Incompetence can kill is week one of our 52 ways to die at work series.
Ok, so there is a bit of shameless letting agent bashing going on here, but it made us feel better!
Sometimes people are totally unaware of their duties under health and safety law. Some think they know it but just don’t or don’t get it. Some sort of know but don’t know enough. Whichever, it is means increased risk in the workplace (or rental property) due to incompetence. Incompetence can kill.
The letting agent
This is an exchange between a letting agent and landlord about a rental property the agent is currently fully managing, reported to us this week. We think that fully managing means that the relevant person at the agency holds the duties of the competent person.
The landlord asked when the electrics at the property were last checked. The agent’s reply was that there was no requirement under law to PAT test or get an electrical safety certificate.
The landlord then asked the agent how they were ensuring the electrics in their rental property were safe. After all, the Health and Safety at Work Act requires that properties are safe and free from risk. The landlord pointed out the electrics are a risk.
Their reply was (verbatim) “I would advise that the Health and Safety at Work Act is not relevant in this case as it was introduced to ensure that employers protect the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees”.
The landlord advised that a landlord is an employer under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The landlord is sorting out the electrics themselves and changing agency (there are lots of good ones out there).
The fact that no fire has occurred at the property is not evidence that the electrics are safe. Monopoly might be a game of luck but people don’t live in little plastic red and green properties. Lives matter and safety isn’t down to luck!
It’s not just letting agents
There was the headline in the IOSH Magazine on 2 January. “Incompetent site management lands director with suspended jail sentence”. The site manager and company director (same person) was served with two prohibition notices and his company served with two prohibition notices and two improvement notices. This was after concerns raised leading the Health and Safety Executive to inspect a construction site. The notices weren’t complied with which led to the prosecution. The HSE said they believed the director/site manager had never received relevant training. He did not produce any training certification and he pleaded guilty to the breach.
In these two instances no one has died, but there are many instances where the outcome of incompetence has been fatal. Incompetence can kill.
So who is a competent person?
The HSE’s definition of a competent person is “someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety”. This means they are able to recognize hazards associated with a particular task or workplace, and they have the ability to mitigate those hazards.
All employers must appoint a ‘competent person’ to help them meet their health and safety duties. This doesn’t mean employers have to rush out and appoint consultants. It may be that they themselves are competent, or they may wish to employ a person to do this in-house to do this.
In the words of the HSE – “competence in health and safety should be seen as an important component of workplace activities, not an add-on or afterthought.”