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Safety sets off the sleepless nights

Author : Tim Fryer

30 November 2012

When intelligent and receptive people struggle to grasp what is expected of them, or what they may be responsible for, the fault must lie not with them but in the legislative framework. Tim Fryer looks at why health and safety issues still keep FMs awake at night.

I was recently at an excellent conference organised by compliance consultants, Assurity Consulting. Keynote speaker was Kathryn Gilbertson of Greenwoods Solicitors, who summed up the problem. She repeated the Government’s messages that they want to ‘win the red tape challenge’ (reducing red tape), to reduce proactive inspections, and they want to adopt a ‘light touch approach’. Gilbertson went on to say that the first point was just an exercise in tidying up old paperwork, and the second was a myth anyway, because such inspections were never a requirement. However, it is the really the last factor that is the problem. A ‘light touch’ is all very well, but if something goes wrong then they will still prosecute and it is the FM who is in the firing line! Hence the H&S-fuelled sleepless nights continue.

In terms of health and safety the nightmare at the front of the queue is fire. Having courted opinion on this subject for my July issue (‘Fire – taking the risk’, which is available online at I will not go into it again. However, what I took from it was that the Government’s desire to avoid a ‘Consultants Charter’ in recent iterations of the legislation had failed as it was not prescriptive enough – FMs simply didn’t know where their responsibilities began and ended.

Is the same true in other health and safety issues? One of the subjects in the above-mentioned conference was asbestos management, and so I asked Vicki Filby-Filson, Customer Sales and Service Consultant, at Assurity Consulting if asbestos management was beset with the same ambiguity problems that exist in fire safety. This year saw a revision of the Control of Asbestos Regulation but, according to Filby-Filson, the changes are not dramatic. “The most important part of the legislation and the part that has not changed is the requirement to manage asbestos containing materials to make sure that they are not damaged and any risk from potential fibre release is minimised. Really this should be simple. You need to either assume any material contains asbestos, or have a survey so that you know what is, what isn't and most importantly know where you haven't been able to look yet.”

She continued: “An asbestos management plan need not be complicated, but should be, current, clear, robust and ultimately provide you with the tools to prevent damage of materials which could release dangerous fibres. All documentation should be kept, but needs to be arranged to enable those looking after the building to fully understand where the risk lies.

“It is only if you need to work on, repair or remove material that the changes may affect what you do. This change to the legislation is a nice reminder of the need to manage this hazard by maintaining the profile. Remember, regulations state it is a duty to manage, not a duty to survey or remove.”

Another major topic this year has been legionnaires disease, with a number of outbreaks, particularly one in Edinburgh that affected around 100 people. But are FMs were typically aware of their legal obligations with regard to the dreaded Legionella? Andrew Steel, managing director of air and water treatment specialists Airmec, commented: “COSHH’s Legionnaires’ disease: The control of Legionella bacteria in water systems (L8) has special legal status. In short, it is the law. If a third party company falls short it is you, not they, who carry the can. You can outsource the work, but not the liability.”

According to Steel, the key is to know the subject: “You need to know the law and to plan accordingly, because reacting after a Legionella positive sample is detected is always likely to be a more expensive route. L8 says that a risk assessment must be carried out and updated every two years; with an action plan defining the priorities of any essential works. Until you identify a risk, you cannot manage it.

“In our experience a key ingredient of risk assessments - an up to date schematic diagram that identifies every area of risk; every outlet, dead leg or potential trap for sediment and sludge – is a rare thing indeed. Consequently we find that many current risk assessments fall well short of the necessary standards required, both by regulations and from a practical perspective for controlling legionella.”

Expertise is the key and is available for organisations who don’t have the capability in house claims Steel: “Legionella control is often labour intensive, and increasingly organisations prefer to use their own in-house labour for day to day tasks such as monitoring temperatures and flushing water outlets that are not in frequent use. Such customers still tend to turn to professionals like us, however, to carry out the original risk assessment, asset listing and development of schematic diagrams, and to help schedule, project manage and provide independent professional overview of the monitoring and control regimes in place.”

Protection materials
While fire, asbestos and legionnaires disease may be recognised stalwarts of the health and safety ‘to do’ list, there are others that may unthinkingly pass FMs by. Materials that may only be on site for a limited period of time may have consequences for safety – and for insurance, as Jonathan Coyle of Protec International explained: “Protection materials have contributed towards health and safety with tested and certificated LPS1207 flame retardant products through the Joint Code of Practice, under the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB). LPS1207 is the flame retardant standard for temporary protection materials, developed by the construction industry to remove potentially hazardous, non-flame retardant protection for health and safety and financial reasons.

“Contractors’ insurers require compliance of the Joint Code of Practice on all projects with an original value of £2.5 million or above, or at a lower threshold for certain higher risk projects. When finished surfaces or fittings need temporary protection on site, the material must always conform to LPCB Standard LPS1207. Site managers can recognise this by the LPS1207 logo and certificate number printed on the material. Failure to comply could result in uninsured losses and withdrawn insurance, not only on the offending site but all within that contractor’s group.”

Coyle concluded: “Don’t fall into the trap of using protection materials under the guise of ‘Tested to LPS1207’ that are not actually certificated products. If in doubt about the flame retardant protection that you’re planning to use, you should always ask for a copy of the LPS1207 certificate that is unique to that product.”


However, while there is much an FM needs to take on board at the life-threatening end of the scale, there are also problems of a more mundane, although still dangerous, nature. And FMs, according to Peter Barratt, Technical manager at Initial Hygiene, need to be aware of it.

Initial Washroom Hygiene has conducted research into the filthiest part of the office and where workers could be most at risk – the desk. Some of the results include:

· Computer mice were home to more than three times the levels of bacteria-related contamination found on the average toilet seat.
· 40% of the desks tested were home to at least one item with very high levels of bacteria.
· Average levels of surface contamination were 40% higher at men’s work stations than women’s.
· ‘Al Desko’ dining (eating lunch at your desk) is making work stations less hygienic.

Barratt commented: “It is now common for office workers to spend their lunch hour eating at their desk, often surfing the web or continuing to type at the same time. This leaves crumbs and other food residue all over the work station, but particularly on mice and keyboards, making them ideal places for bacteria and other microorganisms to survive and multiply. In addition, because they are electrical devices, these items aren’t cleaned as regularly or as thoroughly as other parts of the office, or even as the desks themselves.”

Danger it appears, lurks around every corner!

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