Compressed air is used in many industries. Compressed air is air that is kept under pressure – higher than normal atmospheric pressure. Compressed air has many purposes, including use in pressurized gases, vehicle propulsion, railway braking systems, air guns, paintball equipment, refrigeration and energy storage. Working with compressed air can cause many illnesses, known as “decompression illness”. Symptoms include pains around the joints. This is known as Type 1 Decompression Sickness. On rare occasions the central nervous system can be affected, this is known as Type 2 Decompression Sickness. This type can be fatal. Workers may experience barotraumas; this is where there may be direct damage to air containing cavities in the body such as the nose and sinuses. One may also experience dysbaric osteonecrosis, this is a chronic condition damaging the bones and joints. Compressed air can be dangerous if it enters body orifices such as the mouth and ears. Air jets can damage the eyes. At high pressures air can penetrate the skin.

The Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996 provides guidance on how to manage health and safety for those working in compressed air systems such as tunnels and construction work in compressed air. As well as the duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 being placed on all employers, the duties of the Compressed air regulations are placed on Compressed air Contractors. Because some workers in the construction industry work with compressed air, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 also contain guidance on compressed air.

The contractor should ensure that all individuals working with compressed air are trained to do so and carry out safe systems of work. There should be adequate supervision of workers on site at all times. All plant and ancillary equipment must be of appropriate design and construction without risks. A Medical Advisor must be appointed on-site to provide occupational health advice on all aspects of work. Each employee who works in compressed air must undergo adequate medical surveillance. If it is the professional opinion of the medical advisor that an employee should refrain from work with compressed air, the employer must honor this change in work role. In the case of work undertaken at a pressure of 0.7 bar or above, facilities at the plant should include a medical lock and competent medical personal to operate this medical lock. Individuals working with a pressure of 0.7 bar or above should be supplied with a worded badge or label that contains particulars as to the nature of the work. The contractor shall ensure that individuals working in compressed air should not be subjected to pressure exceeding 3.5 bar except in an unforeseen emergency. Persons must be in good medical and physical condition, and, if they have any ailments on entering the role, the contractor should not permit them to undertake the role. There must be sufficient and suitable emergency evacuation procedures in place for persons working with compressed air. There must be suitable means of raising an alarm and maintenance thereof.

Sources   wikipedia    hse    legislation

The Sentinel Personal Track Safety card (PTS card) refers to an online record which contains competency information for individuals working on the UK rail lines. It is a database of personnel working on Network Rail. To obtain a Sentinel card, the individual must attend a training course sponsored by their employer (who is approved) and a course run by a licensed trainer. All Sentinel card holders are registered and managed by primary sponsors. The primary sponsor is responsible for the health and safety of the card holder and ensures that all competencies are up to date. The Sentinel card is proof that the individual has completed the necessary training to work on National Rail controlled infrastructure. Only individuals fully employed or starting off as entry level Personal Track Safety in the rail industry can obtain a sentinel card.  Some of the qualifications with the Sentinel Card are below:

PTS Personal Track Safety for non-electrified lines  COSS  Controller of site safety
 PTS AC Personal Track Safety for AC electrified lines  PC  Protection
 PTS DC Personal Track Safety for DC electrified lines  ES  Engineering supervisor
 LKT Lookout and site warden  PICOP  Person in charge of possession
 LKT (P) Lookout trained to use Pee Wee  SPICOP  Senior PICOP
 LKT (K) Lookout trained to use kango warning equip  NP OLE/AC-i  Nominated person
 AOD: HS Handsignaller  AP OLE/AC-i  Authorised person
 AOD:LXA  Level crossing attendant  RIO  Rail Incident officer
 AOD: PO Points operator  BSN1  Bridge strike nominee grade 1
 IWA Individual working alone  BSN 2  Bridge strike nominee grade 2
 TRK IND Track induction  BSE  Bridge strike examining engineer

