottom of a ramp, which formed part of a spoil heap. His injuries were consistent with being struck by the rollover protection structure (ROPS) bar of the overturning dumper truck.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the access ramp was uneven, made up of loose ground; and the slope and cross slope of the ramp exceeded the dumper truck’s machine maximum operating capacity. Untrained operators regularly used construction vehicles on routes that were not suitable for the vehicles and there was no effective management of health and safety on the construction site.

Project manager at TSD group Graham Kuhlmann of Parcau Road, Bridgend pled guilty to breaching section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, he received a 21-week custodial sentence suspended for 12 months and was ordered to pay £5,000 in costs. 

Sole director of Pro’conn Limited, the principal contractor at the site, Kevin March of Fields Park Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff pled guilty to breaching Section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, he received a 32-week custodial sentence suspended for 12 months and was ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Paul Newton said, “The risks associated with untrained operators using construction vehicles on uneven ground with excessive slopes are foreseeable. This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident. 

“Those responsible for managing health and safety on construction sites should ensure that traffic routes are safe, designed and managed, for the vehicles using them; and only those with the necessary skills, training and knowledge should be asked to operate construction vehicles.”

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Network Rail fined following ORR investigation 02/12/2020

FOLLOWING AN investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has prosecuted Network Rail for allowing trains to travel at more than 100mph over a badly storm damaged viaduct.

Network Rail has now been fined £10,000 for the safety breach, by Lanark Sheriff Court, after pleading guilty to an offence under health and safety law.

Lamington Viaduct in South Lanarkshire was badly damaged after severe storms in late 2015. Network Rail allowed several trains to cross the viaduct before realising it had been damaged and eventually closed the line for seven weeks for major repair works.

Commenting from ORR, HM chief inspector of Railways Ian Prosser CBE said, "We welcome this outcome by the Crown Office. Our investigation revealed that Network Rail staff were unaware that they held safety critical duties under Network Rail’s processes to manage infrastructure during extreme weather.

"The viaduct was on Network Rail’s list of high risk structures vulnerable to being washed away by moving water, yet despite this being a known issue, severe damage went unrecognised because Network Rail failed to implement its own procedures which would have meant no passenger trains should have passed over the viaduct.

"This verdict should be a reminder to Network Rail, as it progresses plans led by its two new task forces, that it must continue to acknowledge and act to guard against the serious impact of severe weather on infrastructure."

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£850,000 fine after reversing lorry kills traffic marshal 30/11/2020

CONSTRUCTION LOGISTICS provider, Wilson James Limited, has been fined following a fatal incident where one of their traffic marshals, Kiril Karadzhov, was fatally injured by a reversing lorry.

Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 22 February 2016, traffic marshals, including Mr Karadzhov, were marshalling large vehicles down a ramp into a loading bay for the BBC Worldwide Offices while the former BBC Television Centre was being redeveloped. Mr Karadzhov was struck and killed by a 26 tonne waste lorry, which was reversing down the slope into a loading bay. 

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the traffic marshals were exposed to safety risks due to a failure to identify and manage the risks involved, and to put a safe system of work in place to manage deliveries to the occupied offices while the rest of the site was being re-developed. 

Wilson James Limited of Chalkwell Lawns, London Rd, Westcliff On Sea, Essex, pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £850,000 and instructed to pay £11,750 in costs. 

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Fu Lee said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a young man. This death could easily have been prevented if his employer had acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and to put a safe system of work in place.

“The dangers associated with reversing vehicles are well known and a wealth of advice and guidance is freely available from HSE and other organisations.”

A further defendant is awaiting trial on this matter. 

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Worker burned in petrol tank explosion 30/11/2020

A MANAGING director has received a suspended sentence after an employee suffered severe burns on a construction site in Swynecombe, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.

Milton Keynes Magistrates Court heard how managing director of MWJ Construction Ltd, Marcin Wojtas failed to take reasonably practicable precautions for the decommissioning of a petrol tank, which resulted in an explosion. 

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident that occurred on 9 July 2018, found that the injured person and another operative were instructed by Mr Wojtas to use an angle grinder to remove the tank lid to speed up the decommissioning of the tank. While performing this task, the petrol vapours within the tank were ignited and an explosion occurred. The injured person sustained burns to 26 per cent of their body. 

The investigation also found Mr Wojtas had been informed by an officer from the Petroleum Enforcing Authority that the work to decommission the fuel tank was a specialised operation and needed to be completed by a competent contractor. Neither operative had any of the training, experience or knowledge required to make them competent. 

