Seven Advantages of Health & Safety Focused Electrical Contractors

Thousands of accidents as a result of the work of electrical contractors are reported to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) every year in the UK. Given the potential injuries and even death that can result from both low and high voltage electricity incidents, Health and Safety training and accident prevention is a priority for Watkinscole. We have worked hard to achieved accreditation with the major industry safety schemes so that all of our staff have the relevant training and skills to keep both themselves and others safe. In this post let’s take a look at the importance of health and safety in the electrical sector, the key issues and benefits that businesses get not just from meeting, but going above and beyond their legal obligations.

Why Health and Safety Matters?

Construction site work, including electrical contractors, can affect a vast number of people who may be onsite at any one time.  Accidents and incidents don’t just affect contractors, but also potentially harm other site workers clients and the public.   Health and safety is an obvious concern across all of the UK’s industries but it’s of particular importance within the construction industry because it’s the UK industry with a fatality rate four times higher than the rate across all other sectors (HSE fatal injuries report). Zak Garner-Purkis reports that work-related deaths in the construction industry increased to 38 in 2017/18, up from a record low of 30 in the previous 12 months.

Alarmingly, the number of deaths in relation to the number of employees in the trades is grossly disproportionate: the construction industry employs 5% of the UK’s workers, yet the sector accounts for 10% of major reported injuries and a massive third of all fatal worker injuries each year. (Joe Lawson-West).

It is reassuring that the number of fatalities reported in the electrical sector has been declining year on year since 2001 to a 14 year low as you can see in the following graph.

The 2016 JCB & ECA Survey shows no fatalities in the survey respondents in recent years. The responses showed an industry Accident Industry Rate of 216.38 per 100,000 operatives, which compares to the 2001 figure of 1600/100,000. Of the accidents that occurred in 2016, the most prevalent type of serious injury is from falls.

As I alluded to in the introduction, the point remains that health and safety failures that involve electrical contractors can be fatal. Any electrical device used on a wiring circuit can, under certain conditions, transmit a deadly current. Vivek Singh, Commissioning Engineer at General Electric, clarifies a little-known fact when he wrote that “while it would seem that a shock of 10,000 volts would be more deadly than 100 volts. However, this is not so! Individuals have been electrocuted by appliances using ordinary house currents of 110 volts and by electrical apparatus in industry using as little as 42 volts direct current. The real measure of shock’s intensity lies in the amount of current (amperes) forced through the body, and not the voltage”.

The potential damage makes any level of incident reporting in the electrical industry unacceptable, and thus we must take preventative steps seriously.

Who is Responsible for Health and Safety?

Most people will be more familiar with the Health and Safety legislation that applies to workplaces and rental properties that is governed by the Electricity at Work (EAW) Regulations 1989. The regulations require that the electrical system shall at all times be constructed and maintained “so far as reasonably practicable, to prevent danger.”

The regulations have been updated to the new 18th Edition BS 7671:2018 Requirements for Electrical Installations that come into effect on 1st January 2019. You can find out about the new regulations that apply to the design, erection and verification of all electrical installations including additions and alterations to existing installations in our blog post. Compliance with Health and Safety law goes far beyond Inspection and Testing duties, as we will now see.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the government agency responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation in Great Britain. Their website helps construction companies and workers understand their roles and responsibilities under British health and safety law. The HSE’s role includes coordination and monitoring to ensure the health and safety of your workers and compliance with HSE construction requirements.

It is an electrical contractor’s (the employer’s) duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Electrical contractors must do whatever is reasonably practicable to meet our duty of care – a legal obligation that requires us to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any work that could foreseeably harm others.

It is because of the duty of care that we have #KeepingYouSafe as our motto at Watkinscole. We cover the necessary steps that companies like us should follow to ensure compliance in our next blog post.

 Why Accidents Happen

We generally consider construction sites run by larger companies less risky, as these are the companies that have the infrastructure and resources for more rigorous health and safety measures and practices. However, the issues are still as relevant for smaller companies and smaller sites. These are some of the common problems that underpin reports of accidents.

High-risk workplace, high-risk work

Construction sites present risks way beyond most other industry workplaces by the nature of the job. When you are dealing in high voltage cabling and system installation and maintenance, anything that goes wrong can be severe. Not surprisingly, electrocutions rank among the top four causes of construction worker deaths in America each year.

Whilst no workplace has zero risks, there are noticeable and significant differences between the dangers presented at an electrical contractor worker’s place of work in comparison with a finance or retail worker’s workplace, for example.

Many People Enter Site Areas

Over the course of a building project, a variety of people visit construction sites, many of whom will not be aware of the Health and Safety risks and the preventative measures in place to protect them. From clients to surveyors and subcontractors, we can only control access to some degree. Furthermore, our electrical contractor work can be external, thus posing a risk to members of the public who may be passing or going about their daily business.

Equipment and Tools

Equipment and tools offer triple trouble on construction sites: one risk is of wear and tear rendering them faulty and dangerous; another is deploying or using them is, and another is that even a relatively small piece of equipment can malfunction and thereby cause damage to someone.

Manual Handling

Trades often have to deal with heavy loads that must be unloaded and moved from one location to another on site. Workers can suffer short-term through accidental injury and long-term, through prolonged heavy lifting and poor positioning when wrongly manual handling of bulky items.

