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Health and Safety

National Health & Safety Inspection Day

Your Trade Union Safety Reps plan to carry out a number of Workplace Inspections on and around 22 October 2014 which is National Inspection Day.

The work will be undertaken by Safety Reps from a variety of Trade Unions working together.

Any hazards identified will be forwarded to management to resolve and we are in the process of trying to arrange further Inspections mainly (but not restricted to) Services for Communities sites.

If you have any concerns about Health and Safety, please let your Safety Rep. This particularly includes any hazards that may make it important to prioritise a workplace inspection.
If you don’t have a health and safety rep, why not appoint one?

Previous Inspection News

Your Trade Union Safety Reps carried out a number of Workplace Inspections on and around 24 October 2012 which was National Inspection Day.

The work was undertaken by Safety Reps from a variety of Trade Unions working together. It’s not possible to list everything that came out of these inspections.

This work has been carried forward and we are in the process of trying to arrange further Inspections mainly (but not restricted to) Services for Communities sites.

If you have any concerns about Health and Safety, please let your Safety Rep. This particularly includes any hazards that may make it important to prioritise a workplace inspection.

If you don’t have a health and safety rep, why not appoint one?

Workplace Inspections

Inspections are an important way of identifying potential workplace hazards before they cause any harm. They are also a good way of meeting and getting to know UNISON members and potential members in a workplace.

Inspections can be used to raise the profile of UNISON and the role of the Trade Union's Health and Safety Representatives (reps).

Members and non-members alike value UNISON's Health and Safety work so an inspection can be used as an organising and recruitment opportunity.

Carrying out workplace Health and Safety inspections is therefore one of the Health and Safety Reps most important functions. However, this does not mean it has to be difficult or complicated or that the Rep should feel obliged to do more than they are comfortable with.

Start small with an occasional inspection and build this up over time and with experience. Ideally this should eventually lead to regular quarterly inspections.

Where it is possible new Safety Reps should be accompanied on their first inspection by a more experienced Safety Rep or by the Branch Health and Safety Officer.

The right to carry out inspections comes from the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977, otherwise known as 'The Brown Book'. These regulations also make it clear that Safety Reps are entitled to paid time off for carrying out inspections, as well as for carrying out their other functions.

We are starting to arrange a programme of joint inspections with management covering the larger workplaces to begin with and working outwards from there. The programme of dates agreed so far is as follows;

  • City Chambers and Lothian Chambers completed July 2011
  • 1 Cockburn Street completed July 2011
  • Waverley Court completed July 2011
  • South Neighbourhood Office completed September 2011
  • Chesser House completed September 2011
  • Westwood House completed September 2011
  • North Neighbourhood Office TBA October 2011
  • East Neighbourhood Office 13 October 2011
  • Leith Neighbourhood Office 2 November 2011
  • South Queensferry Neighbourhood Office 3 November 2011
  • Kirkliston Neighbourhood Office TBA

Workplace Inspections

A series of Workplace Inspections commenced in July 2011. A proper programme needs to be set up to undertake these in a more structured way but initially I felt that it would be helpful to start with the Campus sites and the Neighbourhood Offices. The first Inspection when Inspections have not been carried out for a period is generally done at a fairly high level. The focus was on identifying basic hazards for example trip hazards, unsafe storage, dimensions in the working area.

Future Inspection dates will be planned in advance enabling me to notify local stewards so that issues raised by workers can be investigated as part of the Inspection. The buildings done in the first tranche were generally safe. None of the above issues appeared problematic.

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City Chambers (including 249 & 329 High Street) 6 - 13 July 2011.

Basic building issues appear to be acceptable. Generally photocopiers are away from working areas, corridors clear, the stairs are in a decent state of repair and workstations in good order.

There are concerns about the heating in 329 in the higher floors overlooking the quadrant and the housekeeping in one or two areas requires action. Storeroom on level 4 of 249 requires action which I understand Building Management have notified to management.

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1 Cockburn Street 13 July 2011.

Basic issues were acceptable in line with City Chambers.

Heating was raised as a problem in a number of areas. Contact with Facilities Management might be useful to look specifically at heating.

It is a customer facing site and I have a few queries about the interview rooms that workers use. They did not from brief observation appear to be compliant with DSE standards but I'm aware that they may only spend short periods of time there so it may not be a problem. I note that the interview rooms are in a corridor so I'd be interested to see what the procedures are for dealing with potentially violent incidents. I'm unclear if there is an alarm system.

The Ground Floor accommodation has already been the subject of concerns from Health and Safety Section and Building Management. Property Services are looking at alternative accommodation for the staff but this has to be done as a matter of urgency.

