London Underground has a bit of a tendency to put up warning signs about adverse weather the moment the slightest hint of precipitation is detected in the air, but I think we can accept that the past couple of days would qualify as somewhat adverse.

I would expect to see a bit of grit lain outside station entrances, and probably on platforms that are exposed to the cold and snow.

Indeed, I have seen such demonstrations of common sense on the DLR and London Overground – although I haven’t travelled on the tube this weekend, I would presume the outlying stations at least would be familiar with how to use a shovel and scatter some salt around the place.

It’s just common sense after all.

Not if you are the RMT.

A memo sent to staff warns that the “majority of station staff have received no agreed formal training to undertake this activity, including working with hazardous materials and manual handling, plus there is no agreed staff PPE on stations.”

Yes, they are actually claiming that not only do people need training in how to shovel a bit of salt around but that they need Personal Protective Equipment (high-viz jackets, boots etc) before they can go anywhere near something has hazardous as salt.

OK – working all day everyday with road salt is corrosive, but a bit of gritting of platforms and station entrances is hardly going to have people’s hands dropping off.

In the absence of cleaning staff trained to scatter some salt around, the staff are advised to close platforms, or even entire stations if they become unsafe for passengers.

Closing stations because the RMT says it is not their job to scatter some salt around the place?

This is not a situation where they say even if gritted, that train stations will still be too dangerous for passengers (especially the ladies who still wear high heals in the snow!), they are simply refusing the grit the platforms at all.

I despair. I really do.

I spent the best part of a decade working in customer facing environments and and I cannot recall a single time when it snowed and we didn’t all look upon gritting the entrances and constantly mopping the floor as a delightful distraction from the mundanity of the normal day-to-day routine.

I don’t think anyone I knew then, or know now who would think that using a shovel to scatter road salt would need training. OK, I guess it is possible that there are people around who would lift a shovel and hurt themselves, and then claim that they needed training in how to hold a spade. But if they are that stupid, then H&S training wouldn’t alleviate the issue.

Some health and safety is good, and in public areas with fast moving trains, it’s essential. Training staff is also equally good, where plain common-sense can’t deliver the necessary skills.

Maybe when facing the winter season, a short memo reminding staff of some basic best practices for where to apply grit and how much would be sensible.

But… would you be comfortable seeking help from a member of staff and trusting their advice if you knew they were unable to operate a garden shovel without first undertaking a training session?

Sigh.

A copy of the memo is here.

 

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18 Comments

  1. Without PPE equipment, the people shovelling grit will get it on their shoes and trousers, which will then require cleaning. Until they’re clean, they can’t be worn (who’d want to put on shoes and trousers covered in damp, sticky industrial grit?) so the station staff can’t present at work in the correct uniform (generally companies only issue one pair of shoes and two pairs of trousers) which is gross misconduct.

    Additionally, training *is* needed for ‘just’ shovelling grit-salt: someone has to lug the bags of grit-salt down to the platform (back protection), the salt has to be applied in a consistent and useful manner (not in piles to form a trip hazard, not too lightly to give passengers a false sense of security, not too heavily that passengers will complain about getting it on their shoes and trousers).

    And, as you point out, salt is corrosive, even if only mildly so. Where do we draw the line on whether we train people in the use of corrosive materials? Slightly above salt? Okay, but then that becomes the new line ready to be moved next time a company wants to not provide training. The grit-salt can cause serious irritation in cuts, so people need training in the correct way to wash it out. It can also get into the eyes as it’s being dispersed, so people need PPE equipment and/or training in washing corrosive, gritty material out of their eyes.

    It might seem “plain common-sense” to send workers into situations they are untrained for in unsuitable clothing to you, but to the station staff and their union, it’s a matter of finishing the job healthy enough to start work again tomorrow. Station staff are not disposable items to be thrown away after a job is done.

    • Kit Green

      We better shut everything down so that the passengers do not arrive at work with sticky industrial grit on their shoes.

      I await the general certificate in common sense that we will have to show to be allowed out of our houses.

    • IanVisits

      I strongly disagree with the argument that people are incapable of shovelling a bit of grit without getting so much on their boots that they can’t simply be wiped down with a damp cloth.

      I never had that problem – so why are station staff afflicted by it?

      As to training need to do something as common-sense as scattering the grit evenly instead of in clumps. Are people working in train stations really not capable of knowing such an obvious thing without a training session? Wouldn’t a quick memo about best-practice really not cover such lack of common-sense?

      As to corrosive issues – there is a balance, but we are talking about a short job once in a blue moon, not routine labour with the stuff. H&S works to a principle of minimising risk to an acceptable standard, not abolition of risk.

