Written by Gareth Martin
Further to our last update at the end of June 2023, we take a closer look at just some of the health and safety prosecutions that have concluded during the last quarter (July–September), all of which serve as a reminder as to why it is so important for businesses to keep on top of their health and safety obligations.
- On 5 July 2023, Tata Steel UK Limited was fined £120,000 at Swansea Crown Court and ordered to pay costs totalling £14, 138.06. The company had previously pleaded guilty to breaches of s2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (“HSWA 1974”) following an incident at the company’s Port Talbot site in Wales.
- An employee of Monolithic Refractories Ltd suffered serious head injuries and permanent brain damage when they were hit in the face with a scaffolding pole that a colleague had used to open a jammed door on a concrete mixer. An HSE investigation found that Tata Steel UK had provided an unguarded mixer for Monolithic’s employees and failed to ensure that there was a safe system of work in place and moreover had failed to supervise workers using the machine, who had been able to develop an unsafe system of work to release the door.
- Interior Products Group Limited of Welshpool pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of HSWA 1974 following an incident in which an employee partially severed two fingers. Interestingly the employee involved was very experienced and although the HSE investigation found that the company had carried out a number of risk assessments in respect of the machine which caused the injury, they had failed to identify the hazards of the cutting and trimming units. They had also failed to provide suitable and sufficient instruction and training for staff in relation to cleaning, fault finding and dealing with minor repairs. The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,688.
- On 13 July 2023, Sofidel UK Limited was fined £1million and ordered to pay costs in excess of £13,400. The company had pleaded guilty to offences contrary to s2(1) of HSWA 1974 following an HSE investigation which found that the company had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to identify hazards posed by reels which did not eject properly from a paper machine. In addition, they failed to ensure that proper control measures were in place and provide employees with information and instructions on how to deal with what was a recurring problem. An employee of the company was seriously injured when struck in the face by a crane hook which was being used to free a paper reel which had become stuck.
- A sole trader was jailed for 10 months at Liverpool Crown Court on 04 August 2023. The owner of JJ Tyres & Recovery pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s33(1) of HSWA 1974 following an HSE investigation which found that he had no risk assessments, safe systems of work or lifting plan. There was no adequate training for staff who were also unaware of the dangers posed by specific jobs they were asked to undertake. One such occasion was when employees were tasked with the removal of the flat rear bed of a tipper van and the hydraulic system of the tipper bed was released without support causing it to fall and crush an employee who sadly died a short time later as a result of significant internal injuries caused by the crushing.
- On 17 August 2023, VB Farms LLP of Chester was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,715. The company had been found guilty of breaching Regulations 3(1) and 4(3) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. The case followed the death of a father of three who was electrocuted by an overhead power line whilst operating a tipper lorry at the farm site in Devon. An HSE investigation found that the company failed to carry out an assessment of how the work could be completed safely and did not consider the dangers of working near to the overhead lines. An HSE inspector said that the incident was “wholly avoidable” and a “sad reminder of the dangers of overhead power lines”.
- Thurlow Educational Trust (“the Trust”) was fined £80,000 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 29 August 2023. They were also ordered to pay £7,116.31 in costs, having previously pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of HSWA 1974. The case related to the collapse of a classroom ceiling at Rosemead Preparatory School in November 2021 which injured 15 children and their teacher. An HSE investigation found that items such as desks and chairs had been stored in an attic space which was not designed to be load bearing thereby causing the ceiling to collapse. The Trust had failed to assess whether the area was suitable for such storage and had failed to undertake any structural or load bearing capability assessments.
- On 13 September 2023, a company and its managing director were fined for failing to protect workers from welding fumes. The company, Associated Metalmasters Limited and the managing director were prosecuted following an inspection of a site in Dudley in October 2021. Inspectors found a lack of appropriate precautions to control the exposure of mild steel fumes from metal inert gas. The company was served with two Improvement Notices in 2016 and 2019 but failed to sustain compliance with the same. The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and was fined £20,000 plus £3,896.30 in costs. The director pleaded guilty to breaching s37(1) of HSWA 1974 given his awareness of the Improvement Notices and the issues therein; he was fined £2,000.
- A haulage company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £8,400.50 in costs at Llandudno Magistrates’ Court on 20 September 2023. Williams Haulage Limited had pleaded guilty to offences contrary to s3(1) of HSWA 1974 following the death of a worker who had fallen from a loading bay at the company’s site on Deeside Industrial Estate in March 2020. An HSE investigation found that although the company had carried out a risk assessment that identified the risk from falls and had in fact introduced control measure in respect of the same, the measures had not been used in practice. The investigation found that there was a lack of supervision and monitoring of the control measures and insufficient consideration had been given to visiting drivers, particularly those for who English was not their first language.
- Tarmac Aggregates Limited was fined £1, 275,000 and ordered to pay costs in the sum of £200.000 at Leicester Crown Court on 27 September 2023. The company had pleaded guilty to offences contrary to s2(1) and 3(1) of HSWA 1974 following the death of a contractor undertaking maintenance work at Mountsorrel Quarry in Leicestershire in June 2017. The man died after becoming trapped between a conveyor and feed hopper. An HSE investigation found that the company had failed to ensure that the machinery had been properly isolated before repair work was commenced. They also failed to ensure that critical defects were recorded and rectified in a timely manner and did not provide a visual and audible pre-start alarm for the conveyor.
Olliers Solicitors – specialist criminal defence and regulatory lawyers
Whilst the above cases represent only a snapshot of the cases concluded over the recent quarter, they do as already noted, serve as a reminder as to why every business and every person involved with them must not ignore their health and safety responsibilities.
Different people and different organisations will have their own views on the HSE and what they represent but no matter what that opinion may be, the fact is that they are charged with overseeing and enforcing the laws and regulations around health and safety; they will do so robustly so health and safety can’t be ignored nor should it.
Good health and safety practices should not be looked upon as a burden; there are in fact practical and beneficial business reasons for getting it right. Injuries and ill-health caused by poor health and safety standards inevitably result in workers taking time off which reduces a business’ efficiency, output and turnover and may even result in claims against the company and increased insurance premiums thereof.
Conversely, for those who do take the health, safety and welfare of their workforce seriously, then the likelihood is that they will see positive staff engagement, increased productivity as a result of fewer absences and lower staff turnover.
It must, of course, be acknowledged that smaller businesses, in particular, may not have the resources to employ a full-time health and safety specialist; that does not absolve them of their responsibilities and the obligations remain the same. As can be seen from the examples above no business can afford to disregard or simply pay lip service to safety policies and procedures, as to do so can be very costly, indeed it could spell the end for some businesses.
If the HSE decides to investigate or worse still prosecute you or your business, it is important that you seek immediate legal advice and assistance. The team at Olliers have a wealth of experience when it comes to defending employers, employees and companies facing investigation and prosecution, so get in touch today.