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Waverley Court 20 July 2011

The basic issues again were fine. Heating has long been a problem for workers at this site and a meeting is in the process of being arranged to look at the possible solutions for this site and for 249 High Street.

There is an EVAC system in place in the stair at the spine of the building however I understand that no training has been delivered due to a lack of agreement over funding.

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Lothian Chambers 21 July 2011

This site is significantly different to the other sites; it is sparsely populated by staff considering the size of the building but can have many visitors on site attending meetings or ceremonies or reporting births, deaths or marriages. No Safety issues identified during the Inspection.

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South Neighbourhood Office 16 September 2011

This was the first Neighbourhood Office to be inspected. It has a range of activities carried out including a busy customer area incorporating a library.

I spent some time discussing Safety issues with staff based at the site and from SfC Business Improvement and Performance before undertaking a walk round the area. No accidents have been reported recently.

Customers have faced prosecution following incidents at the site. In addition to "routine" work there are Community Service workers based here so customers serving the Orders are collected here. In general terms there is a clear commitment to maintaining the workplace safely.

We discussed Fire Safety procedures and I was able to view the relevant documents. In addition to the scheduled drills there had been a proper evacuation in an incident triggered by a fire started by a customer.

No temporary heating is used at the site. First Aiders are paid (consistent with Council policy). There is a First Aid Room which had been threatened with closure to be used as storage. This has not happened and I would recommend against it. MFDs are sited away from working areas.

Cleaning is done outwith working hours and there are no stairs so the risk of slips, trips and falls is reduced. PAT work takes place annually. Some relatively minor work requires to be done in terms of housekeeping in some of the storage areas and there are items being stored on top of cupboards which should not be happening. There are also occasional issues regarding food storage with items being left out attracting ants.

Many workers use computer equipment and they should all undertake a DSE risk assessment if they have not done so at their current workstation.

There are complaints about temperature as there are at many Council sites. Consideration should be given to increasing the number of sensors so that temperature can be managed more locally.

There are outside workers based at the site. Staff such as Environmental Wardens should be covered by risk assessments which would stipulate what PPE is required. Other staff may be required to work outdoors on an ad hoc basis for example undertaking work due to Severe Weather. I understand that Health and Safety Section have been involved in this. Any workers who are required to do this should have the work risk assessed before they do it and any PPE required must be supplied before the work is done. This is perhaps an area that should be looked at corporately as in addition to improved Safety there may also be savings to be made by bulk purchase of equipment.

Some of the site is occupied by Health and Social Care workers. Housekeeping and general tidiness were noticeably poorer than in any other part of the premises. This would normally be a relatively low importance issue but there was significant file storage on top of cabinets. Lifting heavy boxes that are stored high introduces either manual handling risks or risk of falls (from steps or similar equipment).

There was one major issue in this part of the building; there are fire doors which will not close. It may be that these doors have been wedged open in the past and they no longer close but it is a matter of priority that they are fixed. I understand that there is a funding issue caused by a dispute over who would bear the cost. It is a SfC managed building but the faulty doors are in a Health and Social Care area. I would recommend that a corporate decision is made (if it has not already been made) as to how urgent Safety issues are resolved when two parts of the organisation are in dispute over the funding of a solution. It would be better that the work is carried out first and the dispute takes place after.

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Chesser House 22 September 2011

I undertook this workplace inspection accompanied by Building Management. Prior to the inspection we discussed issues such as asbestos, fire procedures etc. It is intended that this site will close at some point in the future and some areas have been vacated although some staff are still scheduled to move in.

Workers from just about every part of the Council are based here. Throughout the building there were a number of low level problems typical to similar workplaces. MFDs are sited in working areas in various parts of the building. These should be moved away from areas with workers in close proximity.

Housekeeping is not of a high standard in a number of areas with items placed on top of high cabinets. A general housekeeping exercise would be of benefit. Some of the routes towards fire exits are used as storage mainly of items like water bottles. These are apparently uplifted weekly but a storage system away from fire exits would be recommended.

Fire doors on floor 6 were not closing. These require to be fixed. A number of workstations throughout the building have trailing wires that need to be resolved either by more sensible placing of the devices (principally floorstanding fans) or by a cable management system.

The main issue that workers at this site regularly complain about is temperature; both that it is too hot or too cold depending on the conditions outside and the part of the building where the worker is based. Unlike Waverley Court it is easier to maintain temperature control by area so temperature complaints could be dealt with more easily by managers here depending on the problem and the available solutions but this would not apply to issues with a building aspect for example the heating system being inadequate to deal with exceptional cold weather.

A number of windows have been sealed making opening them impossible. A couple of staff complained to Building Management as we went round about windows that weren't working properly. I understand that further issues around excessive heat have been reported since the inspection and that Property Management have agreed that workers should take breaks from their desk to cool off by going outside or taking on cool water. If this problem is not a one off then I would recommend a Thermal Comfort Risk Assessment be undertaken by management in the affected areas.