With over 67,000 personnel working on the UK rail lines, it is imperative that everybody’s qualifications are up to date. To make things easier, new improved Sentinel smart cards (which work as a smart ID card) have been issued from January. These new smart cards have replaced the old ones. Some changes include allowing for records to be instantly updated and closer monitoring of staff hours. Sentinel cards allow such detail as machinery competencies, drug and alcohol tests and hours worked. The updated information is now stored on the smartcard’s chip and updated through regular use, rather than printed on the card itself. Each Sentinel card has a lifespan of 5 years, and can include any changes to competencies, sponsors and medical record.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) have taken over responsibility for regulating health and safety on the railways. Before 2006 it had been regulated by the HSE. This has been one of the changes set out in The Railways Act 2005. The ORR regulates the rail industry’s health and safety performance through UK and European legislative framework. There are many other safety bodies involved with regulating and maintaining safety on the rail lines in the UK. One of these is the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). The main objective of RSSB is to facilitate and lead in achieving continuous improvements on the health and safety of Britains railways. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch investigates all accidents with a view to improving rail safety. The British Transport Police and the Railway Industry Health and Safety Advisory Committee are also involved in regulations, investigations and improvements on our rail lines.

Sources      network rail media centre

Fires occur due to the combination of oxygen, a source of fuel and an ignition site. The source of oxygen is the air. Ignition sources can include lighting, electrical equipment, naked flames and heating sources of any kind. Sources of fuel are substances that sustain flames and keep on burning; these include paper, wood, packing materials and furniture. All owners of business premises, landlords and private home owners have a duty to carry out a fire risk assessment. For domestic homes, this does not need to be as elaborate as a business premises but still needs to incorporate the same principles to keep the family safe. Due to findings from the risk assessment, adequate safety measures must be in place to prevent harm through fire. For a business of five or more people, a written record must be kept.

When carrying out the risk assessment the fire hazards must be identified and people at risk identified. The risks must be removed or reduced, the findings recorded and an emergency plan prepared. The risk assessment must be updated regularly in line with the changes and needs of the business. Once the risks have been identified they need to be controlled. The risks must be eliminated or reduced and managed. A ‘competent person’ should be employed to carry out the risk assessment in a professional manner and at periodic intervals. The Fire and Rescue authorities deal with general fire safety in the workplace, however the HSE deals with fire safety on construction, nuclear premises and shipbuilding sites.

General approaches to good fire safety housekeeping:

  • Fire risk assessments must be carried out regularly
  • Sources of ignition and flammable substances must be kept apart, for example naked flames and aerosols
  • Fire alarms and smoke alarms should be installed
  • Fire extinguishers and fire blankets should be kept nearby for use in case of fire
  • Accidental fires should be avoided, for example, heaters should be positioned so that they cannot be knocked over
  • Fire exits and escape routes should not be obstructed
  • Fire drills should be carried out regularly and workers trained in how to respond

Depending on the nature of the workplace, different ignition sources may be hazardous. These can include paint thinners, welding gases, dusts from wood and foodstuffs and oils. As this is different from a general office environment, i.e there are obvious combustible materials, the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) is applicable here. In this situation employers must assess the risk of fires and explosions arising from work activities involving dangerous substances and determine who may be at risk and harmed. In all cases appropriate firefighting equipment must be installed including a fire-detection and warning system. Equipment must be properly installed, tested and maintained. A fire drill should be carried out at least yearly and the results recorded as part of the fire safety and evacuation plan.

Sources     hse website

Sparks and drips of hot molten metal can easily start a fire. Many people are injured each year by the incorrect and careless use of oxy/fuel gas equipment. The ‘blowpipe’ (the oxy/fuel gas torch) is a powerful source of ignition. The surrounding work area should be free of any ignitable materials such as wood, fabric, cardboard, rubber and plastics. Sparks and hot splatter can travel long distances and even ignite a fire at a far distance from the welding area or even in another room. Welding in enclosed spaces is particularly dangerous as smoke can build up and overcome people. Acetylene is commonly used for welding work. It is very explosive, even in small amounts and great care should be taken to ensure that the cylinder valve is turned off in transit. Explosions can occur when repairing tanks which contain flammable materials. Burns to the skin can occur through contact with hot metal or flames. During flame cutting, fumes are released which can cause asthma and other occupational diseases if one is not properly protected.

