Health and Safety Update – Recent Prosecutions

Written 8th February 2024 by Gareth Martin

Further to our last update which looked at prosecutions from July – September 2023, below we take a look at some of the health and safety prosecutions that have concluded since then. Such cases will no doubt remind business and individuals why it is so important to keep on top of health and safety obligations.

October

  • (1) On 16 October 2023, Earlcoate Construction and Plant Hire Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,223. The conviction followed an incident in August 2021 during which a 16 year-old, on paid work experience, suffered serious injuries when a tractor he was driving overturned on a steep incline. The young person was thrown from the seat of the vehicle and had their leg trapped under the roof of the tractor. They spent a month in hospital, undergoing multiple operations. An HSE investigation found that the company had failed to adequately protect the young person through a failure of supervision and inadequate training and instruction. Whilst business across all sectors must be praised for taking on younger people for work experience and investing in the next generation of workers, it is important to remember that this carries its own very specific risks which must be properly considered and addressed on an ongoing basis.

  • (2) Green Facades Limited of Woolwich Road, London were fined £240,000 and ordered to pay costs of more than £5,000 at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court having pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 11(1) and 13(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. The company had been contracted to remove potentially dangerous cladding, similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower, from an 8-storey high residential building in Liverpool. When HSE inspectors attended they found cladding left lying on residents’ balconies and posing a serious fire risk. Concerns were also identified in relation to inadequate means of escape from the scaffolding which had been erected to facilitate the removal of the cladding. The HSE investigation concluded that the company had failed to take appropriate precautions to address the risks of fire and to ensure the safety of the residents who remained in the property throughout, as well as workers and others.

  • (3) On 27 October 2023, Martins of York Limited pleaded guilty to breaches of s2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and were fined £268,000; the company was also ordered to pay costs in the sum of £10,130 at York Magistrates’ Court. The case against the waste company was brought after a woman who attended their yard to collect wood was hit by a reversing skip wagon and sadly passed away. An investigation identified failures by the company to put appropriate access control measures in place for the main yard which allowed unrestricted access for the public and employees thereby exposing them to the risks of moving vehicles.

November

  • (4) A Manchester based company, RS Rendering Specialists Limited, was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,000 on 24 November 2023 at Manchester Magistrates’ Court. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s4(1) and 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and s33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Of note is the fact that the company were originally issued with a Prohibition Notice when a HSE inspector noticed unsafe scaffolding on a house renovation as he was driving through the area on 17 February 2022. Almost a week later, the same inspector drove by again and witnessed workers continuing to use the scaffolding they were prohibited from using, indeed there were obvious signs that work had continued in the intervening period. The case once again highlights that the HSE will not hesitate to take action no matter the size of the company or the project being undertaken.

  • (5) On 27 November 2023, Lift Monitoring Systems Limited, formerly known as RJ Lift Services Limited, was fined £200,000 at Stoke Crown Court. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The prosecution followed the death of a lift engineer who was crushed whilst attempting to repair a goods lift at a factory in Market Drayton in January 2020. A Health and Safety Executive investigation found that there had been a failure to cover the void in which the engineer became trapped and if it had been sheeted, the incident could not have happened.

  • (6) New West Gypsum Recycling (UK) Limited of Weston-Super-Mare were fined £24,000 and ordered to pay costs of over £4,500 at Taunton Magistrates’ Court having pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The case was brought after a worker suffered serious injuries, including multiple fractures, when their arm was trapped in a machine which a colleague inadvertently re-started as they tried to fix a blockage. The resulting HSE investigation found that dangerous parts of the machine had not been properly guarded and as such were easily accessible. It also found that the company did not have suitable and sufficient procedures for isolating the electrics and locking the machine during such work.

December

  • (7) Newport City Council were fined £2 million having pleaded guilty to breaches of s2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; they were also ordered to pay £9,780 in costs. The prosecution followed the death of a worker who was killed while carrying out resurfacing works on a section of road beneath the M4 motorway. The worker was taking tarmac from the back of the council’s tipper lorry when they were struck by a farm vehicle which was passing through the works area. The HSE investigation found that the council had not taken all reasonably practicable steps to ensure a safe working environment. The HSE said after the sentencing, “This tragic incident could so easily have been avoided if the council had simply carried out correct control measures and safe working practices.”
  • (8) On 15 December 2023, J M Nixon and Son of Northumberland, were fined £72,500 and ordered to pay costs of £34,700. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Newcastle Crown Court heard how Marian Clode died as a result of being butted multiple times by a cow on a public bridleway on 03 April 2016. The court was told that that an investigation by the HSE had found that despite being near the end of the Easter holidays, the decision was taken to move approximately 16 cows together with a similar number of calves, along the popular bridle path. There were no effective precautions, such as signage and lookouts, to warn walkers of the herd movement. The farm workers accompanying the herd were at the rear and as such were unaware of the family until it was too late.
  • (9) European Active Projects Limited was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay more than £5,500 in costs at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court. The company pleaded guilty to breaching s4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. A member of the public had reported seeing an employee of the company standing on a pallet raised by a forklift truck at Ramsgate Harbour. The worker was part of a team removing equipment from the deck of a boat in the harbour’s slipway and because scaffolding had been removed, they used a forklift to create a mobile platform and were seen to remove items including a heavy pressure washer.

The new year has also already seen a number of significant cases which will no doubt feature in our next case summary but for now, the above should serve as a reminder and indeed a warning that the HSE will not hesitate to take action against those who do not comply and adhere to their health and safety obligations. From large corporations to small businesses and even local authorities, nobody can or should shirk their responsibilities.

As recognised in our previous blogs, different people and different organisations inevitably have their own views on the HSE and what they represent but the fact is that they are the authority responsible for overseeing and enforcing the laws and regulations around health and safety; they will do so robustly and without prejudice 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 not only practical but beneficial business reasons for getting things right. It may go without saying but 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.

Similarly, for those who do take the health, safety and welfare of their workforce seriously, the chances are 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, will very often not have the resources to employ a full-time health and safety specialist; this does not absolve the responsibilities and whilst some may argue the fairness of it, the obligations remain the same.

How can we help?

As can be seen from the examples above, the nature, size and scale of the business, company or indeed local authority involved is of little concern to the HSE. Put simply nobody can afford to

disregard or attempt to pay lip service to safety policies and procedures, as to do so can be very costly and may even spell the end for some.

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.

Gareth Martin

Gareth Martin

Partner

Manchester

Head Office

London

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