Westwood House 22 September 2011

Westwood House was inspected the same day as Chesser. It is a very different building occupied mainly by Children and Families and by staff on training courses. Other than issues similar to Chesser in terms of housekeeping nothing untoward came up.

All inspections carried out by Dave McConnell except Lothian Chambers which was carried out by Dave McConnell and Tom Flaherty.

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East Neighbourhood Office 13 October 2011

This was the second Neighbourhood Office to be inspected.

I spent some time discussing Safety issues with staff based at the site and from SfC Business Improvement and Performance before undertaking a walk round the area.

The Asbestos Register was checked; the last survey in 2009 identified no issues. No chemicals are used on site other than those held in the cleaners locked cupboard. Parks staff may use chemicals off site only and this should be controlled through the risk assessment of the work.

Some cleanliness issues in the kitchen area have been raised and tackled locally. Cleaning work is satisfactory. Annual PAT testing took place recently. The toilet areas are of an acceptable standard. I have recommended that a Pregnant Workers generic Risk Assessment be carried out.

One recent unplanned fire evacuation has taken place recently. No issues identified during fire evacuations. There are two paid first aiders which is in line with HSE recommendations for an office environment of this size. There was a recent incident where a customer who had self harmed had been allowed into the staff area due to concerns over their health. Management have decided locally that this shouldn’t happen again (although any incident would be dealt with based on the facts at the time and where there is concern for a customer a quick on the spot decision would always have to be made).

No incidents of violence towards staff were reported and the police are called if required. Where unacceptable behaviour occurs customers are barred from being allowed to visit the office for a period. Housing Officers are required to make home visits and the risk assessment of the job should cover measures to remove hazards.

There is an issue concerning the ability of the gas boiler to function during the winter. The previous system required ventilation to operate correctly. The current system does not but parts of its workings are overexposed to the cold air because the area has not been boxed off. Last winter this caused a component to freeze and cease working. Fixing this by blocking in the vulnerable part is a high priority in terms of time. It ideally has to be carried out very quickly before severe weather hits and Business Improvement and Performance will take this up with Property care.

No temporary gas heating is used at the site.

No issues identified with lighting. When heavy lifting is required trained staff from the Concierge Service are called in. No machinery is operated at the site.
Noise issues with servers have been tackled.

Overcrowding is a concern (each member of staff should have 11 cubic metres of space). Management advise that a calculation was carried out following which the Environmental Wardens moved out and the space standards have been met. I was however aware that the desks in use are small by customary office standards and it is important that each worker has sufficient space to safely carry out their job. I doubt that more staff could be comfortably accommodated although this problem can hopefully be designed out when the office moves to its new location. Many workers use computer equipment and they should all undertake a DSE risk assessment if they have not done so at their current workstation.

Winter Clothing has been ordered for workers who require it. This has been done as part of the central SfC initiative as Policy and Strategy Committee have decided that this is a Departmental matter. Housing Staff who carry out visits, Roads workers and Parks staff will all require this. It’s important the need has been decided by a proper risk assessment process but this is again really a Departmental issue rather than a site one.

The site is all based on one level; no slips, trips and falls issues reported. There have been complaints about temperature as there are at many Council sites. There are windows on site that don’t open which can make the office hot in summer. Management and workers should follow standard hot weather guidance in these circumstances.

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Leith Neighbourhood Office 2 November 2011

Leith Office is a relatively new Neighbourhood Office; it is smaller than those inspected to date and shares premises with the established Leith Library and Registrars (and Leith Theatre behind).

Asbestos Register (survey completed in 2002) and Fire Procedures inspected. Currently fire alarm tests are done on a Saturday (as was the historical Library practice) but these will be moved to a weekday to reflect the presence of the Neighbourhood staff. No recent weekday evacuations have been undertaken. It would be useful to undertake a weekday one to confirm that Neighbourhood workers are familiar with the process. It is planned to have more signage added. One issue that needs to be tackled urgently is the uplift of a large amount of obsolete furniture etc which is currently piled in the corridor that leads to the fire exit. SfC Business Improvement and Performance will take this up with Library management.

The only chemicals held on site are in the cleaner’s room and there are no complaints about the cleaning or the cleanliness of the building.
PAT testing is done annually and no equipment other than that usually found in an office environment is in use. Management will check the number of first aiders and confirm that they are paid. For the size of site one should enough but there is an issue if the first aider is a Neighbourhood Office worker as the Library would be open at the weekend and would be uncovered. No accidents reported in the last year.