Simple precautions to prevent fire when welding include removing nearby combustible materials. If nearby combustible materials cannot be removed they should be protected with metal sheeting or fire retardant blankets. Openings under doors and windows should be covered so that flame particles cannot travel through them and hit nearby materials. Polystyrene is a flammable material so nearby wall cavities should be checked for this. Work in confined spaces, for example on a ship, may require a person to do a fire watch during the work process and 30mins after work completes. This is to ensure that not sparks have not hit areas that could later start a fire. Sparks should be prevented from landing on the hoses of the gas cylinders and fire extinguishers should be kept nearby.

Gas cylinders should be checked regularly for leaks (a suitable leak detecting spray or solution should be used). Fuel gases can form explosive mixtures with air and oxygen. All cylinders should be turned off when not in use and hoses should not be stored near sharp edges or near heat. Backfires may occur when the flame burns back into the torch and they are an indication of faulty equipment. To prevent flashbacks (flow of oxygen back into the hose) the hose should be purged before lighting the torch. The blowpipe should be fitted with non-return valves. Cylinders can be protected from flashbacks by using flashback arresters.

Toxic fumes can be emitted during the welding process. The worker may need respiratory protective equipment (RPE). If one is working outdoors RPE may not be needed, however, it must be ensured that the wind is not blowing the fumes into the path of the operator or other people. Oxygen should not be introduced around welding work as it can cause materials to be flammable. Oil and grease should be eliminated also, as these products can react explosively with oxygen. Obviously, in these situations, RPE is necessary for the operator. To avoid contact burns, it is preferable to clamp the work piece, rather than hold it by hand when holding the torch in the other hand. Because of the risks associated with this work, many companies operate a written permit system for welding work.

Sources   hse

The HSE has recently put forward a consultative document on a revised edition of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (2002) (DSEAR) Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) regarding the safe unloading of petrol from road tankers at petrol filling stations. This is in compliance with Section 16 of the Health and Safety Act 1974 (HSW act) which requires the HSE to consult on provisions to ACOPs prior to Ministerial approval. The revisions can also apply to unloading other similar flammable substances in similar situations. The key changes to the ACOPs include greater emphasis to be put on the risk assessment element of DSEAR and contacting emergency services. There is always a risk of fire and explosion when unloading from petrol tankers. As working at heights whilst unloading of tankers rarely occurs, this guidance has been removed and signposted to separate HSE guidance so more focus can be put on the key DSEAR elements of unloading of petrol. Also, spillages, overfill issues and sources of ignition are addressed. There will be clearer definitions of some terms and greater clarity to comply with the law. The regulations themselves will remain unchanged; there are just the aforementioned revisions. The consultation ends 22 July 2014. Duty holders complying with the law do not need to change what they are already doing. However, the revisions will just make things a little clearer for them and new users wishing to comply with the law.

DESAR places duties on employers and the self-employed to protect themselves and others from fires and explosions due to what is termed their handling of ‘dangerous substances’. ‘Dangerous substances’ does not only include petrol, but anything potentially flammable such as varnishes, paints, flammable gases, LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas), dusts from foodstuffs and machinery grinding operations. DSEAR requires that control measures are put in place to reduce risks altogether or at least control them. Plans and emergency procedures should be put in place to deal with accidents and incidents, should a spillage or escape occur. Employees should be properly trained to deal with accidents and risks from dangerous substances. Hazardous explosive atmospheres should be identified and classified.

With regard to the transport, storage and unloading of petrol, the road transport operator and the site operator must work together to agree a single risk assessment procedure for the unloading of petrol (at the tanker stand and fill pipes). Employees must be consulted on the outcome of the risk assessment according to the Management Regulations, the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996. Guidance for risk assessments are available from DSEAR ACOP, the Association for Petroleum and Explosives Administration (APEA) and the Energy Institute (EI). Any changes to the petrol filling station should be made clear to the tanker operator. Immediate emergency procedures include the tanker operator shutting off the foot valves, calling the emergency services and alerting the nearby public. A suitable fire extinguisher should be at hand for the tanker driver and site operator when unloading petrol.


