HSE flags up employer’s “aggressive” reaction to inspection25 July 2012
An employer who the HSE recorded as acting in a verbally aggressive manner towards an inspector during a site visit was instructed by his counsel to apologise for his behaviour.
Although his behaviour was not referred to in court as part of the case, the owner of lighting supplier Keylighting Ltd, Nick Robinson, was told to apologise for the “apparent personality clash” with the lead inspector after the firm was prosecuted for subjecting staff to unacceptable workplace conditions.
HSE inspector Morag Irwin visited the Keighley-based firm in December 2010, after the regulator received a number of complaints about conditions at the site on Alincote Street. She discovered a catalogue of health and safety failings, including toilets in a dire state, with blocked sinks, out-of-order cisterns, which were still being used, no running water for hand washing, and rubbish strewn around the toilet area.
The HSE arranged for an occupational-hygiene inspection to be carried out by a specialist, who found workplace temperatures ranging from 4OC in the toilets to 10OC in the stores and welding areas, in what was the coldest December for many years.
There was no ventilation in the welding area to allow for the removal of fumes, and the protective equipment for workers was ineffective. In one of the spray booths, for example, an operator was found with powder contamination around his face, neck and hands, and a large amount of powder dust had escaped from the booth.
Five Improvement Notices were served on the company in relation to a number of issues, including welding, powder coating, noise, hand-arm vibration, and workplace temperatures.
A further inspection was carried out in January 2011 by an electrical specialist, who found an eight-month-old report from a separate company, which had revealed 70 electrical defects. Seven of these were designated ‘Code 1’ and required urgent attention, yet not one had been addressed. Consequently, the HSE served an additional seven Improvement Notices, relating to each of these defects.
Speaking to SHP after the hearing, Inspector Irwin said that, during her investigation, she found the owner to be hostile and unreasonable, accusing her, for example, of exaggerating the temperatures at the site. His behaviour led the HSE to mark the site as unsuitable for inspectors to visit unless accompanied by a colleague.
Keylighting Ltd appeared at Bradford Magistrates’ Court on 18 July to answer a charge of breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 between 25 May 2010 and 25 January 2011. The company pleaded guilty and was fined £8000, and ordered to pay £20,000 of the HSE’s full £39,000 costs.
The judge had originally booked a two-day Newton Hearing, because neither the defence nor prosecution could agree a basis of plea, but this was avoided after he ordered counsel for the company to negotiate a basis of plea that determined the issues more precisely.
“This was, without doubt, the worst workplace I have inspected in more than ten years with HSE,” Inspector Irwin said after the hearing. “The conditions the employees had to endure at work were totally unacceptable, a threat to workers’ health, and in breach of many health and safety regulations.
“During the coldest December in more than a century, some employees were working in temperatures only a few degrees higher than they were outside. A report highlighting serious electrical hazards had been allowed to gather dust. There was no one at the company with the competence to manage even the most basic levels of health and safety.”
Keylighting was also prosecuted in 2003 in relation to heating defects.
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