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Health and Safety: Regulatory, Compliance and Investigations Insights February 2021

19 February 2021
This article is designed to update you on the latest developments and insight in the area of Regulatory, Compliance and Investigations. We hope you find this update useful. If you have any feedback, or to speak to a member of the team about any of the issues below, please contact Steffan Groch.

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In the Spotlight: New national construction products regulator set up to ensure homes are built from safe materials

The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, has announced that residents will be protected through the establishment of a national regulator which will ensure materials used to build homes will be made safer.

The regulator for construction products will have the power to remove any product from the market that presents a significant safety risk and prosecute any companies who flout the rules on product safety. This follows recent developments at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry following the evidence given by some manufacturers of construction products and the safety tests involved.

The regulator will have strong enforcement powers including the ability to conduct its own product-testing when investigating concerns. Businesses must ensure that their products are safe before being sold in addition to testing products against safety standards.

The regulator will operate within the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) which will be expanded and given up to £10 million in funding to establish the new function. It is understood it will work with the Building Safety Regulator and Trading Standards to encourage and enforce compliance.

The announcement of the establishment of a national regulator follows recommendations in the Dame Judith Hackitt Review that industry and government must ensure that construction products are properly tested, certified, labelled and marketed.

The Government have called this the "next major chapter" in their overhaul of regulatory systems with the progress on regulatory reform including the publication of a draft Building Safety Bill in July 2020 and the introduction of a new Building Safety Regulator.

Alongside this, Robert Jenrick has recently announced that the Government has set aside an additional £3.5bn to replace unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings that are 18m (six storeys) or higher in England. Whilst some have welcomed this announcement, many are of the view that this simply does not go far enough and leaves those living in buildings under 18m still having to bear the cost.

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In Summary: HSE warns of electrical safety dangers following Gross Negligence Manslaughter conviction 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned against the severe dangers of inadequate electrical safety systems in farm buildings following a conviction of Gross Negligence Manslaughter.

The case in question involved Deana Simpson who lived with her long-term partner James Atkins in a caravan located on a farm which was owned by James' father, Trevor Atkins. Whilst using a cooker which was poorly insulated and connected in the caravan, Deana Simpson died by electrocution. 

Five days later, the cooker was examined by a qualified electrician and found that it was in a poor state of repair with inadequate earthing and no protective devices in place. During the investigation, it was established that James Atkins had undertaken works to modify the generator on the cooker and fitted a new invertor, despite being told that this would need to be carried out by an electrician. 

During the investigation, it emerged that Trevor Atkins had been complicit with the work his son had carried out on his property, and as an employer, had a duty to maintain the electrical system relating to the caravan to ensure that it was not dangerous. As Deana lived in the caravan, he also had a general duty of care towards her to ensure she was not exposed to risks to her safety. It was deemed he had breached those duties.

James Atkins was sentenced for gross negligence manslaughter receiving six year and six months in prison and Trevor Atkins was sentenced for charges under Section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He received a 10 month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

The HSE Inspector warned "Electricity kills or severely injures people every year. You should make sure that the only people who are working with your electrics are competent to do the job."

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HSE Launches Mobile App for SMEs

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a mobile application designed to help organisations understand the law, their health and safety rights, and their responsibilities.

The HSE have indicated that the app is primarily for small and medium sized businesses to help them better understand the law and what is required to protect employees.

The app contains three main sections: The Health and Safety Toolbox, A Guide to Managing Risk and Work-Related Stress. It also includes the facility to have automatic live updates so users can have the latest guidance and content sent automatically to their device. 

It is understood that this is not an interactive app but simply designed to be a quick reference guide to information contained on the HSE's website. 

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COVID-19: Back to the Workplace - Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) issues updated guidance 

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work ("EU-OSHA") have issued general, non-binding guidance to assist employers in ensuring that workplaces are COVID-secure, with the aim of ensuring the health and safety of staff ("the Guidance"). 

Updating risk assessments and minimising the COVID-19 exposure are key parts of the Guidance, but arguably do not add anything further to the current guidance the UK Government have provided. The Guidance is logical in its approach, obliging employers to revise risk assessments whenever there is a change to work processes. 

It makes clear that employers must ensure that risk assessments are thoroughly reconsidered and updated to ensure that staff exposure to COVID-19 is kept to a minimum. In order to do this effectively the guidance suggests that employers assess the risks in the first instance and secondly, implement a hierarchy of controls, by putting in place measures to eliminate the risk. Where this is not possible, measures must be put in place to minimise worker exposure. The Guidance also highlights the inclusion of all risks, including risks to mental health, which is an important point to note.

Whilst the Guidance provides links to specific sector guidance, the general practice remains to stay well aligned with occupational health officers, plan ahead by keeping up to date with local authorities and understanding the virus by consulting official sources such as the World Health Organisation.  

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Further Reading