My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Thanet Council White Finger Scandal: Silence Speaks Volumes

I’ve  been commenting recently (see my other  blog posts)  about  the unfolding “white finger” scandal at Thanet District Council. It seems likely that there has been a prolonged and serious  neglect of health and safety regulations in certain council departments, which I believe could  possibly include the falsification of safety records. As a consequence of these alleged failings, up to 20 staff are understood to have contracted white finger, an industrial injury caused by prolonged over-exposure to vibrating equipment. This is a particularly nasty injury which damages  the nerves and blood vessels in the hand and lower arm. It  can lead to  loss of feeling,   inability to grip and lift, and is the cause of considerable pain. White finger  can be a life-changing injury which  ends careers. However, through good management and careful monitoring this is an industrial injury which is entirely  avoidable.  

In 2005 the Government published the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations which set out a legal framework which employers must follow to avoid and eliminate this nasty workplace injury. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also published lots of advice to employers about how to prevent this type of  injury. But it would appear that managers at Thanet Council may have ignored the regulations and advice and possibly tried to cover  up their tracks with misleading information. This might be why the HSE have launched a major enquiry into the cases of white finger at Thanet Council to find out what went wrong and why.

When the problem first came to light at the end of 2014 and early 2015 TDC also announced that it would launch its own  enquiry into what many believe to have been  criminal neglect of the health and safety of  large number of council workers. At a meeting of Thanet Council’s UKIP controlled Cabinet on 22 October, it was reported that this  enquiry, carried out by an independent expert, has been completed. Having an interest in this matter I tried to get hold of a copy of the report by submitting a Freedom of Information request. Yesterday I got a reply to my request and surprise, surprise in keeping with its culture of secrecy, TDC rejected my request.The reasons TDC  gave for refusing my request were based upon the following sections of the Freedom of Information Act: Section 31(1)(c) (administration of justice); Section 36(2) (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs); Section 41 (information provided in confidence). TDC also informed me that their decision not to release the report were because it is “subject to a non-disclosure agreement” and that “disclosure could also prejudice the outcome of any ongoing investigations and proceedings and individuals potentially affected by the outcome of those investigations and proceedings”.
In laypersons terms this council-speak gobbledegook means that there is a very  serious investigation still going on into the alleged breaches of safety regulations (the HSE investigation I presume ) and that the release of this report could undermine it. It also means that there is a string possibility of a  criminal prosecution of TDC  and/or individual council officers  for neglecting the health and safety of council staff and breaching safety  laws and regulations. Last but least the mention of confidentiality and non-disclosure can only mean that council staff have come forward and provided evidence about what might be the reckless neglect of duties by those who should have known better.

For once I am inclined to agree with TDC  that this report should, for the time being, remain secret until due process is completed. However, once due process is completed TDC’s report and the HSE’s report should be published so that people are able to make their own judgement about what many believe to have been institutional incompetence, neglect and falsification which has ruined the lives of a large group of council staff.  Senior officers and political bosses at TDC should not try to cover-up the truth about what happened  once the legal processes are over.
I only hope that the non-disclosure agreement is not an agreement with any of those managers who might have been in any way responsible for the allowing this terrible situation to have  happened. If the investigations reveal any personal culpability  then those responsible should be named and shamed and, if they broke the law,  prosecuted. There must be no secret deals which might let people evade responsibility for ruining other peoples lives.  

1 comment:

  1. A nondisclosure agreement would not be signed knowing foi is in place. Who are the councillors and officials involved in this issue?