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November 19, 2012

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Royal Navy commits to change after coroner slams its safety culture

The Royal Navy has been criticised for having a weak health and safety culture onboard its warships, following the conclusion of an inquest into the death of an officer on a helicopter carrier two years ago.

Lieutenant Joshua Woodhouse, 25, was serving onboard HMS Ocean in August 2010, when it visited a naval base in Florida. On the morning of 6 August, he went on to a landing-craft vessel, which was secured to the ship’s aft port bay in the ‘in bed’ position.

Lt Woodhouse was checking for a serial number on a flexible hose, in order to record it on a register, when he fell from the vessel on to a second vessel moored in the water, 12 metres below. He died from severe head injuries four days later.

In a narrative verdict delivered last week the inquest at Portsmouth Guildhall concluded that it was not possible to determine what caused Lt Woodhouse to fall but had he been wearing “a safety harness secured to an anchor point at the time, it would have, more than likely, made a difference to the outcome of the incident”.

Evidence provided for the inquest showed that adequate training had been given to the officer to enable him to make a decision about what protective equipment he would need to undertake this task.

The inquest heard that no formal risk assessment for the task was consulted, and a permit to work was not obtained.

Consequently, it stated that “there was, most likely, a culture among some of the ship’s boats section regarding health and safety [and] it is likely that this culture, as well as a ‘can-do’ attitude, contributed to what happened to Lt Woodhouse”.

Portsmouth coroner David Horsley was reported by BBC Hampshire as saying: “My suspicion is that this [culture and attitude] does not relate to just that little boat section, or that ship, but it is throughout the entire naval fleet. I want the MoD and the navy to look further at what can be done to enforce awareness of the value and purpose of health and safety regulations.”

After the verdict, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: “The naval service is fully committed to making the Royal Navy a workplace where safety and risk are properly managed, and the Royal Navy is taking steps to improve health and safety generally.

“We have implemented the navy safety improvement programme, which has been designed to ensure there is a cultural and behavioural change to safety and risk-management issues across all areas of the navy service.”
 

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