Waterfront Cinema is located on a busy leisure park and has eight projection screens. The Cinema’s workforce is made up of a manager, two team leaders and 20 other workers. Many of the workers are young people who work on a temporary contract during evenings and weekends.
Waterfront Cinema was previously independently owned and run. However, it has just been purchased by Future Cinema Corporation (FCC) – a large nationwide cinema chain. Their corporate headquarters has a central health and safety department. The department has a group health and safety director, three regional health and safety managers (RHSMs) and 15 health and safety advisors. The advisors travel around the country checking on health and safety arrangements in all FCC’s cinemas. You are one of FCC’s health and safety advisors.
Your RHSM has asked you to go to Waterfront Cinema to carry out a thorough initial health and safety audit that will take you approximately five days to complete. The Cinema manager has been told to expect you.
You arrive at the Cinema at 11.00 as they are opening for the day. As you walk through the glass entrance doors you notice that the doors are dirty, the entrance hall has waste bins that are overflowing and there are tickets from the previous week littering the floor. A worker behind the ticket purchase counter is speaking very loudly on their mobile phone. You walk up to the counter and try to speak to the worker. They ignore you and continue their conversation. You try to get their attention. The worker sighs and says that they need to end the call because an annoying customer is waiting. The worker switches their attention to you and rudely says “What do you want?”. You introduce yourself and ask to be shown to the Cinema manager’s office. The worker points you in the direction of the office and then makes another call on their phone.
You knock on the manager’s door and hear someone say, “Go away! I’ve told you I’m not interested in your problems and I’ve more important things to do!”. You open the door, enter the office, and see the manager lounging behind their desk, smoking a cigarette, and watching a movie on their laptop. They hastily extinguish the cigarette, shut the lid of the laptop and stand up so that they can greet you. You outline your objectives for your visit, say that you want to start immediately, and ask for a suitable space to work in. You are told that there is no spare office space so you will have to use a table in the small break room used by workers.
You give the manager a list of health and safety documents that you will need to review. The manager leaves the office muttering to themselves, with occasional audible words like ‘burden’ and ‘bureaucracy’. In the meantime, you go to the break room and find a quiet corner away from where dirty dishes are piled on the work surface above a dishwasher.
The manager comes to see you an hour later and drops a single, thick, file of documents onto the table you are working at. They found the file on a shelf in their office (having forgotten that it was there). The manager tells you that this is all the health and safety information that they have and asks you to kindly not disturb them again today as they are very busy. You ask where the health and safety policy statement is displayed and the manager indicates that it is in the folder. You inform the manager that, at some stage, you will need to interview them as well as a few of the other workers. The manager replies that they doubt that they will have time for this and then leaves the room.
You start to look through the file and note that the contents page shows that the health and safety policy is dated January 2018 and that the only risk assessment was carried out in January 2020. You notice the front page of the risk assessment has a different cinema name and address. You carry on reviewing the documents for the next few days.
An accident It is 16:00 on the third day of your audit. From your desk in the break room, you hear screaming coming from the entrance hall. You go through to the entrance hall and see a small group of people standing in a circle around something on the floor. Some of them are simply staring at the floor in silence and some are screaming and crying. You push through the circle to find a young worker lying unconscious on the floor. An old wooden stepladder is lying beside them. There is a banner (advertising the next film to be shown at the Cinema) hanging down from the ceiling. You take charge of the situation and ask for the bystanders to stand back and give you some room. You seek the assistance of the Cinema manager or a team leader but you are told that both the manager and team leader on duty walked out of the Cinema just after the accident.
None of the Cinema workers have been trained to carry out first aid. However, you are a certified first- aider, so you ask one of the nearby workers to bring you a first-aid box. While you wait, you examine the injured young worker and note that they are breathing and have an abrasion on their right arm. You also call the emergency services. A worker appears with a first-aid box a few minutes later. You open it but there are just two plasters and a bandage inside. You ask if there are any other first-aid supplies, but the worker tells you that this box is all there is.
The injured worker is made as comfortable as possible, and they regain consciousness a few minutes later. You try to keep them calm by reassuring them that an ambulance is on the way. You ask another worker to clear the entrance hall and to close the Cinema. Members of the public are directed to exit the building using the fire exits in each auditorium. The ambulance arrives, and the paramedics provide treatment before taking the injured worker to the hospital. You find out later that the injured worker had suffered concussion, a broken leg and other minor injuries such as abrasions and bruising.
You try to telephone the Cinema manager, but they do not answer. After multiple attempts you decide to leave a voicemail message. You then speak to the workers, who are in a state of shock, allowing them to go home if they want to. However, before they leave, you ask them to write down anything they can remember about the accident because it will help you investigate it.
You start talking to one of the workers who directly witnessed the accident. They express their surprise that anyone will be investigating the accident. They add that the Cinema manager never usually wants to know when accidents happen and thinks that investigating them is a waste of time.
This witness outlines to you how the accident happened:
Shortly before the accident, they recall the team leader telling the young worker to get the stepladder and hang the banner from the ceiling. The young worker initially told the team leader that they were already busy doing a job for the Cinema manager. However, the team leader told the young worker that the banner hanging task was more urgent. The young worker had also said that they did not want to use the stepladder. They reminded the team leader that, two months earlier, another worker had broken their arm falling from the stepladder, while they had been trying to replace a light bulb. After the accident, everyone knew that the stepladder did not open fully and wobbled if anyone climbed on to it. Rather than spend money to replace or repair the stepladder, the team leader employed a consultant to advise them on safe working practices. The consultant advised the team leader to use a wedge under one of the feet of the stepladder to stabilise it. The team leader knew that the ladder could still wobble but had been convinced by the consultant’s years of experience. Therefore, they adopted this as the new safe working practice.
The young worker had also told the team leader that they were afraid of heights. The team leader had laughed and told them to stop complaining and to get on with the task. The young worker then asked the team leader if there would be someone to help them to keep the ladder steady, but were told that everyone else was too busy to help. The team leader threatened to report the young worker to the Cinema manager if they did not get on with the job immediately. After this comment, the young worker anxiously assured the team leader that they would get the job done quickly and efficiently. This seemed to please the team leader, who then left the scene.
You ask the witness why the threat of being reported to the manager would have made the young worker change their mind about using the stepladder. The witness tells you that the Cinema manager has a reputation for dismissing workers from their jobs for the most trivial things.
The witness goes on to say that they saw the stepladder wobble as the young worker was stretching to attach the loops on the banner to the hooks in the ceiling. At the same time, a child bumped into the stepladder while running towards an accompanying adult. This caused the stepladder to topple over, as the wooden wedge under the foot of the stepladder was dislodged.
As the witness starts to walk away you ask them one final question about the health and safety training that they have received. They just say “None” and walk away.