Working at Height

Falls from height are the most common cause of construction site and electrical contractor-related fatalities, accounting for nearly three in ten fatal injuries to workers. The high incidence of fall-related incidents should not come as a surprise given that electrical work typically involves working from ladders, scaffolds, operating platforms and roof edges and other fragile surfaces — the risks associated with working at height increases when facing access and mobility restrictions.

Benefits of Prevention

We do not subscribe to the views that Health and Safety regulations have gone too far nor agree with voices that mock the controls. To give balance, you can see one here. When it comes to tackling Heath & Safety as electrical contractors, we believe that it is better to prevent death than to deal with one for victims and companies. These are some of the significant advantages for contractors that come from meeting the legal obligations in our sector.

Protecting People

When companies do not take the proper steps, they can affect real people and even cause death. The health and safety of workers have implications for productivity and profitability. For example, from the 1.7 million working days lost due to work-related illness. More importantly, harming a person will have other people such as their families and friends who also pay the price terms of loss, time to care for the injured and emotional pain associated with any severe damage.

Morally, who wants to be responsible for any preventable incident?

Don’t Break the Law

Any breach of health and safety regulations is as a criminal offence and as such, any company or individual manager found to violate these health and safety regulations could face prosecution by the HSE.  An electrical contractor or person responsible who is found guilty of failing to implement Health & Safety legislation could face a hefty fine or even imprisonment.

Avoid Huge Fines by the Health & Safety Executive

HSE can and does issue substantial penalties to companies that fail to manage health and safety on-site. While the more prominent companies tend to get more punitive fines, smaller companies tend to feel it more regarding revenue. HSE will typically first issue Enforcement Notices for breaches of duty and then follow these with penalties for companies and often their Directors. The case of the construction company, MG Corporation Ltd. who received three prohibitions notices after severe breaches of legislation should serve as an example. HSE issued the company a fined £250,000 fine and ordered to pay costs of £4,790.40. The punishment pales into insignificance when you compare it to the £2.6 million fine for Balfour Beatty in May 2016 when a worker died on site.

Few electrical contractors would prefer to hand over our hard-earned income for failing to carry out often simple preventative steps.

Avoid a ban from Prohibition Notices

HSE has the power to issue Prohibition Notices under sections 22 and 23 HSWA that could stop your business from doing any more work. Inspectors issue Prohibition Notices when they believe that an activity carried on (or likely to be carried on) under the control of that contractor involves (or will involve) risk of severe personal injury. The prohibition notice usually requires you to stop that activity immediately. You must not resume the operation until you have taken action to remove or control the risk.

A prohibition notice, whether immediate or deferred, is not automatically suspended by an appeal, so getting one would have a significant impact on productivity and profitability for any firm.

Don’t Get Sued for Accidents, Death, Injury and Disability

If an employee is injured whilst at work, they may be able to make a claim against their employing electrical contractor if the company has failed to provide them in any way, a safe and healthy working environment. If an accident occurs on site, it could give rise to criminal or contractual prosecution. If the accident results in a fatality, the HSE carry out an investigation to establish what and why the accident happened, and who is culpable. In such circumstances contractors and managers may find themselves under intense and prolonged scrutiny, with severe consequences: the recently published guidelines on sentencing in corporate manslaughter cases recommend that the minimum fine for a business with a turnover of less than £2m should be £180,000 and the range of penalties for a company with a turnover in excess of £50m should be £3m to £20m.

No Prosecution and Conviction for Negligence  

There is an obligation on electrical contractors (the employer), both as a common law duty and as a statutory law duty to reasonably foresee and prevent or protect against any health and safety issues related to their work. This obligation is the crucial element that must be established to proceed with a negligence case.

If found guilty a contractor or manager could be fined or imprisoned. Each breach can incur a fine of up to £20,000; deliberately breaking the law, or by being seriously negligent in carrying out legal duties that result in endangering lives can lead to unlimited fines and imprisonment.

Failing to carry out and document Health and Safety Risk assessments, provide training or supplying protective safety equipment could lead to being found guilty of Negligence. Jack Simpson’s report of the £75,000 fine for a house builder after widespread safety failings at two sites was found to be putting employees’ health at risk, proves no contractor can afford to neglect their duty of care.

Maintain Your Reputation

Perhaps the most significant damage that ignoring health and safety issues which leads to any of those actions above is that any or all will significantly damage an electrical contractor’s reputation. Having a track-record for safety failings could lead to losing or being stripped of accreditations or memberships of leading industry bodies; excessively high public liability and employer liability insurance costs or inability to get insurance at all. With a tarnished brand, clients may choose more safety-focused contractors, rather than take the risk with your company.

Bringing it all Together

The consequences for Health & Safety failings and non-compliance can be crippling for any electrical contractor. It may look like I am going over the top here about the costs of neglecting your health and safety duties. However, looking after the health and safety of people who are affected by our electrical work is not just good business, but more importantly, an essential part of ensuring the safety of our staff, clients and the public. We see all of the positives from avoiding the potential consequences and that keeping people safe brings to our business, clients and stakeholders. That is why at Watkinscole, we place emphasis and allocate resources to preventing injury or damage to everyone who is affected by our electrical work safe. The next post covers the steps that electrical contractors can take to comply with their legal obligations.