Putting stringent systems and strategies in place, undertaking risk assessments to ensure health and safety is enforced properly in the workplace is essential, as delegates at the recent Textile Services Association (TSA) Spring Conference (15-19 April) heard. Louise Adamson, at one time an employment lawyer, has been an ambassador for work safety for many years, determined to eradicate those work accidents that occur in ‘no-man’s land’ – the home of the 'invisble person' who will not take responsibility and own it. Louise told her brother Michael’s story. It was harrowing.

Adamson’s electrician brother Michael’s death in his 20s was the result of an electrical incident and she describes receiving a call from her mother to say Michael had been in an accident. Because nobody would say how he was, she knew it was serious, and sadly the family soon learned he had, in fact, died. In her presentation Adamson exhaustively listed the failures that mounted up and consolidated to become the catalyst that ended her little brother’s life. All of them could have been prevented.

There are many lessons to be learned from Michael’s needless death. And one question that businesses must ask themselves right now is this – is there the right training and level of competence among operatives, supervisors, managers and directors?

Then ask:

  • Are we sure we keep our risk assessments live?
  • Do operatives have access to the correct equipment to do their jobs safely?
  • Is there confidence to say no if it’s felt something is unsafe?
  • Are our safety leaders effective at what they do?
  • Have unsafe ‘cheeky wee shortcuts’ crept into our working practices?
  • Is there an ‘accident waiting to happen’ here?

In the no-man’s land where nobody accepts responsibility for harrying workers, cutting corners and general bad practice and, let’s face it, a total disregard for health and safety requirements, the ‘invisible person’ was eventually found guilty of the health and safety failings which resulted in Michael’s death. We often hear of ‘an accident waiting to happen’ but this is simply an excuse for bad health and safety practice.  Michael’s tragic and needless death serves as a shock wake-up call for businesses to put in place strict effective safeguards and strategies to ensure workers are protected from harm.

The lesson is, it is never just one thing that goes wrong and leads to a fatality. Multiple failures accumulate. And it is always somebody’s fault. Make sure it is not yours. Strategies to ensure workers’ safety need to be in place and rigidly followed.

Michael was a son, brother and a fiancé who didn’t live to become an uncle, a husband, or a dad, all of which he would have been bloody brilliant at. He was 26 years old when he left home one morning and didn’t return. He died in an entirely preventable electrical incident. 

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• Shyju Skariah, TSA technical expert, had recently led a machinery safety day for members after increased issues in laundries with people getting hurt. Recommendation to come from that meeting? Identifying risks behind each machine panel. “Trying to access things without knowing what is behind panels is a recipe for disaster,” he said, “so TSA is now trying to find common ground to address the issue further and getting labelling will be a first step.

Indicating data, he said: “The accident rate was more or less the same in 2023 as 2022. Work injuries are avoidable. Please report incidents – it will help us to plan.”