Health and Safety made simple

The HSE has published a new version of its information leaflet Health and safety made simple – the basics for your business.  The guide is aimed at small and medium size businesses who are looking for information on the basics of health and safety and includes “Stop Check!” boxes indicating where business may need to take extra steps or have reference to more detailed or sector specific guidance.

Master fined following wind farm vessel collision

Earlier this year we published an article regarding the Marine Accident Investigation Branch Report into the collision of two wind farm vessels (Windcat 9 and Island Panther) off the Norfolk Coast.

The report raised a number of safety concerns arising from the operation of workboats supporting the offshore renewables industry and is likely to have significant implications for companies operating in the renewable energy sector.

Following the report, the master of the Island Panther vessel has been ordered to pay over £3,000 in fines and costs by Southampton Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to breaches of Rule 5 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972.

An investigation found that the master had attempted to navigate through the wind farm using lights on a wind turbine, which was against company policy, and he failed to notice that one of the turbine lights was not lit. He also failed to make use of the lookout and navigation equipment on board the vessel. The master subsequently hit the tower at approximately 12 knots and the collision resulted in some on board passengers being taken to hospital with minor injuries.

The prosecution serves as a timely reminder that contractor management remains a key risk area for those operating in the offshore renewables industry. It also highlights that companies should adopt robust processes to ensure that crews have sufficient competency, and are given sufficient training, to operate vessels safely. This is of particular importance as the number of accidents may increase as operational conditions become more challenging when the renewable energy industry moves further offshore.

Impact of the sentencing guidelines for environmental offences begins to be seen

Thames Water has been fined £250,000 by Reading Crown Court for allowing untreated sewage to enter Chase Brook, which flows through a nature reserve in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The pumps at a nearby sewage pumping station had become blocked, and Thames Water did not respond to its alarm system, which led to a discharge from the pumping station’s overflow pipe to the brook.

Thames Water pleaded guilty to a breach of regulation 38(1) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.  With reference to the new sentencing guidelines, the judge determined that the level of culpability was negligence, with harm at the severe end of category 3 (with category 1 the most serious level of harm, and category 4 the least).  The judge also took into consideration the company’s financial position, with profits for the year ending 31 March 2014 at £346.7 million.

The level of the fine indicates that the impact of the new tougher sentencing guidelines for environmental offences is beginning to be felt, particularly for organisations with a healthy balance sheet.

Company directors jailed following joint H&S prosecution

A joint prosecution brought by the HSE and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills demonstrates the range of penalties which the Court can impose in a regulatory prosecution.

In this case, an employee of Aztech (BA) Ltd was crushed and killed when a two-tonne metal box fell from the lifting chains of a crane he was using to move it.   The HSE investigation uncovered a number of health and safety failings, and also that one of the directors had been acting as a company director despite the fact he had been disqualified from doing so.  At sentence, Winchester Crown Court fined the company £100,000 for health and safety breaches, gave a prison sentence of 36 months to the disqualified director along with a further disqualification order of 15 years, and also gave a 7 year disqualification order, 150 hours community service and a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, to a second director of the company.

Water abstraction reform and drought

DEFRA recently sought views on how plans to reform water abstraction management system and drought risk should be managed in an informal consultation which closed on 26 September 2014. This is a follow-up to the abstraction reform consultation which ended on 28 March 2014.

Under the present system, an abstractor who takes more than 20M3 of untreated water per day is required to obtain a licence to do so. There are different types of licences that can be granted to abstractors, some of which imposes flow based controls which restrict abstraction activities during periods of low water flow. In addition, there are drought controls that can be imposed on abstractors during periods of severe shortage of rain. Examples of these include a drought order to ban the use of water considered to be unnecessary (such as spray irrigation), and drought permits to allow companies to abstract from alternative water sources.

Defra announced that ongoing work will be undertaken to explore how drought controls will be used to support the proposed abstraction regime. The government has posted the following key questions for comments:

  • Whether abstractors should be encouraged to plan for drought themselves;
  • Whether abstraction trading markets should be suspended during a severe drought; and
  • How the use of abstraction restrictions can provide clear expectations for businesses.

Fire control guidance

The Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum published an amended guidance on fire control at waste handling sites on 20 October 2014. The revised guidance, which aims to reduce the risk of fires at waste handling site, was previously made available to previous respondents who submitted comments to the first consultation held in June 2014.

The new guidance will be relevant to the waste sector as well as industries that treat or store large amounts of combustible materials on site, such as the tyre industry.

The guidance applies to all waste handling sites that store more than 50 m3 of solid combustible waste material at any one time. The guidance should also be considered for sites below the threshold if they pose significant risks to human health or the environment in the event of a fire. This document replaces  the Environment Agency's Technical Guidance Note on "Reducing Fire Risk at Sites Storing Combustible Materials".

Following comments from the first round of consultation, previous thresholds for stack sizes have been replaced with harmonised standards set by the Confederation of Fire Protection Associations in Europe on Treatment and Storage of Waste and Combustible Secondary Raw Material (CFPA-E No.32 2014 F). The new guidance also sets out minimum separation distances between stacks which apply to all materials, rather than specific types of waste.

The guidance would not apply to: landfill sites, composting sites, waste to energy plants, hazardous/special waste treatment and transfer facilities and site falling under the Control of Major Accidents Hazards Regulations.

A copy of the guidance can be accessed here.