Kevin Simmonds, Managing Director of Compliance LEV, shares his thoughts on how some manufacturers are risking the future of their businesses by failing to take health and safety seriously.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a generationally significant event which impacted the world, changing the way we live, work, and interact with each other.
It also brought to everyone’s attention the importance of health and safety and how habits like frequent hand washing, wearing face masks and social distancing can reduce the likelihood of catching a virus.
The pandemic was a wake-up call for many businesses, highlighting the importance of health and safety not only in our personal lives but also in the workplace.
There are still though, too many industries that pose health and safety risks to workers. Harmful substances such as oil mist, dust, and fumes are often the by-product of the manufacturing process, which when exposed to and inhaled by workers can cause serious illness, not least severe lung disease.
The pandemic highlighted the need for companies to take the health and safety of their employees seriously, but the fact of the matter is that all too many manufacturing businesses are still failing to do so.
A recent newspaper article, originated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – Britain’s national regulator – reported that a London joinery firm was fined £20,000 for failing to control its employees’ exposure to wood dust.
The business was inspected as part of an HSE campaign targeting woodworking businesses and the significant occupational health risks associated with wood dust. Inspectors found multiple failings in the control of workers’ exposure to wood dust, including excessive levels of dust around the site.
Tellingly, HSE data show that many workers in the UK continue to be affected by poor or non-existent local exhaust ventilation (LEV). Shockingly, there are estimated to be around 13,000 UK deaths each year linked to past exposure at work.
Moreover, statistics from the Institute of Local Exhaust Ventilation Engineers (ILEVE) disclose that while 65% of workplaces have local exhaust ventilation installations, only 24% of those incorporate adequate control of potentially health-damaging contaminants.
Furthermore, says the ILEVE, 60% of LEV systems are not thoroughly examined or tested, and 60% of those that are tested are not tested competently.
These figures make clear that all too many businesses are seriously failing to understand their obligations to install and maintain effective LEV systems. And the consequence is widespread illness and death.
So despite the lessons learned throughout the pandemic, harmful substances in the manufacturing industry are still causing preventable health problems for workers, which could be avoided by the installation and maintenance of effective local exhaust ventilation systems.
The HSE has certainly picked up on this and is currently displaying an increasingly proactive, hands-on approach to health and safety in the manufacturing industry.
It has launched a nationwide programme of targeted and comprehensive inspections to ensure that those who are non-compliant with the regulations take responsibility and be held accountable with financially significant fines.
The message is clear: companies must take their health and safety obligations seriously and re-evaluate systems to ensure they are effective and up to date. By failing to do so, they could easily find themselves facing huge financial penalties which in more than a few cases will lead to business closure.
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