Pharmaceuticals company Macfarlan Smith ordered to tackle one of its cooling towers
A clean-up has been ordered in Edinburgh at a second company being investigated as a possible source of an outbreak of legionnaires’ disease.
The number of confirmed and suspected cases rose on Monday to 88.
So far one man has died. He was named locally as Robert Air, 56, from Seafield in Edinburgh.
The pharmaceuticals firm Macfarlan Smith, based in south-west Edinburgh, has been ordered to carry out thorough cleaning of one of its cooling towers and to provide access so that it can be inspected and maintained.
Last week the Scottish health and safety executive (HSE) served an improvement notice on the North British Distillery Company, which is in the same road.
It was censured for failing to devise and implement a sustained, effective biocide control programme for a cooling tower on its site.
Other companies are being visited as part of the investigation into the outbreak of the disease.
HSE said the notices did not indicate an immediate risk from legionella, as this was being controlled by the emergency dosing of chemicals and Macfarlan Smith’s subsequent voluntary shutdown of cooling towers.
The Scottish health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “Today’s developments, which show a slight increase, are in line with expectations.
“With a 14-day incubation period, we would expect there to be fluctuations over the next week or so.”
Fourteen people were being treated in intensive care, 26 were on general wards, and 19 were being treated in the community.
Seven patients are being treated outside of the NHS Lothian area. Their ages range from 33 to 76, and more men than women have been infected.
Dr Duncan McCormick, chairman of NHS Lothian’s incident management team and consultant in public health medicine, said: “The number of confirmed and suspected cases have again increased slightly in line with expectations.
“It is pleasing to see that 22 patients have now recovered and been discharged from hospital.”
Macfarlan Smith said it had voluntarily shut a small cooling tower on its site as a precaution.
A spokesman said: “As the HSE has stated in its press release, this does not mean that this cooling tower has been identified as the source of the outbreak.
“Macfarlan Smith continues to work closely with the HSE in its investigations into the outbreak.
“Our thoughts are with the individuals and families affected by the current situation.”
Hot weather can make work environments unbearable. What are your rights, and what is your employer obliged to provide?
How hot is my workplace allowed to be?
There is no set maximum. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) used to say that “an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F)”, but it now just states that “during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”.
What is reasonable can vary: if you work in a kitchen it will be very different from if you work in a cold store. But the HSE does have a defined measure of at what point an employer needs to investigate workplace temperatures – if your office is air conditioned your employer must assess things if 10% of staff complain; for non-air conditioned offices the figure is 15%; and for shops and warehouses 20% of staff need to make a complaint.
The TUC has been campaigning for a legal maximum temperature for some years – it believes it should be set at 27°C where people are involved in strenuous work, and 30°C for all other employment. The organisation’s head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson, says it is “absolutely ridiculous” there is no set limit. It is down to local authorities and the HSE to enforce the current “reasonable” rule and no action has yet been taken. Robertson says: “We can’t sue an employer unless someone has a stroke or dies of heatstroke.”
Does my employer have to provide air conditioning?
No, but Robertson says sensible employers will use mobile air-conditioning units and fans to keep workers cool. “An employer with a brain will know they are not going to get the best out of their employees if they are too hot,” he says.
Can my boss force me to keep wearing a tie?
Yes. Employers are allowed to tell their workers to dress in a particular way in the workplace, regardless of what the weather is like outside. This might be written in your contract or an employee handbook, or you may have been instructed when you started your job.
Men in the workplace may feel a bit hard done by if they have to keep wearing a tie while their female counterparts can feel a cooling breeze around their necks, but according to Philip Landau, employment lawyer at Landau Zeffertt Weir Solicitors, employers can justify requiring different dress requirements for men and women.
“In Department of Work and Pensions v Thompson , the Employment Appeals Tribunal said that requiring men to wear a collar and tie did not necessarily amount to sex discrimination if that was the only way of achieving equal levels of smartness for men and women,” Landau says. “This may not apply in every case and prudent employers would normally have a policy in place if they wanted to insist their male staff should wear a collar and tie.”
Can my boss force me to wear a uniform even if it’s hot outside?
Again, yes. Landau says employers must consider objections from employees at having to follow a required dress code, but it seems citing the weather is unlikely to cut much ice. “In many sectors where there are customer-facing roles, such as retail or the travel industry, uniforms promote a corporate identity and professional image,” he says. “Employers will find it much easier to justify a dress code in these circumstances, even in hot weather where lower cut tops and more informal dress would be the clear preference of those battling through an oppressive work environment.”
