BP did not put cost before safety claims oil spill probe chairman

A White House inquiry into the Gulf oil disaster has found “no instance” of BP putting cash before safety.

The report’s findings, delivered yesterday, will be embarrassing for Mr Obama who held BP responsible for the disaster, savaging its then chief executive Tony Hayward. Mr Hayward has since stood down and been replaced by Bob Dudley. At the time critics claimed that Mr Obama was trying to shift the blame from American firms.

The spill which pumped 206 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over five months was America’s worst environmental disaster. It was triggered by a blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig on 20th April this year which killed 11 workers.

The oil spill commission’s chief counsel, Fred Bartlit, told the start of a two-day hearing: “We see no instance where a decision-making person or group of people sat there aware of safety risks, aware of costs and opted to give up safety for costs. We do not say everything done was perfectly safe. We’re saying that people have said people traded safety for dollars. We studied the hell out of this. We welcome anybody who gives us something we missed.”

In a seeming vindication of BP, which was widely condemned for the catastrophe, Mr Bartlit said the panel agreed with about 90 per cent of the findings of the company’s internal inquiry. This found flaws with American contractor Halliburton’s cement work and the maintenance performed by rig owner Transocean on critical pieces of equipment.

Transocean has denied the criticisms and said BP’s Macondo well design was a key factor in the accident. Halliburton has also defended its cement work on the well, and blamed other actions for causing the explosion. However, last month Bartlit released a stinging report that said Halliburton used flawed cement in the well.

In our view Mr Bartlit’s admission that “we do not say everything done was perfectly safe” is far from a vindication of BP, Halliburton or Transocean. We are sure that the victims’ families would like to know exactly which aspects of the rig’s operation were unsafe and we feel certain that their legal representatives will be urged to pursue the details of the events leading up to the disaster.  

The families are expecting the commission to answer the fundamental questions surrounding their loved ones’ deaths. It is too easy to arrive at the conclusion no one or no single group was to blame because there is no evidence of deliberate decison making which sacrificed rig safety for cost. The job of the commission is surely to thoroughly examine and investigate the failings of operating systems and safety procedures, or are the families supposed to shrug their shoulders and accept that because nobody meant to harm their loved ones then nobody should be held to account for their deaths.

Just because nobody took premeditated action to cut corners on safety does not mean that Deepwater Horizon was a safe place to be on 20th April this year. The hearing continues.

Six construction site deaths in one week

Analysis by construction union UCATT has discovered that six construction workers were killed in the week that the Government announced it was slashing funding to the Health and Safety Executive by 35%.

With fears growing that the cuts will mean that frontline inspectors will be reduced and the recovery in construction resulting in inexperienced companies and workers entering the industry, deaths are likely to increase.

Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT, said: “Every one of these deaths was an individual tragedy. Each death underlines the dangers faced by construction workers. Sadly these risks will increase if the already low levels of inspections and enforcement activities are reduced.”

The sad statistics are as follows:

Saturday 16th October – a worker was electrocuted on a refurbishment job in Houslow, West London.

Monday 18th October – a 23 year old man, was killed in a trench collapse in Heaton, West Yorkshire.

Thursday 21st October – two workers were killed in Worlington, Suffolk when a wall on a barn conversion collapsed.

Friday 22nd October – a 65 year old man was killed in Bollington near Macclesfield, when a lorry load of bricks crushed him.

Friday 22nd October – a 55 year old man, died after falling from height in Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

The recent deaths coincided with Conservative MP Christopher Chope tabling a Private Members Bill on the back of Lord Young’s report, which would loosen the rules about reporting accidents under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). Research by Liverpool University has found that just 32% of reportable injuries of employees and 12% of reportable injuries suffered by the self-employed were recorded under RIDDOR.

We believe that the construction industry is facing a very difficult time and that worker safety is in danger of being compromised and lives put at risk. It is clear that increased vigilance is necessary to ensure safety at a time when the government is attempting to roll back regulation and weaken the existing laws. A major problem is that accidents are not being reported. Weakening the rules will make the problem worse and will further increase the danger faced by workers…a point which unfortunately has not registered with Lord Young, who seems more interested in cutting corners in the name of cutting costs. 

