“Health & Safety” gets a bad name when it's used as a lame excuse by administrative jobsworths to stifle mildly risky activities – especially if they're fun. Of course what the jobsworths' employers are really worried about is not health & safety per se, but the notional risk of civil litigation should something go wrong and someone get hurt.
But an altogether more melancholy duty of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – and one with which no right-thinking person would quarrel – is to prosecute employers for workplace accidents.
Sadly, PRW carries a steady stream of reports of successful prosecutions for plastics industry accidents, ranging from scrapes and bruising through disabling fractures, burns and amputations to deaths.
The reports figure highly in our league tables for numbers of webpage clicks – let's hope that's due to readers taking due note of the reports and learning from them where necessary, rather than to morbid curiosity or, worse, schadenfreude.
In an industry where things are chopped, ground, melted and squashed under tonnes of pressure, meticulous safety precautions are obviously essential. A skim of recent HSE reports suggests the following as among the commonest accident causes:
No proper risk assessment
Absence of guards which should protect workers from the business ends of machinery
Workers foiling interlocks which should prevent machines from running when guards are not properly deployed
Maintenance or changes to machinery (i.e. abnormal circumstances) bringing about any of the above
Trainees let loose with inadequate briefing and/or supervision
Management neglect and/or slovenly culture embedding any of the above as routine bad practice.
The HSE could probably tell us how the plastics industry compares in the accident ratings with other sectors where risks are comparable. PRW's reports show that it's far from just small, undercapitalised backstreet firms which offend. Quite often those found guilty of safety breaches are the bigger players with otherwise good reputations.
It's easy to pontificate from behind a keyboard and screen – but let's do our level best to get those accident statistics down! This could be a good start.