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Council / Council looking to plug gaps in health and safety team, meeting hears

GAPS in the health and safety team at Shetland Islands Council were put under the microscope at the local authority’s audit committee on Tuesday morning.

Some councillors were disappointed to learn that a health and safety officer was not replaced after they left the council in June 2019.

Since then, the health and safety team has consisted of one full-time equivalent member of staff, although the meeting heard that additional resource has been drafted in.

A report from internal auditor Duncan Black said there have been no planned health and safety inspections or audits undertaken since 2019 as the team’s manager has prioritised works required for buildings to be Covid secure.

However, councillors received some reassurance in that a health and safety advisor is currently being recruited, with a “good level of interest” shown so far.

Human resources director Denise Bell added that in collaboration with Train Shetland there is also the aim to host a modern apprenticeship in health and safety.

Three high priority areas of concern, and five medium level issues, were noted by internal auditors following checks on the council’s health and safety team.

The lack of resources was one key high priority area.

Another was that following a sample of 10 premises requesting details of inspections undertaken, at four locations premises mangers were unaware of the need to have six-monthly inspections.

The final high priority issue was over the healthy and safety management system.

Bell said it was “regrettable” that has taken so long to recruit to the team, but she added the Covid pandemic had a significant impact on services.

Corporate services director Christine Ferguson said it is “very much on our to do list at the moment”, with Covid stretching resources and previously seeing some areas prioritised over others.

She said that there has been additional resource pulled in, while the meeting heard that health and safety is the concern of staff and managers – not just that of the dedicated team.

Shetland West councillor Catherine Hughson said it “does still worry me that’s it taken over two years to get it recruited to”.

Bell added that moves are also underway to procure a new management system.

The HR manager looked to reassure councillors that schools and care homes were well covered, and she added that the council is looking into remote and virtual inspections.

Council staff were involved in a remote fire safety audit this morning, she added.

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan thinks more can be done to tackle drug use in Shetland.Shetland south councillor Allison (Flea) Duncan. Photo: SIC

Committee chairman Allison Duncan also raised concerns that the internal audit had identified some staff at the council with fire warden responsibilities who had not undertaken relevant fire warden training, and that the fire safety policy has not been reviewed since November 2011.

“There’s no doubt that fire safety regulations have moved on substantially since then,” he said.

Duncan also asked whether any care homes had been left with staff who did not have the fire training.

Ferguson said that the policy not being updated “does not mean it’s not fit for purpose”, and highlighted a recent review which said the provision was “excellent”.

She added that fire safety was a key element in training care home staff.

When it came to debate Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall said the audit report highlighted a “range of failings and gaps”.

Shetland South councillor Robbie McGregor said that the issue could cause reputational damage to the council if it had been allowed to continue.

“I really have to make a plea that this gets sorted sooner rather than later,” he said.

Duncan added: “This is a serious situation and it had to be rectified as quickly as possible.”

But he also paid tribute to staff who have been working hard during the pandemic and going “beyond the call of duty”.