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Annual service key to drum handling attachment safety 04/07/2019

It is important that lifting equipment is kept in good working order, and that includes drum handling attachments.

It is recommended in the Health and Safety Executive’s Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998, for the user of lifting equipment to have it inspected by a suitably trained and competent person every 6 – 12 months.

This formal inspection and certification will also enable users to comply with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and satisfy insurers who require lifting equipment to be routinely inspected and serviced.

St Clare Engineering has been offering an annual service check for all of our products since we started manufacturing the Grab-O-Matic drum handling attachment back in 1959.

In fact some or our equipment has been sent back to us on an annual basis for 30 years or more, showing how beneficial proper preventative maintenance is.

At St Clare Engineering we use top quality British steel to ensure our components won’t fail under normal usage but nothing lasts forever. Therefore our UK customers can return items for us to inspect annually. Our formal inspection involves:

  • Visual inspection – we check for signs of wear and tear and weld cracks
  • Drum test – we put the item through a practical drum lift test
  • Pull test – mechanical load testing

If we find any part of one of our attachments showing the signs of wear and tear that will affect the safe operation, the part is repaired or replaced. We then return the item with a test certificate, as proof that you’ve complied with the regulations.

St Clare Engineering Ltd is a family business, manufacturing a range of specialist, high-quality fork lift truck drum handling attachments under the Grab-O-Matic trade name at our factory in Eastleigh, Hampshire.

Andy Bow, St Clare Engineering

02380 643402
sales@stclare-engineering.co.uk
www.stclare-engineering.co.uk

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Fatigue: Talk listen and act 18/06/2019

Talking about driver fatigue is still very much a taboo subject but it starting to be taken more seriously by an increasing number of fleet operators. Unfortunately, this is a subject that sits on the periphery of managing road risk for a lot of fleet operators.

The main problem is that 79%* of drivers do not believe their employer understands the dangers of driving while fatigued and 65%* of drivers do not believe their employer would listen if they complained about suffering from fatigue.

This is quite shocking given that 83%* of drivers admit to driving while fatigued and more than 50%* of drivers admit to fighting fatigue and continue driving to complete their journeys.

Therefore, fleet operators need to embed a culture of ‘It’s good to talk’ to encourage their drivers to open up and be honest about the condition they suffer with. However, more importantly employers and fleet operators need to ‘listen and act’ upon what their drivers are telling them.

In order to manage driver fatigue effectively, fleet operators need to understand what it is and its cause. Unfortunately, there are a number of questions that need answering to understand it and without listening to what their drivers say, then fleet operators will have great difficulty putting into place the correct monitoring systems, processes and procedures.   

Therefore, the questions that need answering are: 

What is fatigue? It is not a specific medical condition but a symptom of numerous conditions that cause a state of impairment that can include physical and/or mental elements. 

How does fatigue manifest itself? It can be acute and accumulate after a short period on a demanding task or it can be cumulative and build up over successive shifts or long periods of intense pressure.  

What are the results of fatigue? Fatigue is associated with lower alertness and reduced performance, thereby making individuals less able to self-assess how impaired they are as they become more fatigued. Ultimately, making the individual unfit to drive. 

Now the above questions have been answered, the next question to ask is: 

What actually is driver fatigue? It is a driver who becomes tired due to driving long hours, long distances and/or monotonous journeys. This could be due to poor journey planning with no account for rest breaks, poor time management with unrealistic appointments/delivery slots, desensitisation on regular routes, just wanting to get the job done and get home and a lack of contingency planning for when things go wrong.

However, under no circumstances should anyone be mistaken that the above are the only causes of driver fatigue. A driver can suffer with fatigue even without driving due to external personal and/or vocational circumstances, thereby they are unfit to drive even before driving.  

Fatigue could be identified if a driver shows any of the following telltale signs: Mood changes, communication difficulties, difficulty concentrating, easily distracted, reduced attention, decreased vigilance, difficulty processing information, reduced short-term memory, slowed performance, increased errors, reduced physical strength, ‘Tunnel vision’ or microsleeps.

Fleet operators need to implement robust measures to identify, educate and support their drivers. There are numerous processes and procedures that they can implement to manage driver fatigue effectively to counteract the aforementioned issues. These measures should be detailed in a specific Managing Driver Fatigue policy. 

