Health and Safety – April 2017

Print publication


Focus on £1 million-plus fines for health and safety offences, product recalls and safety and more.

Sentencing – April 2017 sees three fines of £1 million or more

Twenty fines of £1 million or more have been imposed for health and safety offences since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced in February 2016. In a stark warning to businesses and local government, three of these were recently imposed in a period of less than one month.

On 3 April 2017, oil company Essar Oil (UK) Limited was fined  £1.65 million following an explosion at a refinery in Ellesmere Port, which caused damage totalling more than £20 million.  There were no injuries.  The incident was reported to the EU as a major accident under schedule 7 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999.  A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the company failed to take all measures necessary to prevent or mitigate a major accident.  Significantly, the HSE Principal Inspector said: “The industry should take notice of this case, there were no injuries but mistakes were made and could have been prevented.

On 19 April 2017, Nottinghamshire County Council was fined £1 million after a vehicle driven by a worker collecting branches in a park, collided with a disabled member of the public, causing serious bruising and injuries.  The HSE inspector said: “The failure to properly plan this work and put in place straight forward control measures not only put the gentleman at risk but also endangered other members of the public walking with him. Duty holders have the responsibility to assess the work they do in public areas to lower the risk of harm and injury, particularly when they introduce new plant or equipment.”

Two days later, South West Water Limited was fined £1.8 million after an employee drowned while working on a sand filtration unit at one of the company’s waste water treatment works.  The HSE investigation found that the company failed to identify the risk of drowning with the maintenance activity which was undertaken by the employee and his colleagues on a regular basis.  The HSE inspector said that the employee “was exposed to the risk of drowning which could have been easily controlled if the task had been properly planned and simple measures adopted earlier.”

Product recalls and safety

We have reported in previous editions on the product recall issues surrounding faulty Whirlpool tumble dryers. Consumer group Which?, among others, has been pressing the government to urgently address issues with the product safety system, after Trading Standards took enforcement action against Whirlpool earlier this year.  A petition calling on the government to urge Whirlpool UK to recall all faulty tumble dryers received over 100,000 signatures and a parliamentary debate was held on 26 April 2017 (see the House of Commons Library Debate Pack here).

A government-backed working group on product recalls and safety was set up in October 2016. The working group is tasked with developing options to improve the system of product recalls and safety. It is due to provide a full set of recommendations and a report of its findings in spring 2017.

Thousands from UK construction sector stand-down for health and safety campaign

On 18 April 2017, thousands of construction workers took part in the first UK-wide health and safety stand-down under the Stop. Make a Change initiative, which was launched in November 2016 and is aimed at promoting health and wellbeing in infrastructure.  More than thirty of the fifty organisations which have signed up to the initiative are making specific commitments in the areas of mental health, fatigue, plant safety and respiratory health.