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Accidents will happen

publication date: Mar 31, 2010
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AccidentsRecent figures compiled by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in 2008/09 there were 180 workers killed in the workplace. In addition, 24.6 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health and a further 4.7 million days were lost due to injuries in the workplace. These statistics serve as a reminder to all businesses that health and safety issues should be given equal importance along with other business objectives within any organisation.

Owners of commercial property and property portfolios, their managing agents and landlords have a legal and moral responsibility to effectively and efficiently manage specific health and safety issues in their premises, irrespective of whether occupied or vacant.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a legal duty on employers to ensure the health and safety of all employees, as well as any visitors to their premises, whether customers or contractors. For commercial property owners, landlords and managing agents, the common areas of tenanted buildings fall under their responsibility. Common areas include:

Walkways, staircases and corridors

Reception areas, entrance foyers and communal toilets

Parking facilities, landscaping, paths and access areas to buildings

Plant rooms (such as a lift motor rooms), tank rooms, electrical distribution rooms and boiler rooms

Roof areas and waste storage areas

Whilst specific responsibilities for health and safety issues can be delegated down the chain of command, the ‘onus’ is still on senior managers to meet and implement the diverse and complicated issues of health and safety in tenanted properties.

The implications can have serious consequences, failure to comply can lead to heavy fines and even imprisonment.

Since the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, (8 April 2008), companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

Meeting health and safety regulations involves examining an array of key areas – management of health and safety, safe access and egress; equipment and plant; emergency procedures (fire, accident recording and investigation, first aid and security); fire safety arrangements; and asbestos management. Careful consideration needs to be given to any contractors carrying out any work on premises and the risks involved. Some of the main problems associated with tenanted or managed buildings include:

Poor record keeping

Lack of communication between tenants and owners, landlords or managing agents

Little or no training for building management or security staff on health and safety, and fire safety issues

Poor contractor management

The key priority and requirement is to ensure that buildings are safe and accessible, focusing on reducing ill health and injuries which could happen in the workplace and improve management systems to reduce these. Being aware of the law is not enough – compliance is the key, with the focus on risk and prevention.

Health and Safety Risk Assessment

Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires that all employers carry out an assessment of the potential risks to employees and others who may be affected (e.g. tenants). Health and Safety Risk Assessments identify the hazards, assess the risks and indicate the necessary measures. The assessment will:

Identify the hazards to which employees and others are exposed

Establish the likelihood of harm from the hazards being realised

Evaluate the extent of the risks (taking into account the existing control measures or precautions)

The Health and Safety Risk Assessment is a working document which can be used to guide future action aimed at improving health and safety. The procedures and processes carried in any documentation need to be practicable and understood by everyone involved.

Vicky Waddle, Training Manager, SM&MS LimitedFIRE RISK ASSESSMENT

The Fire Safety Order 2005 requires that any person who has some level of control in premises must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire. In most cases of tenanted buildings this is not only to common areas, but to the building as a whole.

The main rules under the order require persons with control to:

Carry out a fire risk assessment, identifying any possible dangers and risks

Consider who may be especially at risk

Remove or reduce the risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible and provide general fire precautions to deal with any possible risk left

Create a plan to deal with any emergency and, in most cases, keep a record of any findings

Review the findings when necessary

A Fire Risk Assessment would be carried out in all areas of a building for which the person is responsible and a report prepared in accordance with the Fire Safety Order 2005. The report would contain an Action Plan summarising the steps necessary to reduce any unacceptable risks and give an indication of the timescale within which the work could reasonably be expected to be carried out.

ASBESTOS MANAGEMENT

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, if you are responsible for managing the maintenance and repair of a building, or you are the owner of a building, then as the ‘duty holder’ you have a legal duty to manage asbestos and protect employees and tenants.
The regulations require the ‘duty holder’ to:

Find out whether asbestos is present in their buildings, where it is located and what condition it is in

Assume that materials contain asbestos unless they can be sure they do not

Record findings

Assess the risks from these materials

Prepare and implement plans to manage the risks from such asbestos

Provide information to anyone liable to come into contact with asbestos

SAFETY MANAGEMENT & MONITORING

There are three main types of asbestos that can be found in premises, these are commonly called blue asbestos (crocidolite), brown asbestos (amosite) and white asbestos (chrysolite) – all of them are potentially hazardous. However, as long as asbestos is in good condition and not disturbed or damaged, there is no risk.

In order to protect employees and other people from exposure to asbestos fibres, if it is suspected that asbestos could be present in a building, there is a standard approach which needs to be taken, involving three types of asbestos surveys:

Presumptive ‘walk through’ survey

Standard sampling survey

Full access intrusive survey

If, as a result, asbestos remedial work needs to be carried out, it must be done by trained professionals using proper precautions and if working with ‘high risk’ materials, such as sprayed asbestos, then a licensed contractor must be used.

WarningsFOR THE RECORD

 In order to effectively manage health and safety in tenanted buildings, owners, landlords and managing agents should also have the following:

Site Health and Safety Rules – will clearly aid communication and coordination of health and safety matters on site

A tenant’s handbook – this is intended to provide specific instructions to key personnel, as well as more general guidance to all other employees

Well-trained employees – helps towards meeting the legal duty to protect the health and safety of employees e.g. building managers, security staff

An approved list of vetted contractors – ensures that companies are entering into contracts with organisations that conduct themselves in an acceptable manner and are covered and governed by a health and safety policy

Clear roles of responsibilities between all parties involved in building management (staff, contractors, security, tenants and building users)

Effective monitoring arrangements – demonstrates a clear commitment to improving health and safety in the workplace

Vicky Waddle, Training Manager, SM&MS Limited. www.sm-ms.co.uk