Between April 2019 and March 2020 the HSE and COPFS (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) in Scotland, prosecuted 325 cases that resulted in a conviction. Below are some examples of the health and safety fines issued and the failures, oversights or poor practices found by HSE investigations.
£2m Fine Following Fatal Incident
In June 2017, an employee of Leadec Limited was using high-pressure water jetting equipment to clear paint residue from pipes in the paint shop at a car manufacturing site in Solihull. During the process, the end of a flexi-lance struck him, causing a fatal injury.
A HSE investigation discovered that the company recognised the risks of operating high-pressure water jetting equipment, but had failed to put in place appropriate measures to mitigate the risks. Training and supervision were inadequate, and the company had not implemented or enforced the use of control measures. These included using a pressure regulator or an anti-ejection device, which were missing at the time of the incident.
Leadec Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The court fined the company £2,000,000 and ordered payment of £30,000 in costs.
Following the hearing, a HSE Inspector said: “Companies must understand that high-risk activities require a thorough risk assessment process and robust management systems to protect their employees from the risk of serious or fatal injuries. It is not good enough for companies to assume they are doing all they can to control the risk just because there have been no previous incidents.”
Fines Following Forklift Incidents
As reported in a previous article, the rate of forklift related accidents has been increasing. In the past year, there have been several fines related to such accidents, including:
On 13th October 2016, a forklift driver was unloading goods from the trailer of a large goods vehicle (LGV). The LGV drove forward whilst his forks were inside the trailer to remove a pallet, tipping the forklift onto its side. The forklift driver was not wearing his seatbelt correctly and tried to jump clear but sustained fatal head injuries. A HSE investigation found that the system used for moving LGV’s through the warehouse was unsafe. The company’s risk assessment failed to identify the risk of an LGV driving away whilst being loaded or unloaded. The company also failed to recognise that the system of work being followed differed from those documented, including the monitoring and supervision of wearing seatbelts correctly when operating forklift trucks. Fortec Distribution Network Limited of High Wycombe pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974. The court fined them £107,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,436.97
A manufacturer of metal pressings and sub-assemblies for the automotive industry was fined after a forklift truck struck a worker, causing a serious brain injury in November 2018. The worker had to be placed in an induced coma. The HSE found there had been inadequate control of workplace transport risks, including lack of segregation between vehicles and pedestrians. There were also no safe pedestrian crossings where vehicle and pedestrian routes crossed and insufficient safety signage to highlight hazards. G-Tekt Europe Manufacturing Limited was found guilty of breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and was fined £525,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,014.40.
A reversing forklift truck struck a FedEx employee as they walked across the depot at Burntwood Business Park on 2nd November 2017. The employee sustained fractures to his arm and soft tissue injuries to his legs, forcing him to take several months off work. The HSE found a risk assessment carried out by the company had not identified the importance of robust segregation in an area of frequent forklift truck movements. Consequently, there was insufficient segregation of forklift trucks and pedestrians. FedEx UK Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and paid a fine of £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,033.39.
At the Dagenham depot of Kuehne and Nagel Drinks Logistics (KNDL), which delivers Heineken, Kronenbourg and Strongbow, an employee nearly lost a leg after being struck by a forklift. The HSE found the company had failed to:
- ensure that drivers and crews were not permitted in the warehouse or yard while forklift trucks were operating
- provide painted floor markings and zebra crossing points
- provide barriers around the whole of the warehouse
- provide separate entrances for vehicles and pedestrians
KNDL admitted health and safety breaches. They were fined £800,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 in costs.
£1.1m Fine After Ladder Accident
Earlier this year we published an article on accidents involving ladders. Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities and injuries. Given that the risks and control measures associated with working at height are well known, they can lead to large fines.
In September 2016, an engineer was testing a sprinkler system for leaks at a site in Hemel Hempstead. He had climbed onto an internal roof and was inspecting the leak from an extension ladder. The ladder slipped away from him, and he fell almost three metres into the gap between the internal roof and the external wall. The worker suffered life-changing injuries, including severe blood loss, and fractured vertebrae. He required a blood transfusion and 14 stitches to his head.