Does my employer have to provide me with cold water to drink?
Your employer is legally obliged to provide you with drinking water. This does not have to be chilled, but if you have a fridge you could also put some tap water in a bottle and chill your own.
How about ice creams?
Nice try. Of course there is no legal obligation for your employer to treat you to a Solero in any circumstances, but bosses should know that a well-timed round of lollies can engender goodwill that lasts much longer than the typical British summer.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has introduced a new regulation that says injuries need only be reported if workers are out of action for over seven days
The North Sea safety regulator has lightened up the rules for reporting accidents offshore even as one operator in the field, Total, struggles to halt a gas leak that has been going on for over a month.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has introduced a new regulation that says injuries need only be reported if workers are out of action for over seven days. The former level was three days.
The HSE was unable to comment on the changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, but Robert Paterson, Oil & Gas UK’s health and safety director, said: “Although the trigger point for reporting injuries to HSE has increased from over three days’ to over seven days’ incapacitation, under EU law, employers and others with responsibilities under RIDDOR must still keep a record of all over three day injuries. The UK oil and gas industry’s top priority is the safety of its workforce and its commitment will not waver because of a change in reporting rules.”
The leaking well in the Elgin field, 150 miles east of Aberdeen, has so far cost Total a combined $50m (£30m) in lost production and in efforts to repair it. The leak has been spewing up to 3,000 tonnes of carbon a day into the atmosphere but Total is still no nearer knowing what caused it.
A fleet of nine vessels and two rigs has been utilised to try to bring the situation under control and Total said on Friday it was “confident” of making a breakthrough in the near future.
Christophe de Margerie, Total’s chief executive, appeared to acknowledge that it must do more to improve the safety record of a company which is losing oil and gas output in the UK but also gas production onshore in Nigeria due to a different technical problem there.
“Recent accidents, such as the one on the Elgin platform in the UK North Sea, confirm the crucial importance of safety in our operations. The entire company recognises the complexity of our operations requires an even stronger commitment to safety and environment,” he said.
Total did not want to make any comments about the financial losses being incurred or what went wrong but sources close to the company said an investigation into the causes of the Elgin accident was taking second place to trying to find a solution to a well that started leaking on 25 March. The same sources estimated that CO2 emissions from the leak were now likely to be running at around 1,000 tonnes, although they had previously been 3,000 tonnes.
The difficulty has forced Total to take off the personnel and shut all output from Elgin which is costing around $1.5m a day. An additional $1.5m is now being spent on ships and equipment to halt the leak.
A “diverter” has just been installed on the stricken G4 well to divert gas away from the platform and reduce the scope for a dangerous build-up of hydrocarbons close to the platform.
The comments from de Margerie came as the company reported first quarter financial figures which showed profits down by 1% to €3bn (£2.44bn) on the same period last year. This compared with sparkling results and an 11% increase in earnings from rival Shell on the back of soaring oil prices.
Health and Safety Executive sets up mythbusters panel to tackle misuse of legislation by ‘jobsworths’
An official voice to combat misuses of health and safety legislation is being launched by ministers.
The Health and Safety Executive is setting up a panel to provide quick advice to people who are subject to ridiculous or disproportionate health and safety decisions by insurance companies, local authorities and employers.
The mythbusters challenge panel – to be headed by Judith Hackitt, the HSE chair – represents a change in image for an organisation often viewed as institutionally prone to backing excessive health and safety decisions.
In a bid to shed that reputation, the HSE today publishes the 10 worst myths about the misuse of health and safety legislation, promising it will confront such decisions. They include children being banned from playing conkers unless they are wearing goggles, office workers being banned from putting up Christmas decorations, trapeze artists being ordered to wear hard hats, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey games being deemed a health and safety risk, candyfloss on a stick being banned in case people trip and impale themselves, hanging baskets being banned in case people bump their heads on them, a workplace ban on flip-flops and graduates ordered not to throw their mortar boards in the air
Minister for employment, Chris Grayling, said: “All too often jobsworths are the real reason for daft health and safety decisions. We want people who are told they cannot put up bunting or they cannot play conkers to know that there is no basis in law for such rulings.”
Hackitt said: “Over the years we’ve seen health and safety invoked – wrongly – in defence of some pretty absurd decisions.