More importantly, employers and employees need to have better engagement and channels of communication with self-reporting being encouraged. It is vitally important to realise that everyone is different and react in different ways, so do not ignore or dismiss what a driver says as just moaning about the job. 

Therefore, make sure that all employees are made aware that it is good to talk about fatigue but it is more important that employers listen and act upon what their drivers tell them. Failure to listen and act now could be catastrophic for the fleet operator, the driver, their family and other roads users and their families. 

* Source – Fatigue Management International

Author: Andrew Drewary FCILT MAIRSO AMRSGB
Road Safety Consultant - Road Safety Smart
andrew@roadsafetysmart.co.uk
www.roadsafetysmart.co.uk

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£2.3m fine but will it really make any difference? 03/12/2018

Will Tuesday 27th November 2018 be the day that makes the commercial vehicle industry sit up, take stock of itself and admit, that it finally needs to learn from the very important lessons it has been ignoring for far too long.

This day brought to a conclusion the criminal aspect of the terrible events that unfolded in Coventry on Saturday 3rd October 2015, when a 7 years old boy and 76 years old woman were killed by a double decker bus which was being driven by a 77 years old driver, who we all now know, was not fit to be driving his vehicle. 

Does this sound familiar? It should do because it is very similar to the scenario of the Glasgow bin lorry incident on 22nd December 2014, were the driver in that incident was also not fit to be driving his vehicle. 

However, there is one major issue that differentiates the two incidents. In the Glasgow incident, the driver’s employer Glasgow City Council, did not know the driver had a historic medical condition that should have prevented from driving because he had failed to notify them. Whereas, in the Coventry incident, the driver’s employers Midland Red, knew the driver was unfit to drive that day. 

How did the employer know this? This was because his driving records showed he had worked for more than 70 hours in the week leading up the fatal incident. Therefore, he would clearly be suffering with fatigue but the employer still asked the driver continue driving, due to business needs.

In addition, the employer knew the driver was ‘high risk’ but they chose to ignore the data they had. This included: 

  • The driver had been warned four times about his "erratic" driving by his employer after four crashes in the previous three years.
  • The driver had been subject of eight warning letters about his driving for harsh braking, acceleration and speeding all triggered by a telematics system installed in 2014.
  • The driver had a practical independent driving assessment seven months before the incident. The instructor who conducted the assessment said the journey was "uncomfortable and erratic". He concluded that the driver "would not have been good enough" to pass an initial training driving test. 

Despite knowing this information, the employer:

  • Allowed the driver to miss a ‘1-2-1’ meeting about his driving standards because they needed him to be out driving. 
  • Did not monitor the driver’s telematics data properly, thereby knowingly putting passengers and other roads as risk.
  • Allowed the driver to continue driving until the fatal incident.

Despite the obvious information telematics data provides about the way a vehicle is being driven, telematics is a vitally important tool that can help identify fatigue and other medical conditions that affects the driver’s ability to drive and control their vehicle properly and safely.

Now we reach the crux of the matter. Telematics provides masses of data about every driver in a fleet but the data needs to managed and has to be acted upon and employers need to start asking the awkward questions about their drivers’ health and ability to drive.  

Unfortunately for the employer, just ignoring the data or not having the time to deal with it is no defence. 

So, the question that all employers who run a fleet of vehicles is: “Will a £2.3m fine make you change the way you manage the drivers of your fleet?” 

If it does, then this will be a defining moment. However, it will not be easy and will not happen overnight but the industry will finally show that it is prepared to learn its lessons. Most importantly, it will show that it values the lives all road users and its drivers ahead of profit.

Only time will tell!!

Author:

Andrew Drewary FCILT  MAIRSO  AMRSGB
Road Safety Smart
07817 043821
andrew@roadsafetysmart.co.uk 

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'Mission Possible' on safe storage 22/10/2018

Speakers at The Storage Equipment Manufacturers’ Association Annual Conference and Exhibition Storage Safety Conference on 1st November at the National Motorcycle Museum Solihull explain why attendance is a must.

“Our proactive health and safety interventions focus on risk-based topics, RIDDOR notifications and investigations into H & S concerns. Examples include; unprotected edges on storage mezzanines, unsuitable access equipment and defective ladders. We take proportionate action, regardless of incident. Many smaller businesses don’t know how to manage work at height, have insufficient control measures in place and fail to appreciate that cutting corners doesn’t pay.”

