Do not ignore Safe Systems of Work

Yesterday, Huddersfield Magistrates heard how a West Yorkshire steel fabricator flouted SSoW measures when a worker was severely burned in a flashover during hot-cutting work at Fox’s Biscuits factory in Batley in February 2012.

In our last blog post, we argued that training for confined spaces needs to concentrate not only on Safe Systems of Work (SSoW) but also on self-rescue procedures and putting measures in place to avoid the need for having rescue teams placed on standby in the first place.

In this case, the 61-year-old man, who was one of a team working to remove three disused oil tanks, was cutting a hole with an angle grinder in a tank which had only recently been drained of fuel, when sparks ignited flammable vapours, engulfing his lower body in flames.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the company for safety breaches after discovering it had ignored a safe system of work earlier agreed with Fox’s Biscuits and its site managing firm.

Instead of using cold-cutting equipment, the company had brought in a high-speed angle grinder, which produces heat and sparks. HSE also found that the means of access into the oil tanks and working in a confined space had not been properly planned. In addition its emergency arrangements to evacuate any casualties on site were fundamentally flawed.

The company’s managing director had failed to liaise with Fox’s Biscuits when problems with access to the tanks emerged or when the company wanted to diverge from the agreed plan by using the hot-cutting, and thereby dangerous, angle grinder.

It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £7,885 in full costs after admitting breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. After the hearing, HSE Inspector John Micklethwaite said the company kept Fox’s Biscuits in the dark and effectively smuggled a dangerous working practice onto the site.

In 2012, HSE published a guidance document ‘Safety in the use of abrasive wheels,’ which addresses essential training needs and details such as wheel characteristics, safety in grinding machine operations, wheel mounting procedures and issues, guards, extra considerations for portable or hand-held grinders and protective equipment requirements.

For more information, please visit the Confined Spaces page at PASS Training.

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