      I doubt many people would consider 10 minutes of exposure to road salt to be hazardous.

      What you have done is argue from a worst case scenario, not the one that faces people in the real world. As such, it shows the problem with the mania for risk-assessments and training certificates to do even the simplest of jobs.

    • RMT tells station staff they shouldn’t do work they’re not trained for, equipped for or paid for. That seems “plain common-sense” to me.

    • IanVisits

      They shouldn’t pin a notice on a notice board without a training session first?

      They can’t hold a door open without a training session first?

      They can’t pick up a bit of litter off the floor without a training session first?

      Some things should be common-sense and don’t need training sessions.

    • I thought “argu[ing] from a worst case scenario” wasn’t valid?

    • Will

      Jamie

      You are surely quoting a Milly Tant strip from Viz – The last line is a giveaway.

      Can I assume there is no ‘mildly corrosive’ salt in RMT canteens?

    • You say all that, but last year with the ICE, I saw the station staff at my local station happily chipping away with a shovel, and then using a spreader to get the salt onto the platform. I am fairly sure they were more concerned with having a member of the public fall off the platform, than they were with what the RMT has to say.

      As for you remarks on the Salt, it is hardly like they are using acid. According the COSHH assessments, under normal circumstances the Rock Salt commonly used will not cause any harm. So your comments about it are a little unfounded and scare moungering. I guess you are one of these RMT members that strikes at the drop of the hat, and leaves the rest of London to get along with it whilst you demand more money for the Olympics and simply turning up to do your job…?

  2. Dan

    This isn’t directly related to the H&S risks of salt / hideously sharpened spades, but I believe there have been cases where individuals have successfully sued businesses after taking a tumble on their property in snow / ice, based on the fact that the gritting implied a level of safety, therefore encouraging the individual to walk there. The advice to some businesses therefore is not to clear snow / ice at all unless it’s completely cleared and safe (i.e. maybe higher than just “scatter some salt”). I don’t agree with it, but I see why it’s necessary in a litiginous culture.

    • IanVisits

      There was a case of a florist in a train station being sued after a chap slipped on a petal – but it turned out that the shop had been regularly told they were leaving slip hazards around.

      As to snow clearance, there was a lot of fuss about this a year or two ago, and the government advice was that so long as you behave sensibly, then you can’t be sued for negligence.

      It’s blatant and obvious stupidity that leaves people open to lawsuits – and training sessions can’t cure stupidity.

  3. Richard

    It’s worth noting that a Risk Assesment doesn’t need to be either written down or performed by a manager, indeed anyone, whatever their level, should perform a basic mental risk assesment before undertaking that task. This should include any information they have recieved from their line manager but should also include looking at their surroundings and any unexpected risks that may have arisen.

    While there are risks involved in spreading grit, or shoveling snow, I fail to see how these activities are ‘inherently unsafe’, if undertaken with a common sense approach.

    There seems to be an odd approach these days where the more you are paid, the more you grumble about what you are asked to do. I work in theatre and live events, in the areas where people are paid quite a low rate (small and regional theatres) most people are happy to multi-task. They change light bulbs, clean gutters, re-paint the walls and empty their own bins – and the unions pretty much ignore them. However in the venues where people are paid a lot (well funded national scale venues) the unions suddenly take an interest and people refuse to do anything that insn’t specifically in their job description.

    • Anthony

      I’m not sure I’d agree that it’s about pay. The more senior people where I work are often happy to roll up their sleeves and do whatever is necessary to get a job done. I think it’s about some people taking a pride in their work, and putting in a small extra effort to make a difference to themselves, colleagues and customers – and some people who think the world owes them a living and will do as little as they can get away with, throwing a tantrum whenever they are asked to pitch in for everyone’s good. It seems the RMT always fall squarely into the latter category.

  4. Terry

    I wonder who owns the companies that do the training and provide the protective clothing.

  5. John

    These idiots need to be replaced with workers with some common-sense. This is a complete betrayal of the unionisation movement. Marx would be spinning in his grave at this lot.

  6. Darren Wagstaff

    Its the same lazy-arsed, selfish attitude when it comes to wanting extra pay for working during the Olympic fortnight. Thank god it won’t snow then.

  7. Zhaph - Ben Duguid

    I guess the point about common sense works both ways: staff should be able to apply common sense to the work they are asked to do (indeed an HSE poster on lifting heavy objects we’ve got reiterates this a number of times) but equally the public should too – i.e. not wearing high heels and taking more care when it’s icy.

    Also if PPE were to be supplied, I assume a range of sizes would be needed to cover the majority of the staff who would not conform to some notional “average size”, and where would the budget for that come from? More redundancies?

