The High Importance Of Health And Safety Around Water

Industry News By Sarah

There are many things that managers can learn in health and safety courses that apply to specific circumstances. However, even when that is not the case, there are general principles that should be applied to any work situation, whether the potential perils are common and obvious or not.

Water may be a case in point. There will be some instances where a whole workplace is in proximity to water, as is the case for those sailing ferries or working in the fishing industry. 

Others may regularly work in water-based engineering, while at the opposite end of the scale, there may be construction firms who occasionally work on sites adjacent to water courses.

However, whereas those who do work with water regularly will be well versed in how to tackle the safety issues they could face regularly, with everything from lifeboat drills and life jackets in some cases, or means of escape in case of flooding from burst pipes for others, those only occasionally working near water may be at risk of overlooking the dangers.

The consequences of this can be tragic, as The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlighted this month when it reported on its prosecution of construction firm BAM Nuttall over an incident in which one member of staff drowned in a river while trying to clear debris from the bottom of a weir gate.

In this case, the incident occurred when the worker was in a boat that capsized, leaving him at the mercy of a strong current that repeatedly dragged him underwater. This could have been avoided if one of the workers trained by BAM Nuttall to operate weir gates and control the water flow had been brought in to do so.

Speaking after the company was fined over £2.3 million with cost, HSE inspector Jane Towey noted how BAM Nuttall had sailed to plan the work or carry out a risk assessment.

“This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices,” she added.

What is notable is that while there are particular health and safety rules and regulations for certain hazardous situations, such as when working at height, the use of dangerous machinery, or the handling of hazardous chemicals is involved, in this case, the breach was a straightforward failure to uphold Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

This states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

What that shows is the importance to employers of ensuring workplaces are as safe as reasonably possible is universally applicable.

In the case of a workplace that stays the same – like an office or a factory – once the location, equipment and working practices have been established as safe, they should be maintained that way and action taken if anything changes. When different situations arise, such as a construction or engineering firm working on a new site, fresh assessments will be required.

The presence of water may be a more obvious hazard to some than others, but it is vital to leave nothing to chance and fully assess the risk any location and the tasks set to be performed there may pose.


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