Terry Mallard, Health and Safety Inspector, Birmingham City Council 

“One in five people of working age is either experiencing mental anxiety or work-related stress. Thirty years of technological advances have created incompatibility between people and processes. No firm is too small or too big to protect employees from stress at work. Our top 100 companies all actively promote health and well-being among their employees. The result makes people more productive. Managing mental health is doable if you build processes around people.”

Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist, HSE 

 “Does CDM applies to your project? Revised 2015 CDM regulations offer a blueprint for project safety but compliance can be complex. Referencing racking installations as an example, I’ll clarify how H&S is an integral project element and how investing in the right support on client responsibilities, design and installation is the right commercial decision.”

Allan Ridout, Environment, Health and Safety Manager Malone Group 

“An FLT-related accident left me as an above the knee amputee 12 years ago. My misfortune has inflicted a life-changing aftermath upon my family and son. Yes, poor warehouse layout created that unsafe environment. But every single employee must show vigilance in the workplace and has a duty to report or act where they see fit.”

Lisa Ramos (and David Garton), Health and Safety Impact Speakers 

“The HSE recognises forklifts as the most dangerous form of workplace transport, yet the forklift ‘licence’, which many regard as the benchmark for safe operation, is actually a myth. Before letting anyone loose on your expensive truck, stock and racking, take these simple steps. Check for a certificate of accredited training, assess their skills and ensure they’ve received basic, job specific and familiarisation training as per the ACOP.” 

Stuart Taylor, MD, Mentor FLT Training

“Underpinning any concept of a ‘cradle-to-grave’ safety plan there is usually a code, a standard or a precise structure or blueprint. SEMA’s mantra for addressing this matter in the storage industry is a set of codes for the design, installation, use and inspection of the equipment supported by a suite of initiatives, training and qualifications. We help businesses practise what we preach.” 

Alan Worrell, SEMA Technical Committee

The SEMA Distributor Group (SDG) operates the only scheme in the UK that audits the competence of our resellers and distributors. We help you manage your risk, by ensuring that storage systems are designed in accordance with the latest SEMA standards, are fit for purpose and installed safely.  Why take the risk of using a supplier or reseller that isn’t regulated or audited? Contact a SEMA Distributor Company.

Simon King, Former Chair, SEMA Distributor Group

“21st century leaders need to do more than heap safety rules to people. They must coach, mentor and facilitate and improve their workforce. Success comes through common goals, making better decisions quicker and taking effective action faster. Always refuse to lower your standards to accommodate those who refuse to raise theirs.”

Neil Sheehan, former Senior Safety Manager (Construction & Property) ASDA                     

‘Since the CMF launched its safety training initiative in 2003, RIDDOR notifications among its 120 members have dropped by 77%. Leadership in safety training is more about using “the carrot not the stick”. Rather than a heavy-handed top town approach, employers must bring to life the implications of, say, not wearing safety goggles or the wrong footwear. We recommend personal approaches such as “You do want to see your son/daughter walk down the aisle don’t you?” They work! 

Richard Heath, Safety Advisor, Cast Metals Federation 

“Investment in storage safety is a sound commercial decision and well within reach when you follow best practice. New tougher Health & Safety Legislation has led to a sharp increase in penalties paid by UK firms. 2016 saw 292 fines issued, a 148% increase on 2015. Our nine speakers with wide ranging backgrounds break new ground covering issues such as mental health, 21st century leadership, and real-life case studies. These examples bring home the diverse responsibilities of safe storage management.”

Jaap Vos, President of SEMA

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Don’t ditch the plastic! 11/09/2018

Jim Hardisty, managing director of Goplasticpallets.com speaks out about his concern over the media attacks on plastic and why he feels more needs to be done to regain public confidence in plastic.

Since Blue Planet II aired last November exposing the destructive effect plastic pollution is having on our oceans, negative coverage and misinformed commentary about plastic has dominated the mass media.

This anti-plastic rhetoric running through the media and abundance of ‘ditch the plastic’ and ‘plastic free’ campaigns has completely crowded out the important role plastic plays in our everyday life.

And most infuriating of all is that many of these campaigns do little to distinguish between good ‘reusable’ and bad ‘single-use’ plastic.

