IOSH event highlights occupational water safety

10 November 2015

The importance of having the knowledge, equipment and skills required to work safely near water was highlighted during an event staged by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

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The Institution’s Rural Industries Group explored the risks that employees face when working close to open water, and whether a blind spot exists in people’s perception of the scope and scale of the issue.

High-profile speakers shared lessons learned from near misses and accidents, while experts also demonstrated water rescue and recovery techniques to more than 70 delegates.

Ray Cooke, Head of the HSE’s Construction Sector Safety Team, said that very few of the 400 people who drown in the UK annually do so as a result of working near water.

He added, however, that the relatively small number of deaths didn’t reflect the seriousness of the issue.

Ray said: “We have no idea how many near misses there are, or how many people are suffering health issues as a result of contracting waterborne diseases.

“It is critical to plan how to deal with the operation in the first place.”

James Maclean, Managing Director of Land & Water Group, spoke of how an incident on the River Medway in Kent had changed the business’s outlook toward water safety.

A worker ended up underwater when a dredger carrying an excavator suffered a below-the-waterline puncture to its hull and sank into the river in May 2010.

James said: “That incident changed our view on water safety. I was determined that we wouldn’t put ourselves in that position again.

“Our responsibility as employers is to not get in a position where we have to save lives. We should be managing the risk higher up the safety hierarchy.”

IOSH Rural Industries Group worked in association with the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS) and WaterWise Training Ltd to host the occupational water safety event at Nene Whitewater Centre, in Northampton, on Friday 6 November.

Representatives from the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust detailed how both organisations continue to learn from incidents in order to develop safer systems of work.

Delegates were also provided with details of two recently developed occupational water safety training packages – the RLSS’s National Water Safety Management Programme and the WaterWise Training Foundation Course.

Damian Hall, Senior Consultant with the RLSS, said workers should be aware of factors including water temperature and quality, unseen obstructions, poor visibility and risk of entrapment before starting any work around water courses.

He said: “I fundamentally believe that there is a large body of people who are expected to work in, around or near water who are not properly resourced, trained or equipped.

“The number of people working outdoors near water against the number of deaths and injuries is relatively small, but every death is still a tragedy. I look forward to a time when employees have the same level of clarity around occupational water safety as they do around working at height or manual handling.”

Experts in the field also provided outdoor demonstrations of good practice in relation to managing operations on or near water, emergency planning, rescue and recovery, and how to select and maintain lifejackets, pontoons and other protective equipment.

Alan Plom, Vice-Chair of the IOSH Rural Industries Group, instigated and chaired the event.

He said: “Water safety at work is an issue which affects a diverse range of industries.

“It is not just the obvious sectors like fish farming or estate management. You might be working in construction, mowing grass near a canal towpath or making repairs to a rail bridge over a river.

“The importance of managing any operation in the vicinity of water cannot be overestimated. Proper planning for any task can help avoid incidents from occurring.”

Interviews and images from the event, and further details about the issue of occupational water safety, can be found on the IOSH Pinterest page.

Image: Experts carried out demonstrations of water rescue at the event.