Sources   hse

In May this year, the HSE has issued a health and safety alert over the use of boom type mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs). In the current method of operation, the alert advises that the covers on machine controls do not protect workers against entrapment. Entrapment can occur between the machine and nearby obstructions. This alert is directed at MEWP manufacturers, owners, users and operators. Fatal accidents have been reported where the operator has been crushed between the cover on the controls of the machine and an overhead obstruction. Covers/guards are used to cover the controls to reduce inadvertent contact with the controls. It has not been concluded that by not using these shrouds/covers entrapment could have been prevented, however there is a strong case for risk assessing these covers/shrouds when purchasing and using this kind of equipment.

Boom type MEWPs can be vehicle-mounted, self-propelled or trailer-mounted. Accidents have occurred as a result of MEWPs collapsing, overturning, people being thrown from the carrier and the carrier being trapped against fixed structures causing entrapment. One of the first things to consider in controlling the risk is making the site safe. The correct MEWP must be selected for the job, i.e considering the ground conditions, working height, range of movement, anticipated load (people and tools). MEWP’s designed to be used on firm level slabs should not be used elsewhere. MEWP must have regular inspections and checks depending on their usage. Competent personnel need to undertake the maintenance as required. Causes of MEWP’s malfunctioning are equipment failure, ground conditions, trapping against fixed structures and the equipment itself being struck by a vehicle.

Other site traffic should be segregated from the MEWP work area.  Parts of the MEWP cannot protrude into roads or other transport routes. The work area should be checked for potholes, manholes and service ducts as any of these can cause a MEWP to turn over. Any temporary covers should be secured and strong enough to withstand any pressure. There should be supervision so that safe systems of work are being done. Overhead crushing and contact hazards should be checked. It should be checked that weather conditions have not altered ground conditions. Limits should be set for safe speed operation, especially in high winds. Working near steep slopes and edges pose hazards, so if possible, appropriate guards should be in place to contain the MEWP and its operator. At all times the MEWP should be set up to operate in a safe manner.

All MEWP operators must be fully trained and there must be a system in place for recording faults, repairs and maintenance. Use of fall protection should be put in place where required. A fall restraint (this consists of a body harness and a lanyard) will prevent a person falling from the carrier (unless the MEWP overturns).  The lanyard length must be short enough to prevent a person reaching a position where they could fall. However, when working near water a harness should not be used due to the risk of drowning if the MEWP falls into the water. Life jackets should be worn.

There are many pieces of legislation that refer to the use of MEWP’s. These include PUWER 1998, LOLER 1998, the CDM regulations, PPE at work regulations and the Work at Height regulations, among others.

Sources    hse

It has recently been reported that a Yorkshire company faces a fine because of a health and safety breach that left an employee with life threatening injuries. The employee fell through a roof that wasn’t stable. According to the HSE statistics reports, in 2013, RIDDOR reported falls from height as having resulted in the most common cause of fatalities. Slips and trips were the most common cause of injuries. Falls usually occur from ladders or through fragile roofs. Sometimes there is not a clear distinction made between slips and trips and falls from height, as many falls are initially due to trips and slips. Slips, trips and falls (STFs) were responsible for more than half of all major injuries and almost a third of seven day injuries. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 applies to all employers and those controlling construction areas where work at height is necessary. The responsibility is to ensure that employees, contractors and the self employed work safely. Employees also have a legal duty to take care of themselves and how others are affected by their actions. All work at height must be properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent and trained personnel. All work at height areas need to be risk assessed, the risks eliminated or controlled, an emergency safety system to be put in place, a good practice work system, good communication and all workers to have PPE and be trained.