I look at these campaigns and always wonder why are they not specific? And why don’t they refer to single-use plastic? After all, these campaigns were created using plastic computers, and watched on plastic tablets or mobiles – and probably funded using a plastic credit card on a plastic card machine!

If you look around you, in your home, in your car, on your desk – so many everyday long lasting and essential items are produced from plastic and do an excellent job over the long term. Plastic has powerful sustainability credentials thanks to its low-carbon impact in manufacturing, light weight and recyclability.

Here at Goplasticpallets.com we recycle every piece of plastic, paper, card, glass and tin we use – at our own expense.

For our clients, we are an Approved Exporter of plastic waste, so that when they no longer have a need for their plastic pallets or boxes, we’re able to return them to our factory in Belgium, where they’ll be reground, and made into more sustainable plastic pallets.

We’re extremely proud of the plastic products we supply. Products that have a long lifecycle and last many more times over than wood or cardboard, saving trees along the way. We’re also proud that we’re helping the environment by collecting products back at the end of their long use, then sending them to be professionally recycled, so they don’t end up in landfill.

I’m all for campaigns that encourage businesses and consumers to cut down on single-use plastic, and for the collaborative efforts that organisations, schools and the general public are making to help clear our beaches and streets of plastic waste. But plastic packaging does not find its way into our oceans on its own. The UK may only be responsible for 0.2% of ocean waste – this is a global problem – but we all need to take more responsibility for our own litter and recycle more.

What’s certain is that something needs to be done to regain public confidence in plastic and promote all the positives it offers as a sustainable packaging material.

So rather than further tarnish the reputation of plastic with campaigns that suggest all plastic is ‘bad’, let’s have a balanced campaign against irresponsible people dropping rubbish, and against single-use plastic. Let’s also remember all the actual benefits of plastic as a material of our time!

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The way of the SARI 16/08/2018

Mike Vaughan is a fully qualified SEMA Approved Racking Inspector (SARI) and he says most businesses need educating on rack safety.

Sadly, SARI inspections lead us to believe that too many businesses (up to 90% perhaps) are totally unaware of the potential consequences of poor rack maintenance. There are three cardinal sins which are seen repeatedly.

First, the term “Adjustable” Pallet Racking can only stretch so far! Before changing the physical configuration of racking, to ensure continued compliance, the owner must consult with the manufacturer or supplier to check that the new load capacity still meets within the original design. Then there’s the “unmanaged” warehouse where all sorts of perils lurk unheeded. Thirdly, seriously deformed uprights and beams can remain un-repaired or replaced for far too long.

The golden rule is that inspection is not a substitute for deficient, defective or absent specification, design, installation, training, operation or maintenance. SEMA states its purpose is to:

  • To satisfy legal requirements to provide a safe place of work and to ensure that work equipment is suitable, as required by the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER).
  • To check the condition of equipment for health and safety reasons as part of a regular inspection regime. Following on from this further work may be needed to quantify any necessary repair works.
  • To verify the equipment has been installed and maintained to a particular specification or standard. 
  • Three levels of inspection
  • There should be three levels, usually referred to as immediate (daily), regular (weekly) and the expert (usually annual) inspection which is where the SARI’s role comes into play.  

SARIs conduct two very different types of inspection. A damage only inspection provides a list of damaged items and their location. It’s OK as far as it goes whereas a full SARI report, offers far more. It will check immediate and regular scrutiny is being carried out; identify/check rack configuration, type and manufacturer and a general identification of components including a check of the accuracy of load notices. It gives classified results and confirms that damaged components are being replaced. It also will identify repetitive damage and propose future solutions/modifications. Vitally, it will notify of any Red Risks present as classified by SEMA’s unique traffic light risk categories which have been established for almost 40 years now and adopted largely worldwide.

In preparation, the following are useful tips , e.g. it’s a visual inspection from ground level so WAH (work at height) shouldn’t be necessary and  cluttered aisles make any sort of inspection difficult! I use simple measuring equipment, work in a logical, systematic way, carry out the inspection at a slow walking pace and record the results. 

I recommend that warehouse management teams appoint a Person Responsible for Racking Safety to ensure safe operation of the warehouse storage system, establish firm routines of rack inspection and maintenance records. The warehouse team need to be able to analyse damage data, identify trends, propose/implement action and, most importantly, have the authority to implement action. 