The HSE found that the company had not taken reasonably practicable measures to prevent a fall from the internal roof for both the engineer and other contractors working on the roof. They also found the principal contractor had failed to discharge its duty to ensure those not in their employment were not exposed to risks, in particular that of falling from height.
Modus Workspace Limited was found guilty of breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £1.1 million and ordered to pay costs of £68,116.
Deaths Due To Fatigue
Two men died when their vehicle ploughed into a truck parked in a layby and caught fire. The court believed the accident resulted from their employer, Renown Consultants Limited, failing to ensure the men were sufficiently rested to work and travel safely.
The previous day the driver had left Doncaster at 4.30 am and driven to Alnmouth, Northumberland, arriving at 7.30 am to carry out work on the railway. However, the expected work did not take place. After waiting until midday, the driver started the drive back to Renown’s Doncaster depot. On his way to the depot, the company asked him to take on an overnight railway welding job in Stevenage. He reached the depot at 3 pm. He left with a colleague at 7.18 pm and arrived at the site at 9.47 pm.
The two men then undertook welding jobs from 11.15 pm, leaving the site once they had finished at 3.40 am. The crash occurred at around 5.30 am as they were returning to Doncaster.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) told the court that the driver was suffering the effects of fatigue. He may have fallen asleep at the wheel or experienced micro-sleeps, increasing the risk of a traffic accident.
An investigation found that when Network Rail had asked for an additional welding team in Stevenage, Renown accepted the job before considering if it had sufficiently well-rested employees and before speaking to the driver. The company did not follow its fatigue management procedures. It also did not comply with the working time limits for safety-critical work, such as welding. These insist there should be a ‘minimum rest period of 12 hours between booking off from a turn of duty to booking on for the next’. It also did not conduct a sufficient and suitable risk assessment of the driver’s fatigue.
It also found that the company allowed the 20-year-old driver to use its vehicle, despite the company’s insurance policy stipulating only over 25s may do so. The investigation discovered the company often disregarded this requirement.
The ORR also found that Renown’s policies and procedures were particularly inadequate because employees were on zero-hours contracts. This created an obvious incentive for employees to volunteer for work even if they were too tired, as Renown only paid them for the shifts they worked. Also, the driver, and other trainee welders, were reliant on Renown for gaining the qualifications they needed to qualify as welders, which discouraged them for refusing shifts.
Renown Consultants was found guilty of failing to discharge its duty under Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and was therefore guilty of an offence contrary to Section 33 of the Act. The court fined Renown £450,000 (£150,000 on each of three counts) and ordered them to pay £300,000 in costs. This is the first time that ORR has prosecuted a case concerning failures of fatigue management.
Our article on the symptoms of fatigue includes information on causes, the law, and how employers can help combat fatigue.
£600,000 Fine Following Exposure to Acidic Cleaning Solution
On 1st January 2016, two employees of T M Telford Dairy Ltd were working on a faulty valve at the company site in Donnington Wood.
The valve blew off under pressure, allowing a hot acidic cleaning fluid to surge out, hit the roof and spray on to the workers. They suffered serious burns from the 65°C 1% nitric acid cleaning solution. While trying to escape from the fluid one worker fell from a hooped ladder and sustained a head injury.
The HSE found that the company had failed to ensure the safety of its employees. It had not formally trained the two engineers in lock-off and isolation procedures, safe removal of valves and use of permits to work. There had also been no assessment of the risks in place for the safe removal of valves.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £600,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,379.
Consequences Of Ignoring HSE Notices
A court sentenced a mechanic and landlord based in Kent after he refused to comply with enforcement notices.
In September 2017, the HSE received concerns that workers were accessing a dangerous unguarded flat roof of The Convent of Mercy in Swanley. The premises was a house of multiple occupancy and was being used to store car parts for Smartworld, a car repair and sales business also owned by the landlord.
HSE issued seven enforcement notices, which covered unsafe working at height, dangerous electrical installations, flammable risks and machinery guarding.
Croydon Crown Court heard that the landlord deliberately ignored prohibition and improvement notices served by the HSE and continued to put himself, workers and members of the public at risk.
He later pleaded guilty to non-compliance of notices breaching sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, and the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
The court disqualified him from being a director for six years. He also received two suspended custodial sentences, was sentenced to 300 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £8,000 in costs.