Last reviewed 18 April 2012

Caroline Raine looks at changes to the reporting of chemical incidents on construction sites under RIDDOR 2012.

Introduction

From Friday 6 April, the over-three-day reporting of RIDDOR-reportable incidents changed to over-seven days’ incapacitation. This does not count the day on which the accident occurred. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has defined incapacitation as meaning that “the worker is absent or is unable to do the work that they would reasonably be expected to do as part of their normal work”.

What must be reported?

Under RIDDOR the following chemical incidents must be reported to the HSE immediately. They are classed as major injuries. Please be aware that this list is not complete, it is only concentrating on chemical incidents.

Reportable major injuries are:

  • chemical or hot metal burns to the eye or any penetrating injury to the eye

  • unconsciousness caused by asphyxia or exposure to a harmful substance or biological agent

  • acute illness requiring medical treatment, or loss of consciousness arising from absorption of any substance by inhalation, ingestion or through the skin

  • acute illness requiring medical treatment where there is reason to believe that this resulted from exposure to a biological agent or its toxins or infected material.

Over-seven-day injuries (previously over-three-day injuries)

Any incident involving chemicals that results in an employee being off work for over seven days must be reported. This does not include the day the incident occurred. Examples include an employee being splashed with a chemical, resulting in chemical burns.

Dangerous occurrences

Dangerous occurrences are defined as near-miss events. The HSE does not expect every near-miss event must be reported. Listed below are examples of those near misses that must be reported in relation to chemicals.

  • Accidental release of a biological agent likely to cause severe human illness.

  • Failure of industrial radiography or irradiation equipment to de-energise or return to its safe position after the intended exposure period.

  • A road tanker carrying a dangerous substance overturns, suffers serious damage, catches fire or the substance is released.

  • A dangerous substance being conveyed by road is involved in a fire or released.

  • Explosion or fire causing suspension of normal work for over 24 hours.

  • Sudden, uncontrolled release in a building of:

    • 100kg or more of flammable liquid

    • 10kg of flammable liquid above its boiling point

    • 10kg or more of flammable gas, or

    • 500kg of these substances if the release is in the open air.

  • Accidental release of any substance which may damage health.

Examples of RIDDOR-reportable incidents involving chemicals

A major injury would need to be reported if an employee became unwell after inhaling nitrogen oxides whilst welding. The ultraviolet light of the arc can produce nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2), from the nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O2) in the air. Nitrogen oxides are produced by gas metal arc welding (GMAW or short-arc), gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW or heli-arc), and plasma arc cutting. High concentrations can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and fluid in the lungs (pulmonary oedema). This would need to be reported under “acute illness requiring medical treatment, or loss of consciousness arising from absorption of any substance by inhalation, ingestion or through the skin”.

Another major injury would need to be reported if a confined space worker was exposed to toxic fumes causing asphyxia which resulted in unconsciousness. This would need to be reported under “unconsciousness caused by asphyxia or exposure to a harmful substance or biological agent”.

Any chemical burns to the eye would need to be reported. A good example of this is splashing cleaning fluid in the eye resulting in a caustic (alkali) burn, and any injury to the eye resulting in over seven days off work would also need to be reported. The construction industry has a much higher rate of eye injuries than any other industry, eg the mixing of cement, sawing, grinding and chipping produce dusts and grit can easily irritate the eyes.

The construction industry accounts for approximately 5% of the employees in Britain but it accounts for 27% of fatal injuries to employees and 9% of reported major injuries. In 2010/11 there were 50 fatal injuries to workers and 18 of these fatalities were to the self-employed. Also, around 2.3 million working days were lost (1.1 days per worker) due to self-reported work-related illness or workplace injury.

It is important to note that although all of the above examples would need to be reported to the HSE with the correct controls in place, these incidents are entirely avoidable.

How do I report a RIDDOR reportable chemical incident to the HSE?

In September 2011 the HSE released its new online reporting forms, and so any RIDDOR reportable incidents can be notified to the HSE using these.

The online reporting includes a suite of seven forms.

  • F2508 Report of an injury.

  • F2508 Report of a Dangerous Occurrence.

  • F2508A Report of a Case of Disease.

  • OIR9B Report of an Injury Offshore.

  • OIR9B Report of a Dangerous Occurrence Offshore.

  • F2508G1 Report of a Flammable Gas Incident.

  • F2508G2 Report of a Dangerous Gas Fitting

However, there is still a telephone service for reporting fatal and major injuries only. The Incident Contact Centre telephone number is 0845 300 9923 and is operational Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm.

If an incident needs to be reported out-of-hours, a duty officer is available on 0151 922 9235. The types of circumstances where HSE may need to respond out-of-hours are:

  • following a work-related death

  • following a serious incident where there have been multiple casualties

  • following an incident which has caused major disruption such as an evacuation of people, closure of roads, large numbers of people going to hospital, etc.

It is advisable to keep a note of telephone notifications, including the time, the name of the advisor spoken to and what details were given of the event being notified.

Record keeping

Despite the changes to the RIDDOR reporting, employers and others with responsibilities under RIDDOR must still keep a record of all over-three-day injuries. The injury should be logged in the company’s accident book, and this will suffice as a record of the accident.

Any incidents that are reportable to the HSE must also be recorded, and the easiest way to do this is to keep a copy of the report submitted to the HSE. When an incident is reported online, an e-mail address is requested and a copy of the online report will automatically be forwarded to that e-mail address.

At the very least the following information must be recorded:

  • the date and method of reporting

  • the date, time and place of the event

  • personal details of those involved

  • a brief description of the nature of the event or disease.

Remember that your insurance company may also need to be informed of any accidents or near-misses.

Resources

The HSE has issued a Guidance DocumentA Guide to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) L73 (Third edition), HSE Books 2008 ISBN 9780717662906.