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Health and Safety – February 2017

Print publication

01/03/2017

Sentencing news and recent cases, product recalls and safety.

Sentencing

National furniture chain DFS Trading Limited is the latest company to be fined £1 million or more for health and safety offences. It was fined £1 million after a worker suffered serious neck and head injuries when unloading wooden furniture frames at one of its sites. The court heard that a number of near misses had been reported in relation to unsecured loads. The inspector for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said: “DFS is a large national organisation. The fundamental and systemic failings identified in their health and safety management systems is far from what would be expected from a company of their size who has the ability to deliver higher standards of safety”. Other high-profile companies on the receiving end of substantial fines recently include Wilko Retail Limited (£2.2 million) and Warburtons Limited (£2 million). It is notable that in each case the offence did not result in a fatality. These are only the latest in an increasing number of companies fined £1 million or more since the new sentencing guidelines came into force in England and Wales in February 2016.

A construction equipment hire company was fined £800,000 after a worker died when the hydraulic cylinder he was testing cracked under pressure causing a piece of metal to strike him in the head. The HSE investigation found, among other things, that the company did not have adequate supervision in place for the task and had failed to inform the worker of the safe working pressure for the cylinder.

A London bus company was fined £600,000 after a worker was killed falling from a ladder. The HSE investigation found that the company did not implement and keep to its own procedures for managing contractors.

The director of a construction company has been imprisoned for eight months and disqualified from being a company director for seven years after failure to take appropriate action resulted in a worker receiving serious burns. The HSE inspector involved said: “We hope this sentence sends out a message that directors of businesses must take their health and safety responsibilities seriously”. This case serves as a reminder that, under section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, individuals can also be held criminally liable where the company’s offence is proved to have been committed “with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity”. Where the company’s affairs are managed by its members, the same applies in relation to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with their functions of management as if they were a director. A director convicted of such a breach can also be disqualified from being a director for a maximum of 15 years.

Recent cases have stressed the importance of proper planning:

  • A London construction firm was fined £450,000 after four workers fell more than three and a half metres whilst carrying a ventilation unit on an overloaded working platform. Neither the work at height nor the lifting operations were planned properly and the safety failings were severe. The HSE inspector said that the incident “highlights the importance of planning work, in this case both for lifting operations and working from height, to ensure it is carried out safely”.
  • A self-employed businessman received a suspended sentence after an employee fell from the roof he was working on and died. A joint police and HSE investigation found that the work was not properly planned in order to ensure it could be carried out safely.

Product recalls and safety

Consumer group Which? says that the government must urgently address issues with the product safety system, after Trading Standards took enforcement action against Whirlpool in relation to long-running fire safety concerns with certain models of tumble dryer. Which? has now dropped its judicial review action against Trading Standards after Whirlpool changed its advice to customers, telling them to unplug and not use the affected appliances until they are repaired. Which? is still pressing for a full product recall and a petition calling on the government to urge Whirlpool UK to recall all faulty tumble dryers has received over 57,000 signatures.  The government has responded and, if the number of signatures reaches 100,000, the petition will be considered for parliamentary debate.

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