Health, Safety and Environmental – January 2019

Health & Safety Inspector Print publication


Thames Water’s £2 million fine; other sentencing news; Food Standards Agency consultations, including allergen labelling; investment in robotics.Walker Morris risk series stamp

Thames Water hit with £2 million fine for breaching environmental law…

Thames Water was fined £2 million and ordered to pay full costs of just under £80,000 after raw sewage polluted two streams in Oxfordshire for up to 24 hours, killing almost 150 fish and flooding a residential garden. There had been numerous failures in the management of a sewage pumping station operated by the company, which had ignored or failed to respond adequately to more than 1,000 alarms. Investigations by the Environment Agency (EA) found that the company was aware that the pumping station had failed several times in the year before the incident, which was described as “foreseeable and avoidable”. The sentencing judge said that the company was “reckless” by taking an unacceptable level of risk with the environment. See the full EA press release for details.

…while £1 million-plus fines for health and safety offences continue to bite

Two companies were fined £1 million and £533,000 respectively and ordered to pay £40,000 each in costs after a five year old girl died when her head became stuck between the internal lift she was using and the ground floor ceiling at her home. She had put her head through a hole in the vision panel, which had not been fixed or replaced since it was damaged up to 18 months earlier. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a “catalogue of failures” by both companies and a third company which was responsible for arranging lift maintenance issues.

Waste and recycling company Veolia ES (UK) Limited was fined £1 million, and ordered to pay costs of £130,000, after an employee died when he was run over by a reversing refuse collection vehicle. Multiple vehicles were manoeuvring around the yard with no specific controls. The HSE inspector said: “This should be a reminder to all industries, but in particular, the waste industry, to appropriately assess the risks and implement widely recognised control measures to adequately control manoeuvring vehicles, in particular reversing vehicles and restrict pedestrian movements around vehicles”.

Other sentencing news

An NHS Trust was fined £300,000, and ordered to pay costs of £28,000, after a health care assistant and a psychiatric nurse were stabbed multiple times by a service user at a medium secure forensic unit, suffering life-changing injuries. The health care assistant had been preparing sandwiches in the kitchen and had left knives on the work surface. An HSE investigation found that there was no patient specific risk assessment identifying the risks posed by a patient and the measures required to control those risks prior to admission to the ward. It also found that the use of knives on an acute ward was fundamentally unsafe.

A London construction company was also fined £300,000, and ordered to pay just over £17,500 in costs, after an employee died when he fell from a height of seven and a half metres. An HSE investigation found that the work was not properly planned, adequately supervised or carried out in a safe manner. The HSE inspector said: “The risks associated with work at height are well known throughout the construction industry. While, on paper, Formation Construction Limited had identified control measures which could have prevented this incident from occurring; in practice, these safeguards were virtually absent”.

A company director was sentenced to ten months in prison for selling prohibited substances online in breach of regulations. The company had ignored enforcement notices served by the HSE to prohibit further supply. The HSE inspector said: “Companies should be aware that HSE will take robust action against those who unnecessarily put the lives of workers and the public at risk, and against those who endanger the environment, through the inappropriate supply and use of chemicals”.

Food Standards Agency consults on new recalls and withdrawals guidance and allergen labelling

On 7 January 2019, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued a consultation asking food businesses, enforcement officers and consumers to provide feedback on its new guidance on food traceability, withdrawals and recalls within the UK food industry. The consultation is open until 4 February 2019. See the press release for more details and a link through to the consultation document.

On 25 January 2019, the FSA issued a second consultation, this one dealing with plans to improve allergen labelling laws across the UK. The consultation is open for a nine week period, and the main issue is the rule concerning foods prepacked for direct sale which are currently not required to carry allergen information. Stakeholder workshops will be held to feed into the final report. See the press release for more details and a link through to the consultation document. The consultation follows a number of recent tragic incidents widely reported in the media.

Government invests in robotics to avoid workplace injury

As part of a £26.6 million investment, which includes building micro robots to repair the UK’s underground pipe network, robotics will be used in hazardous work environments such as offshore wind farms and nuclear decommissioning facilities, to avoid workplace injury. The funding for these projects is part of the modern Industrial Strategy published last year. The HSE Chair said: “The key purpose of the [HSE] is to save lives and prevent workplace injury and ill health. To achieve this, we need businesses to work with us and to be innovative in their thinking around managing risk in the workplace. New and emerging technologies are shaping our working environment. As a regulator we want to encourage industry to think about how technologies such as robotics and AI [artificial intelligence] can be used to manage risk in the workplace, safeguarding workers both now and in the future world of work”. See the full press release for details.

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence.