Scientific Research Organisation Scenario

A scientific research organisation employs 150 people, most of them are scientists or technicians. The remainder of the staff work in finance, human resources (HR), marketing and communications functions. Most of the senior leadership team and line managers are scientists. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) set the organisation up about 10 years ago and quickly recruited 5 former scientist colleagues as directors. Together they form the senior leadership team. Worker numbers have grown from around 40 to the current 150.

The existing building is not large enough to accommodate this increase in workers. So, it is advantageous that many can work from home doing desk-research. However, some workers still come to site as required. Initially, the work carried out was largely desk-based research and approximately 40 scientists were employed.

A biology laboratory was introduced a few years ago, and the desk-based research continues alongside this. The innovative science, being pioneered by the organisation, has recently attracted significant investment. This has enabled the acquisition of a large single storey warehouse on an industrial park. The intention is to refurbish the building for use as a number of laboratories and offices. The activities planned at this new site will greatly enhance the capacity and capability of the organisation. The biology function of the organisation will be expanding, and chemistry laboratories will be added (which will include some continuous automated processes). Outside, car parking spaces will be converted to house a chemical store and the goods-in area for deliveries. The organisation has limited experience in managing general health and safety risks and those specific risks associated with laboratory facilities and the refurbishment of the newly purchased warehouse. You are relatively new to the organisation and your role is split between managing the existing laboratory and advising on health and safety. You are currently studying the NEBOSH Diploma for Occupational Health and Safety Management Professionals. You have experience of working in much larger research organisations alongside qualified health and safety practitioners.

You have introduced a laboratory safety manual – it covers general safety equipment, standard safety practices, drills, waste management, key risks from laboratory work, physical, chemical and biological hazards. You use some of this in an induction for new starters. The directors and managers are more concerned with getting on with research, and health and safety is considered a necessary inconvenience. You have tried to get the leadership team to take the lead on specific risk assessments for some of the practical experiments, but they do not see it as their responsibility and think it is your job. You have explained that you are not familiar with some of the unique materials that the scientific research organisation are using and need the leaderships team’s input. The scientists rely heavily on their scientific knowledge to guide their practice. Some of the newer scientist recruits have spent more time doing practical experiments in their previous roles and have shown interest in working with you.

No general health and safety awareness training is provided. You ask HR what health and safety training management have been given. HR respond that training records are down to individuals to keep, but HR doubt that they have had any training. As the work has been largely desk-based in the office or at home, health and safety has not been considered an issue.

A friend of the CEO is a director of an organisation experienced in refurbishing and fitting out buildings for educational and laboratory use. The CEO is impressed by their friend’s apparent knowledge of all the issues, including those associated with health and safety, that need to be addressed. The friend has mentioned that their organisation has recently gained an accredited health and safety management system. This has helped reduce costs including insurance premiums. To gain this accredited system, the friend’s organisation had undergone an extensive assessment of their policies, procedures, and risk assessments. The CEO recommends to the Board that their friend’s organisation is appointed to carry out the building refurbishment. The CEO believes that this will take care of many issues where there is a lack experience in the CEO’s own organisation. The CEO’s recommendations are accepted. The Board are keen to get the new facility operational. This will give the opportunity to showcase the organisation’s innovation and attract further investment.

You find out what you can about this contractor – they do not appear to have had any enforcement action taken against them. You also note from their website that they are a member of a contractor health and safety scheme. You contact the scheme provider to confirm this. The website also indicates their health and safety performance is better than the sector average.

You are asked to be part of the project team for the development of the new facility. There is an expectation that you will be the Laboratory Manager at the new facility, with responsibility for health and safety. You recognise that to do this role effectively you need to be competent. You discuss with the Director of Laboratories that you need to complete your studying as soon as possible. Initially, they are reluctant for you to take time out to study. They are concerned this will distract you from your day job. You put together a case as to why this is necessary, and the Director eventually agrees to support you.

The project team meets weekly in a temporary building at the new site. You are involved in providing information on hazards and risks associated with the new processes.

A new upper floor is being installed, which has been left with an unprotected edge with a vertical drop. A pile of materials has been put by this edge and a temporary barrier has been placed in front of the materials, to warn of the danger of the unprotected edge.

The contractor workforce (supervisor and 3 workers) arrives on site and reports to the site office. The work is to be carried out under a permit-to-work (PTW). The supervisor, trained in the responsibilities of accepting and working under a PTW, provides a description of the work to be done to the permit issuer. The two of them have a brief discussion about the work, including the nature of the job and its associated hazards and risks. Control measures for working at height are also discussed. The permit issuer does not go to check on the upper floor before issuing the permit and is being called away by the project manager. The multi-copy form is quickly completed for the work to start immediately. A copy is left in the site office, the supervisor retains one and the permit issuer says that they will put the permit on the display board.

The contractor workers are on the upper floor, assessing the job and need some clarification. The supervisor has gone for a break and has taken the copy of the permit with them. The contractor workers are keen to get on with the job. After waiting around, they decide to carry on.

While lifting some wooden boards near the unprotected edge, one of the contractor workers stumbles and falls 3 metres, hitting their head on a concrete floor below. The other workers shout for help. The supervisor (returning from a break) hears the shouts, as does the project manager who is in the site office. Both arrive at the scene. Unsure of the site first-aid arrangements, the supervisor rushes back to their van to fetch a first-aid kit. One of the workers calls an ambulance from their mobile phone. You were already on your way to the site when the project manager telephones you.

On arrival, you find that the contractor workers are visibly shocked. The supervisor is tending to the injured worker. No one appears to have taken control of the situation. You set up temporary barriers to prevent access to the accident location, remove on-lookers and take the remaining contractor workers to the site office to get a coffee. The project manager has already stopped all work at the site.

You telephone the CEO to advise them of the accident and that it will require reporting to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The CEO is concerned about the delays to the refurbishment and tell you to minimise any delay and get the place cleaned up so that work can continue. You explain that the scene needs to be preserved as there will need to be an investigation and that the HSE will be likely to visit the site.  

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