Health and Safety – October 2017

Print publication


£1 million-plus fines continue to mount up, sentencing round-up and “Thriving at Work” mental health review.

£1 million-plus fines continue to mount up

Two companies were fined a total of £2.5 million after a worker died when a concrete panel, weighing about 11 tonnes, toppled while he was working in a mobile elevating work platform.  The panel was stored on a transport pallet and knocked the work platform, throwing the worker from it.  Another panel fell on top of him.  The worker was employed by Explore Manufacturing Limited, which shared responsibility for the maintenance of the transport pallets with the supplier, Select Plant Hire Company Limited.  Both companies were also ordered to pay costs of £13,922.  An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the frame used to secure the panel was not properly connected to the pallet, there was no system of pre-use checks and the pallets were in a poor condition.  Among other failures, large freestanding concrete panels should have been secured in storage racks and there was a lack of sufficient planning.

Three companies in the energy sector were fined a total of £1,507,500 after a worker suffered a life-changing injury to his leg when he was taking part in a pressure test of a boiler at Sembcorp Utilities (UK) Limited’s Biomass Power Station in Cleveland.  The HSE told the court that a valve on a pressure test rig was pressurised above the safe working limit and failed.  Sembcorp’s fine was £1,350,000, with costs of £33,000.

Other sentencing news

Accrol Group Holdings plc announced that its directly owned subsidiary, soft tissue products manufacturer Accrol Papers Limited, pleaded guilty following an incident in which an employee sustained a serious injury to his finger, and that the HSE has indicated it is seeking a fine in the range of £550,000 to £2.9 million.  It says that the court has stated the company will receive maximum credit for the early guilty plea.  Sentencing is expected in January 2018.

Two construction companies were fined a total of £670,000 and ordered to pay costs of over £30,000 between them, after carbon monoxide entered a property when a live flue was blocked.  An HSE investigation found that the companies had failed to manage the risk involved with the project, which was to remove cowls to redundant flue pipes.  The HSE inspector said: “It is the responsibility of both the principal contractor and subcontractor to ensure that safe systems of work have been identified and adopted. When there is risk of death to members of the public, the safe systems should be well thought through and robust.  The risks associated with blocking a live flue could result in carbon monoxide entering properties and potentially killing all occupants”.

A waste collection and recycling company was fined £500,000 after a worker died following an incident in which he was struck by a reversing telehandler. An HSE investigation found that the company had failed to address the management of large vehicle movements on its site, had not carried out an on-site health and safety inspection, and the driver concerned had not been trained.  The company director was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community service.  The HSE inspector said: “Vehicle movements cause numerous serious injuries and deaths in the waste and recycling sector and in this case, were not controlled even at a basic level at this company’s site…

A road haulage company was fined £170,000 after a worker died following a crush between two articulated vehicles.  An HSE investigation found that the company failed to implement safe systems of work or monitoring arrangements to ensure that its drivers were consistently undertaking coupling and uncoupling operations safely, in line with widely available industry guidance.

A demolition company was fined £150,000 after a worker suffered life-changing injuries when the company’s managing director dropped a steel girder onto his arms while operating machinery.  The director was sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment suspended for two years, and ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

Wrexham County Borough Council was fined £150,000 after an employee from its StreetScene department was diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome.  An HSE investigation found that the Council had failed to address this issue following an audit in February 2011, which identified a failure to assess the risk to employees from vibration. The HSE inspector said: “This employee now suffers from a long term, life changing illness. The council should have implemented the policy they devised following the audit in 2011. Workers’ health should not be made worse by the work they do; all employees have the right to go home healthy at the end of the working day”.

“Thriving at Work” review of mental health and employers published

The Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health have published the results of an independent review of mental health and employers by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer.  The review was carried out at the request of the Prime Minister, looking at “how employers can better support all individuals currently in employment including those with mental ill health or poor well-being to remain in and thrive through work”.  The authors say that the study has led them to conclude that “underneath the stigma that surrounds mental health and prevents open discussion on the subject, the UK faces a significant mental health challenge at work”.  The review sets out the following mental health core standards, which the authors say can be adopted across all workplaces at little or no cost:

  • produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan;
  • develop mental health awareness among employees;
  • encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
  • provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
  • promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
  • routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

The executive summary on pages 5 to 11 sets out further details, including other recommendations for employers, for the public sector and for government, and the importance of transparency and leadership. Chapter 3 looks at the costs of mental illness, including the economic costs to employers.