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The real cost of unsafe lifting

28 October 2016

Geoff Holden, chief executive, LEEA (Lifting Equipment Engineers Association) explains the costs of accidents cuts much deeper than fines.

The £90,000 fine recently handed down to a company that failed to comply with the requirements of LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations) underlines the fact that UK authorities are taking an ever tougher stance on breaches to health and safety legislation.

However, employers that fail to meet their legal obligations as regards lifting are likely to find themselves paying a price that goes far beyond the financial penalties imposed by courts. 

The successful prosecution of GHA Coaches stemmed from the company’s failure to subject its lifting equipment to thorough examination by a competent person, as required by LOLER. In crude terms, a thorough examination is the equivalent of an automotive MOT. It is designed to ensure that products such as cranes, hoists and load lifting attachments remain safe to use. Under LOLER, employers must ensure that all lifting equipment for which they are responsible is subject to this process on a periodic basis. In-service, this is typically every six or twelve months, dependent on the type of product involved. Given the safety-critical role played by lifting equipment, this is widely regarded as a reasonable and sensible measure to help maintain the safety of employees and general public alike. 

In most cases, thorough examination is not an overly complicated or expensive process. Given that the prosecuted company had been given prior warning by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) of the need to conduct thorough examinations, their failure to do so is hard to fathom. Furthermore, whilst the £90,000 fine reflects a long term trend towards more punitive punishments for corporate breaches of health and safety legislation, the true costs are likely to be much higher. Issues such as the potential damage to the company’s reputation and employee morale, the management time taken up by the prosecution, and the legal fees incurred all need to be taken into account as well.

TEAM Card accredited

LEEA’s TEAM identity card for lifting equipment examiners has been accredited by the CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme), the leading skills certification scheme within the UK construction industry. As a result, the TEAM Card will now carry the CSCS logo, providing contractors and housebuilders with assurance that the holder has the training and qualifications necessary to conduct thorough examinations of equipment such as cranes, hoists and slings. Under the requirements of LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations), all lifting equipment must be subject to periodic thorough examination by a competent person to ensure it remains safe to use.

Most principal contractors and major housebuilders now insist that workers on their sites carry either a CSCS card, or an accredited card for occupations not directly covered by the scheme. Launched in 2009, the TEAM Card is issued exclusively to employees of LEEA members that have passed the association’s industry-recognised Diploma qualification. It is supported by a log book detailing the holder’s relevant work experience, and must be renewed every three years. The card holder’s details can be verified online at www.leeaint.com

Accreditation of the TEAM Card follows a rigorous audit by the CSCS of LEEA’s training, qualifications and registration scheme. Founded in 1944, LEEA has over one thousand member companies and organisations worldwide, and operates from a head office and dedicated training centre located in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Sadly, the failure to adopt a professional approach to lifting often has human as well as financial repercussions. Whilst there has no doubt been improvement in the UK in recent years, reports of lifting-related deaths and serious injuries still occur with depressing regularity. What’s more, in an overwhelming number of cases, these accidents could easily have been avoided by the application of relatively straightforward procedures such as proper planning and the use of appropriately trained staff.

Whilst for some the whole issue of health and safety remains contentious, most observers see LOLER as a sensible and flexible piece of legislation. Overall, it has had a positive impact on standards without placing an undue burden on employers. This is reflected in the fact that LOLER was left untouched by the Coalition Government’s review of health and safety legislation. In addition, it has been voluntarily adopted as best practice by a growing number of employers and stakeholders in parts of the world that lack lifting-specific regulations.

As the aforementioned prosecution highlights, failure to stay on the right side of the law comes at a price. Above and beyond the direct costs, employers also need to consider the potential human and economic impact of accidents. Minimising the risk to life and limb should always be a priority, but companies are also well advised to be mindful of the damage to plant, buildings and loads that can result from poorly executed lifting operations. Furthermore, there are plenty of positive reasons for adopting a correct and legally-compliant approach. In the long run, safe lifting is almost invariably more efficient too. By understanding and implementing the requirements of LOLER, employers will not only avoid ending up in the dock, but also reap genuine bottom line benefits in terms of the speed and productivity of their material handling processes.