A few simple steps can totally eliminate risk or at least bring it down to a safe working level:

  • Can you prevent working at height all together?
    This should be the very first approach. Examples can include using extendable tools from the ground so one does not need to climb up a ladder, for example, some window cleaning equipment have very long extendable cleaning equipment. Another example, is the option of installing cables at ground level rather than at high levels off the ground, if this can be done.
  • Can you prevent a fall from occurring?
    If this is at all possible, this should be done. For example, using an existing safe place of work that can be used to access the new work area, plant or machinery with guard rails around it (e.g mobile elevating work platforms), a guarded mezzanine floor to break any falls. Personal protection equipment could include using a travel restricted system, so that the worker cannot get into a fall position
  • If you cannot prevent a fall from occurring, can you minimize the distance and/or consequences of a fall?
    If the risk of a worker falling remains, practical steps must be taken to minimize this risk or the consequences of it. Examples include using safety nets, soft landing platforms, air bags – all close to and within the path of the work area.
  • Is the work of low risk and short duration?
    Ladders may be the practical option here. If the risk assessment determines that it is ok to use a ladder or stepladder, further precautions must be put in place to ensure that the correct step/ladder for the job is used, that the staff are trained in how to use it safely and all users are fully aware of the risks and know how to control them.


Informational video on slips, trips and falls from the HSE

Sources    hse    youtube

Workers who drive vehicles as part of their job role are under the same umbrella of Health and Safety Law as workers who don’t drive vehicles as part of their job activities. The applicable law is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; this applies to motorcycles, bicycles, vans, trucks, cars, large goods vehicles (LGV’s) and all means of transport involved in work duties. This law states that employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that they do not put their employees under any undue risk. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, require employers and employees to manage health and safety. All have duties under road traffic law, i.e the Road Traffic Act and the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations. These laws apply to self employed persons as well. In most cases the police do take the lead in investigating road traffic accidents, however, if there has been a serious management failure with regards to driver risk, for example, an employee not qualified to drive a LGV, then the HSE may take enforcement action against the employer. The risks to drivers must be assessed just as comprehensively as the risks to office workers and those not driving in their job. According to the Department of Transport, more than a quarter of all road incidents are as a result of persons driving as part of their work.

All employers and self-employed persons are responsible for assessing the risks in their workplace. Risk assessments for any work related driving activity should be carried out in the same principle way as any other work activity. One of the first things to consider in this type of risk assessment, is to identify the hazards. Firsthand knowledge and feedback from drivers and employees is invaluable here, as they will have gained experience and they may already know the hazards and understand how to manage things in practice. The next thing to consider is who will be harmed, this could be the driver, passengers (including transported animals) or pedestrians. The risks should then be evaluated i.e how likely is it that harm will occur. Everything reasonably practicable must be done to prevent harm, however, all risks cannot be eliminated on the roads. The driver has the responsible for driving safely. However, if he/she is not trained correctly or doesn’t have a permit for a particular type of vehicle, or the load they are carrying is unsafe, or the driver is working nights/shift work with little sleep, then responsibilities fall on the employer. Findings from the risk assessment must be recorded. If there are five or more employees at an organization it is a requirement by law to write down the findings. The risk assessment must be updated as needed, especially as new drivers come on board. Things like introducing new vehicles, equipment and new routes all have to be carefully planned for. Vehicles must be maintained so they are not a driving hazard and records kept of the maintenance works.


Sources  hse


It has recently been reported that a Lancashire private school has been fined £100,000 because one of its employees has contracted a lung disease due to exposure to high levels of silica dust over a period of many years. The stonemason had contracted silicosis. Silicosis is a form of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust. It causes scarring and disease of the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing and fever.