Marcin Wojtas of Hatfied Road, London pleaded guilty to breaching section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He was given a six month suspended sentence and ordered to pay total costs of £8,455.48.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector David Tonge said “The accident could have been prevented if the work was appropriately planned through an adequate risk assessment. Had this been the case, competent operatives would have conducted the work, the tank would have had its hazardous contents (petrol vapour and petrol) removed safely and equipment appropriate to use around an explosive atmosphere would have been used.” 

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More funds needed to remove unsafe cladding 26/11/2020

THE BRITISH Safety Council supports the call by the House of Commons Housing Committee that the Government must protect leaseholders from having to pay towards removing flammable cladding from their homes.

The Housing Committee said it was alarmed that a £1.6 billion Government fund set up after the Grenfell fire was inadequate to cover the cost of repairs needed.

Mike Robinson, the British Safety Council’s chief executive, commented, “The Government must provide sufficient protection against leaseholders paying the bill for the removal of unsafe cladding from tower blocks. Making sure those buildings are safe – and that people feel safer in them – should be the Government’s responsibility at no cost to leaseholders.

The Government has failed to deliver its pledge, made after the Grenfell tragedy, to provide safe alternatives to dangerous cladding on all buildings in England taller than 18 metres by June this year. According to the Government’s own figures, only a third (155 out of 455) of high-rise buildings with similar cladding to Grenfell had this replaced by September 2020.

It has now been over three years since Grenfell, in which 72 people lost their lives, and action to deliver this commitment should be accelerated.”

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Third of home workers admit mental health concerns 25/11/2020

IN A recent survey of 4,000 office-based employees and 1,000 employers in the UK, U.S, Singapore and the UAE, a third of employees expressed concern for their mental health while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research, conducted by international health benefits provider, Aetna International, examines the perceptions of both employers and employees when it comes to corporate health and well-being.

With many employees across the globe working from home for the foreseeable future, the study reveals which health concerns workers are struggling with the most as well as the many different pressures affecting their performance. As employees look to overcome the hurdles associated with remote working and the pandemic, the results of the survey highlight the crucial areas where employers need to improve their practices in order to help workers face these new challenges. 

The top health concerns for remote workers 

Many employees believe that remote working is having serious effects on their health and well-being: 

  • 43% of employees are worried about gaining weight whilst working from home, the top health concern across the globe
  • 33% are concerned about mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
  • 32% are worried about the level of stress experienced whilst working from home

Employers also expressed concern for employee well-being with 40% agreeing that they are worried the lack of social interaction with colleagues will have a long-term negative impact on some of their employees' mental health

The increasing importance of physical and mental health 

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, the majority of employees are placing a greater emphasis on their health and well-being:

  • 84% agree that their mental health is more important now than it was a year ago
  • 89% of employees agree that their physical health is more important now than it was a year ago

Interestingly, employees in the UK have the most conservative views about the value of employer-provided benefits to support workers’ mental and physical health:

  • Just 55% of employees in the UK agree that corporate mental health care provision is more important now than it was a year ago compared to 75% of employees in the U.S
  • 49% of employees in the UK agree that corporate physical health care provision is now more important compared to 69% of employees in the U.S and Singapore

How remote working is affecting employee performance

When asked about the different ways everyday life and work-related pressures have impacted their performance at work since the outbreak of COVID-19, employees revealed that factors associated with the pandemic have had an increasingly negative effect: 

  • 71% of respondents said worrying about being furloughed, pay cuts or losing their job has negatively affected their performance
  • 70% said that stress from being locked down alone has had a negative impact on their work
  • 47% said stress from the challenge of juggling work and home-schooling children has also negatively impacted their performance

Younger employees admitted that their work is suffering on an even larger scale whilst working from home during the pandemic:

  • 88% of 18-24-year-olds have had their work negatively affected by mental health issues compared to the 74% global average
  • 76% of 18-24-year-olds and 75% of 25-34-year-olds say stress from a blurred work/life balance has also negatively impacted their work compared to the 67% global average

Small vs big businesses 

Employees working for small businesses (those with under 200 employees) are experiencing increased stress whilst working from home compared to those employees working for the biggest businesses (those with over 5,000 employees):

  • 73% of employees at small businesses have had their work negatively impacted by stress as a result of working long hours during the pandemic compared to 61% of employees at big businesses
  • 65% of those working for small businesses say their work has been negatively affected after being expected to do more with less because of budget cuts compared to 51% of employees at big businesses

Returning to the office 

With pressures such as home-schooling children, social isolation and increased working hours having significant effects on employee stress levels, it is no surprise that the majority of workers expressed an eagerness to return to normality:

  • 61% of employees would like to return to the office full time within the next six months
  • 81% agreed that they would return to the office if they could still work remotely for part of the week

Despite this, concerns about catching COVID-19 jump from 16% to 48% when working in the office as opposed to working from home.

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