“When people hear about children being ordered to wear goggles to play conkers or the dangers of candyfloss on a stick it undermines public confidence in the true task of health and safety, which is to manage serious risks to life and limb in Britain’s workplaces.
“This is a great opportunity for the public to stand with us against the jobsworths and cynics who are trivialising health and safety to suit their own ends.”
As a former president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (2000-02) I was disgusted by the vitriolic tirade of nonsense spouted by David Cameron about how he will “kill off the health and safety culture” (Report, 6 January). He has learned nothing from the carefully researched Löfstedt report but has crafted it to suit his own ends.
Sir Bill Callaghan, when he was chairman of the former Health and Safety Commission, said that health and safety was the cornerstone of a civilised society. It is clear that Mr Cameron and his conservative cronies are determined to destroy that aspiration.
I challenge Mr Cameron and his yes man Chris Grayling to frontline participation in a workplace fatal accident investigation from the initial “blood on the floor” phase, through the inquest, to the criminal and civil claim proceedings, just as an inspector of the HSE or a local authority would have to do. This might cause him to stop and remember that the health and safety code, which I and others in my profession daily apply sensibly and proportionately to protect the lives of our workplace colleagues and the public, is the envy of the world.
Shame on you, Mr Cameron, in your espousal of the “big society” for failing to support this essential element of a civilised one, founded on the toll of death, injury and disease suffered by so many working people and other citizens over the past 200 years.
• The most recent figures show the number of workplace deaths in London nearly doubled – from nine to 17 – in a year. When workers get killed, inevitably investigations prove that corners have been cut and the law broken. It is London Hazards Centre’s belief that the 35% cut to The Health and Safety Executive’s budget is already costing workers lives.
For David Cameron to start the new year saying his resolution is “to kill off health and safety culture” shows not just insensitivity to bereaved families, but how out of touch he is with countries with more civilised workplace arrangements in Europe and other parts of the world. The actual conclusions of the Löfstedt review are distorted in the rush to turn back the clock to the 1950s.
Löfstedt said there was no evidence to suggest there is a case for stripping back current health and safety regulation, or to support reducing regulatory requirements for smaller firms. We must make sure the coalition does not water down worker protection.
Also, in over 20 years of campaigning for improvements, London Hazards has seen no evidence of “burdens on business”, only the opposite. Peter Juszczyz was killed on a small site in Wembley in 2006. In court, HSE said: “His death was clearly avoidable as risks of excavations is well known.” The employer was fined just £750. That is not a burden.
Advice worker, London Hazards Centre
• It was with great concern that I read of David Cameron’s description of the health and safety culture as a “monster”. It was said in the context of unfettering small businesses to leave them in a better position to develop. But this stereotyping of health and safety as an optional extra plays into the hands of those wishing to cut costs by avoiding responsible employment practices.
Health and safety legislation has been a force for good since its inception in 1974. It has been a major factor in lowering death from fatal injuries while in employment by 82%. The one area where death rates are increasing as a result of employment is mesothelioma (asbestos-related lung cancer). The latency period of this disease (usually 30-40 years) demonstrates how workers unprotected by legislation at the time of their exposure are now paying the price.
My husband died 13 months ago from this most painful and distressing disease. One of the few comforting facts is the huge amount of awareness and legislation brought in by the HSE, so that within the next decade the incidence of this disease should begin to fall. For David Cameron to use such negative sweeping statements about health and safety is at best disingenuous. As a PR expert, he will be aware of the importance of interpretation of any statements, and should take responsibility accordingly.
• Well organised successful businesses generally regard health and safety as an essential part of efficient working. If the prime minister intends to “kill off the health and safety culture” he is aligning himself with the kind of inefficient muddle-headed businesses that are precisely what Britain does not need if it is to become a prosperous country.
His desire to shuffle out of the EU is presumably intended to ensure that we can be forced to buy from these bunglers, rather than from efficient continental firms.
• A year ago Cameron, Osborne, Cable and co promised growth, then blamed the lack of it on a royal wedding, the weather and Europe, so it should come as no surprise that David Cameron today blames “the health and safety monster” for the failure of the coalition government’s economic policies. Yet it is scandalous that he should do so. I witnessed deaths for lack of proper safety measures on building sites during the Thatcher years. It is precisely when unemployment increases that working people need the protection that proper health and safety legislation can provide, and the possibility of redress in the courts if employers are lax.