As many system built schools were built between 1945 and 1980 there may be many risks when working on them today, and exposure to silica dust is only one of them. Many of these buildings had been designed as large estates with a large range of materials used in their original constructions. Asbestos was one of these materials. Many of these buildings would have been constructed with asbestos containing materials (ACM) which was used in structural columns and metal casings of buildings. Asbestos is found in many public buildings and is relatively harmless if work around it and exposure to it is managed properly. Problems can arise when workers or habitants are exposed to levels harmful to their health. The Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Education work together to ensure that the correct systems are in place so any asbestos hazard is controlled. Local authorities have responsibility for schools as do the school directors themselves. There is a legal requirement under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, whereby there is ‘duty to manage asbestos’ in non-domestic premises. Asbestos management systems must be also in place under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. There are duties on employers to ensure their employees in these establishments are protected from exposure to asbestos. This includes the management of repair and maintenance around asbestos suspect materials, and managing this risk so that exposure is at a harmless level. Effective management of asbestos in schools is an ongoing concern for local authorities and duty holders.

School authorities must by law, provide a comprehensive overview of system built premises within their estate. If unsure of where the asbestos levels are and it’s locations within their buildings, duty holders must undertake an assessment of their buildings. ’System built’ schools is a well known method of how schools were built in the education sector in the UK and survey inspections should be aware of the associated issues with asbestos in the construction of these buildings. It is important to ensure that everyone involved in asbestos management is fully trained and competent. Responsible persons can include maintenance staff, engineers, head teachers, bursars, contractors and care takers. Site personnel and contractors must all be briefed in the risks and possible hazards of working with asbestos and act accordingly if they suspect an exposure. All individuals must be trained to a sufficient standard of competency to be able to do the job safely. As per the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, the duty holder of all premises must have plans in place and measures necessary to manage the risks from ACM’s.

Schools must ensure that:

  • A recent survey has been done on the site
  • Refurbishment work undertaken should be added to all site records
  • Site personnel should understand surveys and associated registers so any asbestos related risks are evident
  • All personnel handling asbestos should be competent


Sources    wikipedia    hse

Blood borne viruses (BBV’s) are viruses that some people carry in their blood which may cause severe harm to others or may cause no symptoms at all. The main ones are hepatitis B, C & D and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These viruses are mainly found in semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Other bodily fluids that cause minimal risk are saliva, urine, faeces, and sputum. In the workplace, exposure can be through sharps, contamination through open wounds or splashes to the eyes, nose or mouth. One can also become infected if they breathe in contaminated droplets from the air. In many hospitals MRSA is a problem.

The two occupations most at risk are those who work in healthcare and those who work in laboratories. It has been reported that there has been infection rates of 30 in100 000 for nurses per year and 100 per 100 000 per year for health care workers. Another industry where there is a risk to workers is laboratory work, for example, blood typing in a hematology laboratory. Other areas of risk include working with animals (farming), dealing with waste material that may contain micro-organisms and working in an environment or with equipment that could be contaminated (e.g sewer work). There are various regulations that need to be adhered to, to protect the employee. These include the Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH).

There are many simple ways to control the risk of contracting a blood borne virus. Eating, drinking or smoking should be prohibited in areas where contamination can occur. Rest and meal breaks should be taken away from the main work area. Hand to mouth or hand to eye contact should be avoided. In almost every task, where there is a risk, gloves should be worn. Sharps, needles and glass should be carefully handled. Safer needle devices and blunt ended scissors should be considered. Eyes and mouth should be protected by using goggles and a mask. Skins should be covered using waterproof dressing and no wounds or scratches should be exposed in high risk working environments. Water resistant protective clothing and rubber boots should be used when walking on contaminated areas or where there is a likelihood to be splashes. Waste should be carefully disposes of. Hands should be washed regularly and after all work tasks. If the work involves the production of aerosols of either dust or liquid form, a vacuum, rather than a dustpan and brush, should be used. Appropriate respiratory protective equipment should be used as necessary.

Where possible, it may be possible for health care workers to be immunized against some BBV’s. Hepatitis, for example, can be immunized against. Heat or chemical decontamination procedures can be used to kill BBV’s. Spillages and contaminated objects should be de-contaminated in this way. The disposal of clinical waste is subject to strict controls, as required by COSHH. There is a legal duty under the requirements of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) to report all incidences.

Sources   hse