22nd January 2020

Health & Safety – The ‘top 10’ prosecutions of 2019

During 2018 and 2019, total fines for health and safety offences prosecuted by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Scotland) and the HSE (England and Wales) equated to £54.5m, although this was down 25% on the £72.6m for the 2017 / 2018 reporting period.

The ‘top 10’ health and safety prosecutions during 2019, in reverse order, were:

  1. £1m fine for recycling company Veolia following an incident at one of their waste depots when bin lorry reversed into a worker fatally injuring them. HSEs investigation identified that Veolia had not risk assessed yard activities and that vehicles operated on the site without specific control measures in place.

  1. £1m fine for construction company Clancy Docwra after a site operative was fatally injured after being crushed between an excavator mounted attachment and a concrete wall. HSE found that Clancy Docwra failed to inform all site operatives of the specific risks they would face while working on site. In addition to the fine, the site supervisor, who was operating the excavator at the time of the accident, was given a six month custodial sentence (suspended for 12 months).

  1. £1.4m fine for food manufacturing company 2 Sisters Food Group after one of their employees was crushed while trying to clear a blockage on a processing line, the worker sustained a punctured lung and fractures to their back and ribs. HSE concluded that guarding on the machine was insufficient to prevent access to dangerous parts and that it was common practice for blockages to be cleared while machinery was still operational.

  1. £1.4m fine for Hampshire County Council after a six year old girl sustained a fractured skull while leapfrogging a damaged and unsecured street bollard which subsequently collapsed taking the girl along with it. HSEs investigation found that the council had been alerted to the condition of the bollard less than two weeks prior to the incident.

  1. £1.5m fine shared between housing association Synergy Housing (£1m) and their lift maintenance contractor Orona (£553,000) after a five year old girl received fatal head and neck injuries after placing her head through a broken vision panel in a disabled lift in her home which then moved trapping her between the lift and a ground floor ceiling. The housing association were responsible for the safety of the lift and the maintenance contractor was responsible for servicing the lift every six months. HSEs investigation identified a number of failures which contributed to the accident – the girls’ parents had been given no instruction over how to use the lift safely and no risk assessment had been carried out. The vision panel in the lift had been reported as broken 18 months prior to the incident but no action was taken to repair it, servicing and statutory inspections had not been carried out, a key switch had been modified so that the lift could be operated with the key removed and the lift was not equipped with an emergency release handle.

  1. £1.8m fine for food manufacturing company Karro Foods as a result of two workers receiving serious injuries after breaking through a roof light on an asbestos cement roof and falling 4m to the floor below. The skylight had been obscured by moss and dirt which had built up over many years. HSEs investigation found that the Karro Foods were aware that the roof was fragile and that roof lights were present through a previous asbestos survey. The workers however were not made aware that the roof was made of asbestos and fragile nor that there were roof lights in it or of the risks these posed. The investigation indicated systemic failings when it came to work at height activities and while Karro Foods had health and safety procedures in place the application of these had been diminished over time.

  1. £1.8m fine for steel making company Celsa Manufacturing after an explosion resulted in the deaths of two workers and leaving five more seriously injured. Workers were involved in draining hydraulic oil from an accumulator vessel, a flammable atmosphere developed which was then ignited by an electric heater which due to an electrical failure did not switch off when it should have. The procedure which was being carried out at the time of the incident had been developed by the workers through ‘custom and practice’, this informal procedure was not fully understood and nor was it undertaken consistently. HSEs investigation indicated that Celsa Manufacturing failed to risk assesses the activity and that some workers had ‘little of no training’ in the assessment of risks.

  1. £2.6m fine for DHL following the death of a worker at a tyre distribution centre when, an eight high, stack of tyre stillages toppled and the top two (each weighing over half a tonne) fell through an office roof, the worker died in hospital from head trauma and spinal injuries. The investigation by Coventry City Council found that DHL had ‘fundamentally and systematically failed to manage health and safety’ at the site. The court heard that the tyres stillages were stacked too high, the heaviest ones were not stacked at the bottom, the stacks were placed too close to a place where people were working and that workers had not been given instruction as to how to stack the stillages. DHL had failed to carry out a health and safety audit of the site after taking it over from another company.

  1. £2.7m fine for rail freight company DB Cargo after a 13 year old boy suffered life-changing injuries after receiving an electric shock from 22,500 volt overhead line equipment. A group of children entered the rail yard and two boys had climbed on top of a stationary rail wagon, while on top of the wagon one of the boys made contact with the live overhead wire sustaining injury, the second boy received minor burns. The investigation by the Office of Rail and Road found that the rail yard was often visited by trespassers and that DB Cargo failed to ensure the health and safety of non-employees from the risks arising from its activities.

  1. £5m for oil company Chevron following the deaths of four workers in a gas explosion at an oil refinery. The workers had been draining a chemical storage tank, ahead of cleaning and maintenance activities, when flammable gases inside it ignited, a fifth worker sustained life-changing burns. The explosion detached the five tonne roof of the tank propelling it into a butane storage tank 55 metres away. The explosion it was believed was caused by a spark from an unearthed piece of equipment or substances inside the tank spontaneously combusting. The court heard that in the days leading up to the explosion a Chevron worker had carried out a gas test which should have highlighted the presence of a flammable atmosphere but the results were either mis-communicated or not understood and if work had been stopped at this point then the explosion would not have happened. A sub-contractor involved in the cleaning activity (for which two of the deceased worked) were also fined £120,000.

There were a 147 fatal injuries to workers in the 2018 / 2019 reporting period. While fines for fatalities (and non-fatal injuries) have seen a significant increase since the introduction of the Sentencing Guidelines in 2016 (while these guidelines have statutory effect in England and Wales only the Scottish High Court has concluded the guidelines ‘may be noticed for the purpose of sentencing similar cases in Scotland’) the judge in the Chevron case said no fine could ‘reflect the value of someone’s life’ and the reality is that all of these tragedies were avoidable.

If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Gary Foggo.

22nd January 2020