Builders merchants might be relieved that they are not being targeted specifically in HSE’s published strategy for 2017/18 but there are still plenty of indications that they will remain under the health and safety spotlight in the coming year.

For one thing, local authority safety inspectors goal remains to focus on workplace transport and work at height safety to reduce the associated accident statistics, on the builders merchants site.

Then there is their continued emphasis on occupational ill health through the Health and Work programme, focusing on respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health issues, such as work-related stress.

Builders merchants under continued Inspector attention

Two of the greatest areas of concern are likely to be:

Wood dust – Reduce the risk of asthma from softwood dust inhalation by ensuring woodworking equipment is fitted with local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and that this is being checked by a competent person – service engineer or insurance company – at least every 14 months. Implement health surveillance for wood working operatives by means of an annual questionnaire to detect any early signs of ill health developing. Larger joineries processing hardwood may also need to monitor workplace exposure limits (WELs) – see EH40/2005, ensure the right respiratory mask is worn, properly fit tested and implement lung function testing conducted by an occupational health professional.

Noise – Reduce the risk of hearing loss in your timber mill by limiting exposure to noise through purchasing of quieter equipment, regular maintenance, sound dampening and so on and provide good quality, effective hearing protection – be aware that classification is changing in April. Ensure that noise levels in a busy mill are below the legal minimum – you will need to bring in a qualified safety professional to do this. If found to be exceeding legal levels then further steps including hearing checks and noise-related training will be required.

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Forklift trucks and seatbelts

Forklift trucks are involved in around 8,000 accidents a year and a quarter of all workplace incidents, with one worker dying as result around every six weeks. Yet many of these life-changing events could be avoided if simple measures such as the use of seatbelts and proper training had been implemented.

Seatbelts prevent the driver from being thrown from the truck and crushed if it overturns – a common situation in forklift accidents. So regulators are getting tough on employers who fail to implement a compulsory seatbelt policy, even though it is not explicitly required in law. This means creating a culture of seatbelt use in your merchant through training and habit.

We recommend:

  •  Using recent incidents to bring the safety message home through toolbox talks.
  •  Leading from the top by issuing safety memos to introduce the change.

Builders merchants’ workplace transport: Preventing collisions

HSE’s focus on accident prevention means that workplace transport will continue to be an issue for builder’s merchants – and their drivers. Common accidents, such as pedestrians being knocked down or crushed by moving vehicles/forklifts and workers falling or being struck during loading or unloading, can usually be avoided with good risk awareness, appropriate training and the enforcement of best practice, such as:

  •  Designing routes that keep pedestrians, especially customers, and vehicles/forklifts apart
  •  Operating on-site speed limits
  •  Ensuring outside areas are well lit and vehicles are properly maintained
  •  Providing separate customer parking
  •  Fitting reversing warnings on forklifts and fleet vehicles
  •  Providing training for loading/unloading

Know your personal protective equipment

In April 2018, updated regulations for personal protective equipment (PPE) come into force – which means that builders merchants will need to check that items they use themselves, as well as those they sell, comply.

Builders merchants will chiefly be affected by hearing protection being moved from Category II to Category III, the highest level, indicating the seriousness that the regulator gives noise risk. The change in classification means that hearing protection will be subject to more rigorous ongoing testing, which may mean that purchasing prices rise.

The updated PPE regulations also extend responsibility for ensuring compliance beyond manufacturers to the supply chain. A word of warning: in 2013, builders merchant Jewson was fined £14,000 for selling hard hats that failed to meet safety standards.

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Brexit uncertainty

The only thing anyone can be sure of about Brexit is that there will be more uncertainty. But it seems unlikely that health and safety legislation will undergo any major overhauls in 2018. For one thing our primary legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, was implemented before we joined the EU. For another, there seems to be little appetite to tamper with what has proved a successful law – particularly when there is so much other legislation to be scrutinised and amended.

Free movement is still an unresolved issue but we are already seeing migrant numbers dropping considerably, particularly from the EU – so recruitment could be a problem in 2018 and all the expense that entails.

A non-Brexit issue that could arise in the near future is more challenges to fines imposed under the new sentencing guidelines following Tata Steel’s successful reduction earlier this year. Employers should also brace themselves for a spate of tough jail sentences expected under the revised manslaughter sentence guidelines, which are intended to send a strong message to directors and senior managers who neglect safety to save money.

Achieving the FORS standard

The competitive edge offered by the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) coupled with increasing pressure from health and safety regulatory bodies to adopt best practice on the road – and off it – indicate that more fleet operators will be seeking accreditation in 2018.

The voluntary scheme aims to raise the standard of fleet safety, efficiency and environmental protection by setting standards for management, vehicles, drivers and operations. There are three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold, and the scheme is open to any company operating a fleet of vehicles. Compliance is checked at regular intervals by an independent auditor. Currently, there are 4,600 FORS members operating more than 126,500 accredited vehicles. Find out more at fors-online.org.uk.

To discover how Southalls can transform safety standards across all your merchants’ sites, book a free consultation with one of our sector specialists. 

*You can find out more about our tailored solutions for Builders Merchants here.