The HSE recently reported on the prosecution of a bath restoration company for failing to adequately protect a worker from inhaling toxic fumes during work on a bathroom in a south-west London flat.
The employee was using an industrial paint and varnish remover to strip a resin coating from a bath and was overcome by the fumes. The stripping agent contained dichloromethane, also known as methylene chloride, a carcinogenic toxic chemical. The fumes built up quickly in the confined space and unfortunately he died at the scene as a result of overexposure.
The HSE reported that whilst the company had written documentation stating that this kind of work should be completed in well ventilated areas, managers on the ground were unaware of how the work needed to be completed and failed to provide adequately safe working arrangements including a mechanical ventilation system. The employee was instead left relying on inadequate ventilation from a small window in the bathroom.
The case highlights that whilst many businesses are aware of the risks to their workforce of being exposed to chemical fumes such as dichloromethane the practical implementation of controls to protect them can often fall short.
Even with documented policies and procedures in place unless everyone on the ground has a clear understanding of the risks and measures that need to be taken and someone within the business ultimately has responsibility for ensuring compliance things can slip through the net with potentially fatal consequences.
As a business operating in an environment that requires the use of local ventilation, whether fixed in one location or a portable system for working on site, it is imperative that not only are there adequate processes in place to protect employees but there is one individual who is nominated to take on the role of the company LEV responsible person.
Who should be appointed as the LEV Responsible Person?
Typically in smaller businesses the owner, managing director or one of the managers takes on this ultimate responsibility but are they necessarily the right person for the role?
It appears from the case above that it was the lack of the managers’ detailed knowledge of the process and substances involved that prevented the right effective controls being put in place. Had an individual who was familiar with the chemical processes used and practical application of them, been charged with the responsibility for ensuring compliance then the outcome may have been very different. They would have understood the implications of working in such a small space with the likelihood that the door would have been closed to prevent the fumes penetrating the rest of the property.
They would then have surely insisted in the provision of a mechanical ventilation system for the job along with other required controls.
Ideally it should be someone with first-hand knowledge of the systems and processes in place as well as the legislation and requirements the company has to meet to be compliant. Ideally they will be an individual who has been involved in completing the required risk assessments, helped with the development of working practices and, importantly had input in the design of the ventilation system in use to provide adequate control.
In addition they need to be someone who has sufficient authority within the workplace to undertake the role and be able to communicate with the workforce across all levels.
Certainly in smaller companies it is unlikely that the person who undertakes this role will have all of the skills and knowledge required to fulfill it competently. It is important therefore that they are given the required support and training before undertaking this role.
How can they get help?
There a number of different ways that someone undertaking the role of LEV responsible person can get help to understand their responsibilities, including:
· internal training on relevant internal processes and risk assessments
· reading the wide range of relevant resources available on the HSE website
· obtaining training from industry experts
Alternatively, give us a call at Vent-Tech on 01179 712 163
We understand that many businesses are unsure where to start and we are therefore arranging a series of training sessions aimed at helping business owners to understand the importance and obligations of having an LEV responsible person within the company.
Photo credits: 1 , 2