Bonnar & Company specialises in construction industry accidents. We offer expert legal advice free of charge to direct employees, sub-contractors, the self-employed and apprentices on FREEPHONE 0800 163 978

Health and safety inspections already at too low a level says TUC

With the ink still drying on Lord Young’s report on the Compensation Culture, the TUC reports that almost half (49 per cent) of workplaces in the UK have never been visited by a health and safety inspector.

The TUC’s biennial survey of safety reps, published today, finds nearly one in 10 says that the last inspection at their workplace was more than three years ago, while a further 15 per cent say it was between one and three years ago. Only around a quarter (27 per cent) say their workplace has received a visit within the last 12 months.

In small companies who employ less than 50 people only 16 per cent have had an inspection in the last year. Even among large workplaces with over 1,000 workers, only one third (33 per cent) have been inspected within the last 12 months.

Despite the low level of inspection, the TUC believes that enforcement has an effect on employers taking action to make improvements in health and safety and cut the number of accidents and injuries at work. The proportion of employers who make some improvements because of the possibility of an inspection has jumped up to 61 per cent from 52 per cent in the last survey, and two thirds of employers do more than the minimum to comply with a legal enforcement notice.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

‘Knowing that an inspector is likely to visit is one of the key drivers to changing employers’ behaviour and making the workplace safer and healthier. ‘More than a million workers are currently suffering from an illness or injury caused by their work, and in 2009 over 30 million days were lost due to work-related sickness absence. This time off work cost employers £3.7 billion – yet much of this could health have been prevented if they had ensured their workplaces were safe.

Deep cuts in spending, and a reduced visit programme as recommended by Lord Young, will make it easier for employers to avoid their obligations under the law to protect their staff at work. The Health and Safety Executive has just seen its government funding cut by 35 per cent.

These are worrying times for the UK workforce as Lord Young’s recommendations to government seek to reduce the health and safety legislation ‘burden’ on  British industry in the name of enhancing efficiency and improving competitiveness. As the TUC has pointed out, the cost to industry in terms of days lost and payments made to people unable to work due to injury or industrial illness far outwiegh any short term gains that cutting so-called health and safety ‘red tape’ might deliver.  The evidence suggests that more, not fewer accidents at work can be expected if HSE inspections are decreased from an already low level. 

If you have been hurt or injured in an accident at work, or if you have been diagnosed with an industrial illness or disease you can call us FREE on 0800 163 978 for a no obligation review of your case by a personal injury solicitor.  

Court orders Akita to be destroyed following serious attack in East Kilbride

A vicious Akita dog which broke a teenager’s arm in two places is to be destroyed and owner Natalie Burns, 23, was fined £1,000 yesterday after being found guilty of failing to control him.

An earlier trial heard the 15-year-old boy reached out to pat the dog near Main Street, East Kilbride, last May. It lunged forward and clamped its jaws around the boy’s arm, pulling it from side to side seconds after Burns warned him not to pat the dog, shouting: “Don’t touch him, he bites.”

The boy was taken to the town’s Hairmyres Hospital where he had a steel pin inserted in his arm, Hamilton Sheriff Court was told.

Charles Ferguson, defending, said Burns was a conscentious and hardworking woman. He pleaded that the dog should not be destroyed and Burns be given an absolute discharge. Burns said later: “It wasn’t the dog’s fault. He shouldn’t be put down.”

Let’s be quite clear about this dangerous dog issue. The phrase ‘dog bite’ rarely does justice to the pain and misery caused by a dog attack. The cases we deal with can involve life threatening injuries, permanent disfigurement and unimaginable pain and terror on the part of the victim. We have clients throughout Scotland who are scared to venture outdoors or afraid to let their children play in public parks because of what a dog has done to them.  

