The Health and Safety Executive has issued a cease and desist order to the Ministry of Defence, demanding a halt to all operations in Afghanistan, after a recent risk assessment exposed a number of serious safety hazards.
HSE inspectors, who descended on the British section at Bagram Airbase last month, found numerous breaches in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Among the issues highlighted in their subsequent report was the lack of ear defenders, which were deemed necessary considering that base is situated next to Kabul International Airport. ‘How British troops can stand all that coming and going is beyond me,’ one inspector is quoted as saying. ‘There were huge stores of ammunition, but did I see even one copy of the COSHH guidelines?’
The report also blasts the armed forces for failing to observe proper manual handling and lifting procedures: ‘Weapons technicians were observed rushing to load aircraft with heavy missiles without first pausing to carry out an ad-hoc risk assessment. Having ignored my entreaties to bend the knees, well, life-saving air support or no life-saving air support, they were at serious risk of sustaining a nasty back injury.’
Military personnel at Camp Bastion, Britain’s strategic base northwest of Lashkar Gah and main bulwark against the Taliban in Helmand Province, received even harsher criticism, the area being labelled as ‘dirty and lacking in proper cleaning facilities’. Camp commanders were also censured for failing to enforce proper confined space working procedures during the many mortar attack alerts. ‘And they could have at least sealed off the large numbers of concealed roadside bombs with hazard tape before disposing of them in an appropriately marked metal waste container.’ stated one official.
Inspectors then followed a company of light infantry to a forward fire base overlooked by a Taliban-held compound, and what they witnessed moved them to tears. ‘It was dreadful,’ one wrote, ‘The constant firing of heavy machineguns as they fended off yet another fanatical attack left those poor soldiers wide open to repetitive strain injury, not to mention vibration white finger – I begged them to take a comfort break but they just didn’t listen. And that wounded squaddie propped up against the sandbags – well if that wasn’t a trip hazard I don’t know what is, but would they let me put a warning sign on him? Ooh the language!’
(Written 2 Oct 2009)