Health and Safety Update – Recent Prosecutions

Written 15th May 2024 by Gareth Martin

Further to our last health and safety update which looked at prosecutions from October – December 2023, below we take a look at some of the most notable health and safety prosecutions that have concluded since then. Whilst it really should not be needed, this summary should serve as a reminder to businesses and individuals as to why it is so important to keep on top of health and safety obligations. 

January  

  1. A construction company and a roofing contractor were fined following an incident which left a roofer with multiple fractures to both legs. He along with two other roofers had been working on a modular building roof on 29 September 2020 when an unexpected flare from a gas gun caused him to stumble and fall from the edge of the unprotected roof. An HSE investigation found that the companies involved had failed to adequately plan, appropriately supervise and ensure that the work was carried out in a safe manner. Property Facilities Group Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £14,000; the company was also ordered to pay over £1,600 in costs at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 19 January 2024. Horizon Roofing Specialist Limited, pleaded guilty to the same offence and were fine £3,333 and ordered to pay similar costs.
  2. On 24 January 2024, Brightside Motors Ltd was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay more than £3,000 in costs at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The case related to the poor state of the welfare facilities provided for staff including a lack of clean, hot and cold water, no soap and no toilet paper. Despite multiple visits by the HSE and ample opportunity to put things right, the company failed to take appropriate action and so the HSE instigated proceedings.
  3. Ward Recycling Limited, was found guilty of breaching s1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, as well as, s2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. They were fined £1.75m for the corporate manslaughter and £400,000 for breaching the health and safety regulations at Middlesbrough Crown Court on 26 January 2024.The case was brought following a joint police and HSE investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of an agency worker who was killed by a loading shovel at the company’s site in Hartlepool. The investigation found that the company which has since gone into liquidation, had failed to protect pedestrians from the mobile plant operations on site. There were no suitable traffic management plans in place thereby increasing the risks already associated with moving vehicles including loading shovels which are particularly dangerous when adequate segregation is not in place. 

February  

  1. M A Forshaw Limited of Scarisbrick, Lancashire were fined £320,000 and ordered to pay over £4,500 in costs at Wirral Magistrates’ Court on 01 February 2024. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, following the death of a worker at a site in Burscough. Mr Schlachter suffered severe head injuries when he fell from a skip at the farm operated by the company in January 2020. He had been tipping food waste into a skip from a container attached to a forklift when a container slipped from the forklift, causing him to fall to the ground, resulting in fatal head injuries. An HSE investigation found that the company had not fully assessed the risks involved with the task, had failed to properly maintain equipment and failed to properly instruct staff on safe working practices.
  2. A farmer from North Yorkshire was fined £770.50 and ordered to pay costs of more than £4,500 having pleaded guilty to breaching s3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This particular case serves as a reminder to both farmers and members of the public alike as to just how dangerous cattle can be. A woman and her friend had been walking a pet dog on 25 July 2021 when their route took them across some fields and public rights of way near Shaws Farm. They came across a number of cows with calves and although they were able to initially give some a wide berth, they and their dog were subsequently attacked. They were knocked to the ground and trampled before making good their escape by climbing a nearby tree. An HSE investigation found that insufficient measures had been taken to protect members of the public from the cattle and calves. It was also discovered that a warning sign had been destroyed previously and not replaced.
  3. The case of Anthony Rice from Peterborough is a reminder for all to only engage the services of fully trained and qualified professionals. Mr Rice, trading as Rice Plumbing and Oil Heating carried out work at a property in January 2023, including replacing a gas boiler and associated gas pipe work. It transpired that Rice actually connected the gas supply with water resulting in the gas pipes and gas meter flooding. Gas engineers who attended the property needed to pump water from the emergency control valve and replace the gas meter. The engineers classed the boiler installed by Rice as immediately dangerous and notified the HSE. The HSE investigation which followed found that Mr Rice was not only not registered with the Gas Safe Register (a legal requirement) but he had no training or qualifications in gas work. He was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to breaches of Regulation 3(1) and 3(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, contrary to s33(1) (c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Mr Price was sentence to six months in prison, suspended for six months at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court on 26 February 2024; he was also ordered to pay £3,000 in costs. 

 March  

  1. Aberla M&E Limited were fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs at Manchester Magistrates’ Court on 14 March 2024.  The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The prosecution stemmed from an incident in May 2020 when a worker sustained serious burns to his arms and face whilst working on a new apartment block in Salford. An HSE investigation found that the company had incorrectly assumed that a guard panel was sufficient separation between workers and nearby bus bars which were live with electricity. No permits to work on or near live components were issued, resulting in the main switchboard being left life and there was a lack of live works monitoring by the company. The HSE stated that the incident could have been avoided had the company actively monitored and managed procedures on site.
  2. Stateside Foods Limited of Westhoughton, Bolton pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and were fined £800,000 and ordered to pay £5, 340 at Bolton Crown Court on 15 March 2024. The prosecution was brought following an HSE investigation which found that the company did not adequately guard machinery. The investigation also discovered that they did not provide suitable and sufficient checks to ensure that protective measures were working effectively and allowed disabling of guarding systems, as well as, access to dangerous parts of machinery. The investigation was initiated following two separate incidents in 2020 when two employees were caught up in machinery at the Bolton site. One of employees required skin graft surgery to his arm whilst the other had their middle finger severed after their hand was caught between a roller and conveyor belt.
  3. Erith Plant Services Limited pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; they were fined £175,000 and ordered to pay more than £37,000 in costs at Woolwich Crown Court on 27 March 2024. The prosecution followed the death of an employee who was crushed by an excavator attachment in September 2021. The HSE investigation into the incident found that the company had failed to ensure that there was a safe method of work whilst loading and unloading excavators and attachments. It also concluded that the company had failed to ensure that sufficient steps were taken to ensure HGV drivers fully engaged the quick hitch when moving attachments. In addition, there was no suitable supervision of work activities and no defined segregation between vehicles and pedestrians at the firm’s workshop.  

Thoughts…. 

As recognised in our previous blogs, different people and different organisations inevitably have their own views on the HSE and what they represent but, put simply, nobody can afford to ignore the fact that that the HSE is responsible for overseeing and enforcing the laws and regulations around health and safety. The examples above highlight that they will do so robustly and without prejudice so individuals and business must not shirk or even try to pay lip service to their obligations. 

As we have said before, good health and safety practices need not be considered a burden. As obvious as it may be, 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.  Getting it right avoids this. 

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.  

The future…. 

The examples above show that there are similarities in the types of cases which the HSE pursue by way of prosecution including, for example falls from height, crushing and cases which result in deaths and this will no doubt continue. We are also likely to see continued sector focused campaigns on a rolling basis such as Dust, Asbestos, Agriculture.  

We can also see the scope for an increased focus on workplace mental health and wellbeing although how that will develop is perhaps something that will require external input from the likes of mental health charities, the NHS, Unions etc. to ensure that any revised approach is informed and appropriate. 

Martyn’s Law is a topic in itself and one wholly deserving of its own legislation to address preparedness for a terrorist attack. That being said employers ought to be aware that their obligations around protecting employees and non-employees including from the risk of terrorism is not something which should be ignored pending the new legislation.  Putting simple but effective methods in place now will afford those involved a greater degree of control over timetabling and costs; not only that but it is also likely to give staff, patrons and visitors to premises increased confidence to attend time and again, safe in the knowledge that the operator is taking responsibility for keeping them safe from the ever present and evolving terrorist threats, without compulsion 

How can we help? 

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

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London

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