    Surely the managers could apply a degree of lienency when staff have been spreading grit, coupled with harsh penalties for minor uniform infractions for staff who haven’t?

  8. MiaM

    Hint:
    Perhaps someone will notice the similarity between stiletto high heels and theese:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleat_(shoe)

    I’d like some scientific proof that high heels actually are wors than non-high heels in icy weather.

    (As a comparision the most slippery-when-icy thing you can wear on your feet that I know of is my pair of Wellington boots with an almost complete flat surface with even preassure across the surface, i.e. no spot with extra pressure that gives extra friction. It’s like wearing hovercrafts on your feet)

    This might seem like an unimportant post in an offtopic direction, but I think it’s important to say something when two males tries to patronize women by telling them what to and what not to wear. (If you actually have some experience of wearing high heels on icy/slippery surfaces I appologize for showing cissexist prejudice).

  9. “Some health and safety is good, and in public areas with fast moving trains, it’s essential. Training staff is also equally good, where plain common-sense can’t deliver the necessary skills”.

    Which seems to be what the RMT are asking for isn’t it? So why the rant?

    Maybe the RMT are guilty of using hyperbole (personally I don’t agree that ‘undertaking this duty whilst the train service is running is inherently unsafe and does not meet the ALARP principle’) but I think you’re guilty too here – it’s not just about ‘how to use a shovel’.

    Use rock salt for half an hour or so on one or two occasions, and the risk is minimal, negligible even. Use it regularly in cold damp weather and your hands soon start to dry out and crack unless you wear waterproof gloves – I know from personal experience. But what is commonly used to de-ice platforms isn’t rock salt at all – it’s a manufactured alternative. I just randomly googled for a Material Safety Data Sheet for a manufactured deicing product which states that ‘prolonged or repeated exposure may cause skin irritation or burns’. If that’s the case, then the employer, as part of their COSHH assessment, should inform employees using it of this hazard and provide PPE if the COSHH assessment deems necessary (based on repeated or length of exposure – most platforms seem to have been de-iced every day for the last 3 weeks or so, does that count as ‘repeated’?). Which seems to be what the RMT are asking for.

    From experience, such products tend to come in a 25kg bag. That doesn’t sound like much, but try picking one off the floor when the bag is slippery because it’s wet/frosty. You might think that common sense is all that’s required to avoid injury in a situation like this, but if that’s the case, why do 38% of ‘three-days-or-more’ (i.e., reportable under RIDDOR) workplace injuries result from poor manual handling? (Source: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg143.pdf). That’s a higher proportion than any other category of workplace injuries.

    And, as you say, the areas where staff will be applying deicing products involve fast moving trains. Now technically, anyone de-icing a platform is not ‘on or near the line’, according to GE/RT8000, the railway ‘Rule Book’, which means they probably won’t hold a PTS (Personal Track Safety) certificate. But that doesn’t mean there are no risks, risks that without PTS training they may not even be aware of. Ideally they should be wearing Hi-Viz, they should be aware of the hazards from approaching trains, they should acknowledge any warnings given by a driver – all of which I’ve seen flaunted in recent weeks. As a driver, when you’re speeding through a station at 70mph and there’s someone merrily wandering along with a spinner, a foot from the platform edge, seemingly blissfully unaware of your presence, it’s quite a butt-clenching moment, I can tell you.

    If you think that is hyperbole, then read this: http://www.raib.gov.uk/cms_resources.cfm?file=/110721_B022011_Seaburn.pdf and note the headline conclusion that ‘underlying [the cause of the incident] were failures of management to put in place a system of work to control the risks, to train and instruct workers in how to clear snow safety [sic], to adequately supervise their work and to ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment was worn’. Which, again, seems to be what the RMT are asking for.

    I’ve seen gritting shovels lying in the four-foot between the rails where they’ve been dropped off platforms (maybe some people do need training in how to use a shovel?): common sense (or PTS training) should tell you not to get down onto the track without getting a block from the signaller – even if the departure screen shows the next train isn’t for another 20 minutes, there are non-stopping services, empty coaching stock, freight trains and (at this time of year) de-icing trains all running around not on the timetable or departure screens. But that common sense only comes with experience of railway operations. Given that there is trend to employ casual/agency staff with little or no previous railway experience, is it safe to assume that every member of staff has the right level of common sense?

    I agree, in an ideal world I would like to see more ‘common sense’ and less red tape, but unfortunately common sense is far from common and tends to mean something different to everyone. You can only use common sense to manage risk if you understand what the hazards are, some of which may be completely unpredictable or obscure. And that hazard/risk awareness comes from training (which doesn’t need to be extensive or expensive by any means) and/or experience.

    There, that’s my rant over.

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