How to pass HSE inspections in 2014- a guide for carpenters and joiners

by Alex on January 8, 2014

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Photo Credit: Kevin K

By all accounts, 2013 was an exemplary year for health and safety in the construction industry. HSE statistics showed a ten-year low in the number of fatal and major injuries, while initiatives such as Speak Up, Stay Safe and HSE’s safety seminars made creating safer working environments all the easier. But it’s a new year, and for many carpenters and joiners, failing to carry out basic health and safety measures still remains a major issue.

Take the London joinery firm whose safety failings landed them with fines and costs totaling £25,460 in November of last year. The Ealing-based company showed a blatant disregard for workers’ wellbeing, failing to provide employees with suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) while neglecting to test on-site ventilation systems. These deficiencies meant that workers were at risk of inhaling harmful wood dust and toxic chemicals such as isocyanate. Worst of all, the firm did not provide sufficient training or information about these hazards, and carried out minimal supervision and surveillance while employees were at work.

With failings like these, it’s no wonder that UK joiners are four times more likely to suffer from asthma than the average worker. Long term exposure to fine dust particles produced by sawing and planning can cause serious health problems, including rhinitis and nasal cancer, as well as irreversible lung damage. Without sufficient safety measures, such as LEV extraction, RPE provision in high-dust situations and employee education, wood dust poses a serious health risk to the 180,000+ carpenters and joiners in the UK.

While HSE cracked down on the construction industry as a whole last year, inspectors are specifically focusing on joinery shops and workers in 2014.  To pass future inspections, tradesmen should focus on two main areas: conditions in the workshop and quality of paperwork.

When it comes to workshop assessment, order is key. While no one’s expecting hospital-grade cleanliness, inspectors are unlikely to look favorably on workshops where machines are buried under dust and off-cuts. General tidiness is often a good barometer of how well other issues are being managed, so focus on keeping the working environment organised and presentable.

Many health and safety infractions and major injuries result from poorly maintained machinery, so make sure that it is in good working order, has sufficient safeguards and is only operated by those competent to do so. Inspectors will be checking for evidence to prove competency, so make sure documentation is on hand. They will also look at braking and tooling as well as any other safety issues such as work at height and transport.

HSE want to see that on-site hazards are being appropriately controlled, and wood dust is one of the greatest. Well-maintained dust extraction systems on machinery, as well as evidence of suitable RPE gear for employees, are two examples of positive measures that can lead to a good report. Measures against other health risks such as manual handling and noise are also essential.

With regard to paperwork, inspectors will ask to see copies of Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) and risk assessments if a company has more than five employees, along with health surveillance records or summaries.

Businesses who use low-risk woods will only have to fill out a questionnaire to fulfill their health surveillance requirement, but high-level health surveillance must be in place where workers are exposed to high-risk woods like Western Red Cedar.

Inspectors want to see evidence of maintenance and test records for any extraction equipment, so make sure those are easily accessible in case of surprise inspection. Similarly, businesses should have prominent written instructions for employees detailing use and supervision of machinery, information on spotting and reporting health hazards such as asthma and dermatitis, proper use and care of equipment such as extractors and dust masks, and basic cleaning instructions.

To ensure your HSE inspection goes without a hitch, it’s essential to have a detailed and efficient system of safety documentation. Not only does producing adequate risk assessments and method statements keep you on the HSE’s good side, they make it easier to determine on-site hazards and avoid accidents, injuries and long-term health risks. Make your New Year’s resolution a good one for 2014, and focus on improving your health and safety measures today.

Alexander Green is the CEO of HANDS HQ, an online tool built for contractors to help them take control of their health and safety responsibilities. You can create your own site-specific risk assessments and method statements in less than 3 minutes with their online tool. 

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