The good news is that the new Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act which comes into force next February, will cover all dogs and not just the so-called dangerous breeds. The Act is targeted at any dog which displays aggressive behaviour and places greater responsibility on owners to control their ‘pets’. This legislation is a positive step towards preventing irresponsible owners from allowing their dogs to ruin people’s lives as the full force of the law is about to come down on those people who ignore warnings and behave as if they are above the law.

If you or a member of your family has been attacked by any breed of dog you can call us FREE on 0800 163 978 for a no obligation review of case and your legal options.

The shape of things to come? – £1 fine for construction site death

Days after Lord Young’s report found that British industry is ‘burdened by unnecessary health and safety laws’, we are astounded and dismayed to learn that a Lancashire company has been fined just £1 over the death of a worker who fell 20ft when faulty scaffolding collapsed.

Peter Walton’s widow Christine said the punishment was ‘an appalling joke’. Mrs Walton is also unhappy that Howorth’s has been allowed to pay back the fine at £1,000 a month to ‘allow the company to exist’. After the sentencing she said:

“To say that I am appalled and shocked with the sentences is an understatement. Just £1 for my husband’s life is awful. Not only are the fines pitiful but it sends the completely wrong message out to the construction industry. In my opinion the system has shown that more worth has been put on preventing the firms going into administration than on my husband’s life, by imposing pathetic fines which in no way reflect the seriousness of the situation.”

The scaffolding at a development in Altham collapsed because a nut had not been tightened correctly. The court heard that other blunders included the scaffolding being erected on broken concrete, being too far from the building and not having a guard rail.

Gordon Birtwistle, Burnley MP, backed Mrs Walton and said: “The fine is an insult and makes a mockery of the prosecution. Mrs Walton has been left without a husband but this company has barely even been given a slap on the wrists.”

Glen  Mill was the principal contractor at the site and the scaffolding contractors were Howorth’s. Mr Walton, 55, of Thorton Cleveleys, had been employed by another sub-contractor, New Look. He suffered severe head injuries in the fall in May 2006 and died in the arms of his wife in hospital five weeks later. Mr Walton had been in a coma and never regained consciousness.

Last month Glen Mill managing director Peter Shearer appeared at court with Ian Howorth, boss of Howorth Scaffolding, to admit health and safety breaches. Both firms had earlier pleaded guilty before magistrates to a charge of exposing to risk persons not in their employment, in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive.

Judge Woolman said: “Glen Mill had been hit by the recession, had no real assets and had hardly traded since 2007. I am satisfied that the company does not have ready money to pay a large fine and that any fine will have to be paid out of future profits.”

The judge allowed Howorth’s to pay at £1,000 a month, to “allow the company to exist”.

After the case, HSE Inspector Ian Connor said: “This is an extremely sad case which once again shows how important it is to follow health and safety regulations. It’s vital that construction companies do more to prevent deaths and injuries in the future.”

This tragic case is a reminder that construction sites are inherently dangerous, not inherently safe and that constant care and vigilence is needed to safeguard lives.

Not only did Mr Walton die as a result of someone’s negligence, we are very concerned that the court was minded to ‘excuse’ the failures to ensure his safety at work on commercial grounds. It is extremely worrying that this attitude chimes perfectly with the approach taken by Lord Young in his report on the so-called ‘Compensation Culture’ in which he seeks to reduce industry’s ‘cost burden’ of compliance with UK health and safety legislation.

In our opinion this judgement could be the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ if courts rush to embrace the mantra that our hard-won health & safety legislation can be set aside to suit employers’ financial constraints. If this is indeed the shape of things to come, then all construction site workers in the UK are going to be placed at greater risk in the future as the industry struggles to deal with public sector budget cuts and the increasing pressure to get the job done.

When we factor in a 35% reduction in the HSE budget, which will  result in fewer site inspections and therefore greater risk of cost cutting by employers, the message being sent out here is that not only can the construction industry duck its responsibilities by pleading poverty, the chances of being caught breaching the regulations are set to reduce significantly.

Bonnar & Company specialises in personal injury claims on behalf of all construction workers. We help direct employees, sub-contractors, the self-employed and apprentices achieve justice and financial compensation. For a free, no obligation review of your claim please contact us today on 0800 163 978.