A commitment to safety

Tougher sentencing for gross negligence manslaughter came into force at the beginning of November. Dave Broxton, managing director of Bohle, asks if the glass sector still running too many risks.

New guidelines giving courts in England and Wales increased powers to hand down far tougher sentences to employers found guilty of manslaughter through gross negligence came into force on November 1 this year, including proposed jail time of up to 18 years for the worst offenders.

It follows the publication of new and comprehensive guidelines by the Sentencing Council in the summer outlining the penalties employers can expect to receive for a host of offences from covering up an assault in the workplace to a fatality caused by negligence.

The sentencing body said that defendants found guilty in gross negligence cases – where, for example, an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to a fatality – will see the toughest sentences.

The glass industry has a continually improving record on safety. That’s down to increased awareness, and better management, of risk.

Accidents can, do and will, continue to happen. What glass processors and fabricators or installers need to be aware of is that they are under an increased obligation to demonstrate their commitment to health and safety and the well-being of employees if the worst happens.

The charge of gross negligence manslaughter may be made where the offender is found to be in breach of a duty of care towards the victim, which causes their death amounting to a criminal act or omission.

The circumstances vary greatly. In a work setting, it could cover employers who completely disregard the safety of employees, to others with a commitment to staff safety but where oversight or failed process has contributed to a fatality.

Putting processes in place to safeguard the welfare of employees is key for all of us. It’s not about mitigating the threat of a sentence but about protecting employees.

Figures obtained by Bohle form the Glass and Glazing Federation reveal that if the industry has made progress on safety, it still has significant work to do.

According to the latest available figures, while the number of reported accidents showed a 12% drop year-on-year from 2015 to 2016, the percentage of these that involved manual handling injuries increased from 17% to 20%.

This was a point of concern for those attending Bohle’s Glass Safety Day in October. Philip Pinnington, director of health and safety at GGF, argued at the time that even where employers were committed to health and safety, a disconnect often existed between employers’ perceptions and the realities faced by those on the shop floor.

One of the interesting things to be highlighted was that you can think that you’ve got all bases covered when in reality you haven’t – something that could certainly be defined as negligence, if not gross negligence.

For example, you might believe in good faith that your team is fully equipped with manual handling equipment when in reality, they’re choosing not to use it and taking risks, because it doesn’t perform as you as an employer expect in the real world.

One of the themes that came out of our health and safety day was the importance of dialogue with workers, to get a true understanding of the realities on the shop floor, to identify risk, and then put in controls to manage and mitigate effectively.

If the welfare of your employees isn’t enough (although it should be), the changes in sentencing and the penalties attached to negligence that came into force at the beginning of November mean that you really need to take your head out of the sand.

Bohle’s range of Veribor suction lifters are at the forefront of manual handling technology. Designed and manufactured in-house, they have been refined over decades to make the manual handling of glass safer.

This includes testing by TÜV and the subsequent accreditation – the TÜV GS mark is an independent guarantee of performance. It also means all Veribor products meet the stringent quality and safety requirements set out in the German Product Safety Act, which is recognised internationally as setting the benchmark in safety testing.

Furthermore, all Bohle suction lifters are designed to have a minimum 2:1 safety margin to reflect real world usage.

These design principles are epitomised in the Veribor blue line pump-activated suction lifter. Designed to support the safe manual handling of glass, stoneware and metal, the 601.1BL has a parallel load capacity of up to 120kg and features a high visibility pressure gauge, which gives a clear indication of the strength of the vacuum and suitability for lifting.

One of the real advantages of the Veribor blue line pump-activated suction lifter is that it includes a gauge, which gives the operative a clear indication of the strength of the vacuum, so there are no sudden losses of pressure which could lead to injury.

Bohle’s LiftMaster B1 manual lifting device has a compact design and can handle weights of up to 180kg. Designed to be used with or without an electric pump, it delivers exceptional versatility, while a dual circuit vacuum system, reserve tanks, vacuum display and secondary vacuum indicator, ensure that it guarantees the highest levels of safety. It also provides an on-site solution, packing down to fit inside an estate car.

Practicality has to be key, because if the solutions you’re providing don’t deliver, your employees won’t use them and will take unnecessary risks.

Work arounds mean people aren’t following processes, your risk assessments are invalid and, by definition, you’re failing in your duty of care to your employees. It wouldn’t take much for the prosecution to argue that this demonstrated a disregard for the safety of your workforce.