No portable gas heating is used. No problems reported about lighting other than the issue of glare on VDU screens which would be taken up through DSE risk assessment. No manual handling work is undertaken other than the known issue in the library. As is the practice elsewhere the handling is undertaken by Central Library staff on the “book run” so the assessment would be undertaken by the Central Library.

No machinery is used on site and no problems have been reported with noise. The office is not well off for space but measurements have been taken and the room dimensions standards have been met. There are items stored on top of cupboards; this is because of a lack of storage space. It would be useful if some work could be done to identify any storage solutions that could be implemented. PPE will be available for any workers who have to work outdoors during severe weather; this is being managed centrally through the Department. No issues with slips, trips and falls have been recorded; the toilets are downstairs but the rest of the site is on one level. Stress is an issue that will be taken up at departmental level in the next Survey.

Temperatures inside can be a problem. The heating is maintained throughout the building. The Neighbourhood Office is in a small room with a number of staff all working and using PCs and other electronic equipment. The library is in a large more sparsely populated room so the temperature there tends to be lower but the heating is maintained at the same level causing excess heat in the Neighbourhood Office area. The radiators can’t be adjusted. Enabling them to be adjusted manually would give these workers more control over the temperature in that area and Property Care Services should be instructed to look into this. The toilets are adequate and there is a small rest area which is used mainly by Library staff and is considered adequate. Ventilation is not a problem; the windows open and the boiler isn’t in this part of the site.

The Neighbourhood staff use VDUs; DSE risk assessment training requires to be provided to allow them to risk assess the workstations. No issues of violence to staff have been reported. Workers in the interview rooms use personal panic alarms which are tested weekly. There is no significant cash handling and no public toilets. Risk assessments should be in place for any visiting staff whose role includes lone working. A Pregnant Workers generic risk assessment requires to be undertaken.

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South Queensferry 3 November 2011

South Queensferry Office is a small Neighbourhood Office which shares premises with the South Queensferry Museum and Registrars.

The asbestos Register was checked; limited asbestos on site appears to be in good or fair condition. All chemicals on site are in the Cleaners cupboard which should ideally be locked. There is no canteen on site; no issues were reported over the standard of cleaning which is done in the evening.

PAT testing is carried out annually and no electrical items other than normal office equipment are used. Fire test is carried out weekly. Last evacuation was in January 2010 so carrying out another one would be recommended. No fire incidents recently reported.

There is one first aider on site whose accreditation has recently expired. She reports that she was not paid for this. I would recommend retraining and payment for first aider duties. No accidents have recently been reported. The gas boiler was recently replaced and portable gas heating is not used on site.

Lighting is not a problem within the main working areas however an issue has arisen in the vestibule area. The lighting in this area can be switched off by a switch at the main door and this has happened in the past most likely by passing children. This leaves the vestibule area potentially pitch dark in winter conditions leading to hazards such as an inability to identify trips and falls and increased risk to lone workers. There is to be an inspection carried out around the end of October to see if corrective action can be conducted. The switch at the door would still be needed as that is presumably how workers switch the light on when arriving in the morning so perhaps there should be a light that is activated either by timer or sensor to supplement the main light or at least reduce the potential hazard.

The only manual handling that is carried out is that of chairs for spectators at ceremonies. Workers have been trained and chairs are moved singly. The only machinery noted was the MFD which is situated at a window away from workstations. Noise is not a problem. There is not a lot of space in the Neighbourhood Office area but there are few workers on site. The office has been reconfigured to avoid overcrowding. Workers based on site will not be involved in severe weather work so no Personal Protective Equipment appears to be required.

No slips, trips or falls reported. Stress assessments have not been required (however this is an issue that will be taken up departmentally). The toilet facilities are not ideal. There is a shortage of space but it doesn’t appear to constitute an obvious hazard. DSE risk assessments have been carried out. The ventilation on site works and no problems with fumes exist.

The issue of violence towards staff is different to larger sites. Only one issue has been recently reported. It occurred on a Friday afternoon and the workers had left; only the Cleaner was still on the premises. The police were called and dealt with the situation. Most public contact is either payments (around £1K per day other than rent days) or is appointment led. Money is collected by security rather than banked by staff. The customers are seen in a screened area. Housing staff who undertake appointments are based at Chesser so the risk assessment of the work would lie with their management.

There is a generic risk assessment in place for pregnant employees and individual ones are carried out as required.

The museum area was inspected; there is no intranet access and folders keeping hard copies of forms are held which is a welcome good practice. I did observe that a number of these were out of date so would recommend checking the forms held against the current versions and replacement of obsolete forms. The Curator’s office was also inspected; it is locked and not in everyday use. There were a couple of issues of items being stored on top of cupboards and a housekeeping exercise would be recommended.

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Health and Safety

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