Commercially speaking, I say that small defects left unrepaired, may lead to higher costs or perhaps serious accidents over time. All staff need to accept a collective responsibility for taking due care. Keep it simple but reporting promptly should follow documented procedures and actions recorded.

A pallet racking system looks robust, but it’s basically a skeleton (usually designed by a structural engineer) and its structural rigidity is calculated to meet precise design criteria under specified conditions. To bear heavy loads, it must have strong joints and be securely anchored to a solid floor. Once loaded, the rack or its components should not distort. On a daily basis, a rack is often subjected to harsh treatment e.g. impacts, forces, poor placement of pallets and often minor collisions inflicted by Fork Lift Trucks so it’s hardly surprising that the once fit-for-purpose, carefully designed, heavy duty rack does not remain indefinitely in factory or as-built condition. It can begin to distort out of shape which will have an effect on its robustness, components may come loose, and the rack can fall into disrepair, compromising safety.

SEMA recommends that a risk assessment and method statement for inspection is incorporated into company procedure. SEMA’s Code of Practice for the Use of Static Racking (free download available from the SEMA web site) and the new SEMA Guide to the Conduct of Racking and Shelving Inspections both have useful advice.

The SARI Qualification is for professionals with inspection experience and who are ideally qualified to HND/degree level. It’s a three-day intensive course validated by written examination and practical assessment and requires evidence of commitment to on-going CPD (Continuous Professional Development). Only then can the SARI logo be displayed. 

Mike has over three decades of sector experience in manufacture and distribution. He is one of 120 fully SEMA qualified SARIs across the UK conducting racking condition assessments, reports and recommendations so that storage facilities warehouses and other places of employment can operate as safe environments.

sema.org.uk

0121 6016359

SEMA’s traffic light system categorises rack damage

Red Risk

Areas where a high level of damage is identified over twice the SEMA limits. This warrants immediate offloading and isolation until repair work is carried out. 

Amber Risk

Areas where the damage identified is greater than the SEMA limits. This warrants remedial work to be carried out. However, the damage is not sufficiently severe to warrant immediate offloading of the area. No additional loads shall be placed in the affected area and once the pallet positions in this area are emptied they should not be refilled until repairs are carried out. If repairs are not effected in 4 weeks an Amber risk item automatically becomes a Red risk item.

Green Risk

Areas where damage is present, however the level of damage is within the SEMA limits and should be recorded for further consideration at the next inspection. See our blog our blog at https://www.hsssearch.co.uk/page_895747.asp

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What is 2018 going to bring? 04/12/2017

It’s the time of the year to make some predictions for 2018.

As I sit here looking into my glass ball, I honestly wonder if there has ever been a time characterised by more uncertainty.  The geo-political situation seems to be so fragile, with Brexit, North Korea, the USA and Russia, all seemingly being sources of concern and confusion. 

As things stand we don’t know what the UK’s situation will soon be with regard to customs, immigration, and the Irish border  - all huge issues for anyone working in the UK Logistics Sector.

But putting those macro issues to one side – what should we expect in 2018?

Customer expectations are changing.  There is no doubt about that.  How long will we go on having a High Street with retail outlets?  This Christmas period, more parcels than ever before will be delivered direct to domestic addresses and the trend is only going to continue.  I wonder how long it will be before the only retailers on the High Street are coffee shops.  This has huge implications for us.  We effectively become part of a huge kitchen larder.  People don’t keep or store things (food and non) at home, they can get it delivered the next day with zero hassle and often zero cost.  Warehouses move from being a place where produce is kept, becoming instead a shop visited by virtual customers. 

Data management.  Some people still think of logistics as lifting and moving.  More and more we will be managers of data.  Our processes, people and training will reflect this.

Transport. This is a big one.  Trucks are still the main way that goods are moved around the country.  But will 2018 be the year when drones and driverless vehicles really take off?  Eventually there will be a shift in how we move things, but maybe not as soon as some think.  

Energy Sources.  Traditional sources of energy are becoming prohibitively expensive – if they haven’t always been.  This is what will drive the change and conversion to renewables and electric vehicles.  2018 may well be the year of a fast forward on moving away from diesel and fossil fuels.  With more electric vehicles coming to market, expect better products and cheaper prices.

And England will go out of the World Cup on penalties.

