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December 9, 2008

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Council fined GBP 5k after teacher gets asthma

A teacher contracted occupational asthma after a local council failed to control exposure to wood dust at the school where he worked.

Stirling Sheriff Court heard on 28 November that John Shand developed occupational asthma after inhaling high levels of wood dust while teaching woodwork classes at Bannockburn High School in Stirling between 1996 and 2007.

In 2004 Mr Shand began to suffer from breathlessness, wheezing and coughing, which he initially attributed to a lack of fitness. Over the next two years he made a conscious effort to improve his fitness but still suffered from these ailments. In October 2006 he visited his GP and was diagnosed with asthma. His doctor advised him to contact an occupational health practitioner to determine if the asthma was caused as a result of exposure to wood dust at his work.

Mr Shand made a formal complaint to Stirling Council, which referred him to an occupational health doctor. The doctor confirmed that his asthma was a result of wood-dust inhalation and advised him that it wasn’t safe for him to continue to work in his current role.

Mr Shand notified the HSE about his concerns and the organisation carried out an inspection of the school in January 2007. As a result of the inspection the HSE served two improvement notices on the council, firstly, for failure to provide adequate controls around dangerous substances, and secondly, for not carrying out a COSHH risk assessment.

The HSE also learned that the school had continually informed the council since 2004 that adequate measures were not in place to protect staff and pupils from exposure to wood dust. The HSE decided that the case was serious enough to be put in front of the procurator fiscal with the recommendation to prosecute.

Stirling Council was fined £5000 after pleading guilty to breaching reg.6(1) of COSHH 2002 for failure to carry out sufficient risk assessments for employees working with hazardous substances, reg.7(1) for failure to prevent or control exposure to these substances, and reg.12(1) for not providing sufficient information and training to staff.

In mitigation the council said it deeply regretted any suffering endured by Mr Shand, and it transferred him to the biology department as soon as it received his diagnosis. The council admitted that its system management was not acceptable and it has since carried out a full COSHH risk assessment.

HSE inspector Gillian McLean told SHP: “Mr Shand’s diagnosis of occupational asthma was entirely preventable. No risk assessment was in place to assess the dangers of working with wood dust and many control measures could have been put into place to prevent inhalation of the substance. One example would have been to use an industrial vacuum cleaner to remove the dust instead of dry sweeping the workshop.”

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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