Happy New Year!

David Coombes, Founder and Managing Director of Logistics Job Shop

Follow David on Twitter @DavidCoombesSfL

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Lessons from the White House. Can anyone be the wrong recruit after ten days in post? 08/08/2017

Let’s be honest. Ten days is no time at all. It makes Brian Clough’s tenure at Leeds seem positively epic in comparison.

But I am certain that most of us have known after ten days that we are either in the wrong job or that we have appointed the wrong person (Anthony Scaramucci, White House Communications Director, was fired by President Donald Trump after 10 days). Realistically, maybe even a week is long enough to get that gut feel. There is much to be said for managing decisively and for backing your judgment with action, but many a cautionary tale around being too hasty. Rarely in my experience however,  do things improve on their own, and once you’ve made a decision about someone it’s very hard for them to change that opinion. Instead, everything they do seems to be more evidence to support your prior judgment.

Of course, some staff take time to settle and to really find their feet, but in senior appointments, where chemistry and ‘fit’ are so crucial, that gut feel is particularly important.

This is why I believe it’s important to think outside the box when recruiting for senior appointments. You have to think less about the person you are looking for, and more about their skills or characteristics you value. Worry less about them looking the way you do (recruiting in your own image is a real challenge we face in our sector), but spend time understanding the challenges your business faces and start to think of the solutions. Maybe even tell the candidate what concerns you and ask them to present how they would deal with your issues.

The more I see this recruitment process, the more I realise that it is not a tick box exercise. Employers spend time with their workers, they have to like them and respect them or it just won’t work or last. Great teams are exactly that – teams. Collections of individuals who can work together for the common goal. We don’t have to look alike, but we all have to contribute. When you are hiring, take time to think about the gaps you have, the challenges you face and put the ball in the candidate’s court. What would they do in that situation? 

In recruitment perhaps more than anything else: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

David Coombes, Founder and Managing Director of Logistics Job Shop

Follow David on Twitter @DavidCoombesSfL

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The Taylor Review of modern working practices – the gig economy and zero hour contracts 20/07/2017

It really feels as if the world is going through a period of significant issues and massive geopolitical changes.

Brexit discussions are now getting to be extremely serious and the results will impact on our economic and political futures at least for the rest of our lives.  Many of us working in industries with international dimensions will have already seen and felt the effects of a recalibration of exchange rates.  

But there are other huge issues domestically which seem to have slipped down the list.  The ongoing announcements around HS2, in a different time and place would be headline news.  But I wonder how many of us, even working in our sector, are fully aware of them.

Likewise, I wonder how much coverage the Taylor Review might have received in a different political atmosphere.

Zero hour contracts were talked about in the General Election and have been since, with some seeing them as a toxic workplace development and others regarding them as central to business flexibility and productivity.

I wonder if the wisdom in the zero hour debates is to be found somewhere in the middle.

All employers need some flexibility from their staff.  The deadline that needs hitting.  The new contract that comes in.  The sickness of a team member.

There are reasonable and genuine reasons why employers need flexibility, and I do not think they get anywhere close to exploitation.  There simply are times when employers need good will and investment from staff.

So I see the need for solutions which allow for flexibility.  But I think I also see when they actually will not deliver the impact they need.  In my experience, the good will of staff is absolutely central to organisational success.  This is why I suspect that an over reliance on zero hour contracts is unlikely to be a successful long term solution for employers.  Employees, who genuinely feel part of the team, who are invested in, surely offer something different than individuals without that sense of attachment.

So I wonder if zero hours contracts are another policy issue where we need to be careful not to lose the baby with the bathwater.  No one supports exploitation of workers.  But nor can we be looking for ways to bring inflexibility back into the labour market.  So if we need to legislate to prevent exploitation, what about introducing a percentage of staff who can be on zero hour contracts?  Or a length of time that you can be registered as such? 

In my experience, the race to the bottom leaves us all a little worse off in the end.  So it’s a race to be avoided.

David Coombes, Founder and Managing Director of Logistics Job Shop

Follow David on Twitter @DavidCoombesSfL

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What can we learn from Oakland's warehouse tragedy? 23/06/2017

When we learn from our mistakes as well as the mistakes of others, we can salvage some good from tragedy.

Last Monday, two men in Oakland, California were charged with the manslaughter of 36 people after a fire at the Ghost Ship, a warehouse art space in California. The tragedy and the decision made by the courts goes to show the importance of warehouse safety, so what can businesses and warehouse owners learn from this sad event?

1. Tragedy Shouldn’t Be the Only Catalyst for Change 

If you run an unsafe warehouse, you might not realise it. You might do your day-to-day business completely unaware of the many ways that your building could be a danger to anyone inside of it. Perhaps this is because you think that health and safety protocols are unnecessary, or maybe it’s because no-one has been injured yet.

This is the biggest challenge for warehouse safety. If your business is losing money, it’s easy for someone to prove that to you. If your business is unsafe, it can be impossible to prove that it’s unsafe until something drastic happens.

This was the situation at the Ghost Ship. The building was filled with wooden furniture, wooden decorations and a whole host of other flammable materials, instruments, and art installations. Once the fire started, all of these objects only helped it to burn more intently. The building was also woefully unequipped for dealing with the fire. According to witnesses, the fire extinguishers they had were not enough to tackle the blaze and other reports have confirmed that fire exits were practically nonexistent — being blocked off and not signposted.

The response to all of this has been a crackdown on dangerous warehouse art spaces in the city and across the country, and this response is important. However, for the victims of the fire, this desire for safety comes too late. We shouldn’t need for tragedies like this to happen before something is done.

We can learn a lot from history. In 1974, after 28 people died in a warehouse explosion in Flixborough in North Lincolnshire, HSE was formed. Since then, workplace injuries have reduced by 77% and workplace fatalities have reduced by 85%. HSE’s stance makes the need for racking inspection services and other warehouse safety regulations clear. This has helped to make warehouses across the UK safer and these safer warehouses have contributed to the UK’s overall decline in workplace fatalities and injuries. 

In short, the positive reaction to the Flixborough tragedy and the lessons learned from it have been a huge victory for safety in the UK. We can only hope that we’ll see a similar change in California. Still, in both cases, it would have been better for everyone had proper safety been implemented before the tragedy. Sadly, this is not the case, so we must move forward doing the best we can.

2. A Knee-Jerk Reaction is Not a Good Approach to Safety

While it’s important that the government makes sure safety regulations are enforced, it’s also important that artists and other tenants aren’t made homeless by these regulations. As one artist pointed out, many of the victims of the Oakland Ghost Ship tragedy were artists themselves. If safety regulations would have simply meant closing down the Ghost Ship, those same tenants may have just wound up in even more dangerous and less regulated spaces.

The situation is complicated and is spurred on by increasing rent prices in American cities. A sensible approach would need to be long-term, would need government investment, and would need a proper dialogue between tenants, government officials, artists, locals, and landlords. None of this will be easy, especially not with the huge cuts to OSHA’s budget which President Trump is proposing.

3. No-One Wins The Blame Game

Assigning legal blame to the right person is a matter for the courts, and the courts have decided the blame lies with Max Harris and Derick Ion Almena. They owned the building, they held the party which led to the fire without a permit, and the building flouted many, many safety regulations.

However, Almena’s lawyers claim that the blame should really lie with the local government. According to them, the building was not properly inspected and that this negligence is what caused the fire. To those claims, local government and local fire officials have admitted that the building wasn’t inspected, but that this was due to chronic cuts to the city’s budget — specifically the fire department. If that’s the case, then perhaps the blame lies with politicians.

Then there are those who blame the fire, albeit indirectly, on the rising house and rent prices in the area which forced people to start living in a warehouse where health and safety was at a minimum.

Safety is everybody’s responsibility. This is an idea espoused by people in the health and safety industry across the world — from Novia Scotia, to Pennsylvania, to Abu Dhabi, to Singapore. It might sound like a somewhat hokey expression, but it’s an important idea at times like this.

True, cities need to do more to reduce the dangers of warehouse art spaces. True, state or federal governments need to give cities more money to help them do this. True, rent prices are too high and this did help lead to the tragedy. True, the two men charged had a responsibility of care as well, and were guilty of manslaughter. None of those statements contradict each other, because safety is everyone’s responsibility.

 

About the author

Justin O’Sullivan is a writer, warehouse safety expert, and the founder of Storage Equipment Experts. As a SEMA approved inspector, Justin provides a variety of racking inspection services for businesses across the UK and Ireland.

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