Health and Safety – June/July 2019

fork lift truck driver discussing checklist with foreman in warehouse Print publication


Walker Morris risk series stampConsultation on new building safety regime; £5 million and other £1 million-plus fines; new food labelling law; and more.

Government consults on new building safety regime

The government has been consulting on proposals for the reform of the building safety regulatory system, just over a year since the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report on building regulations and fire safety in the wake of the June 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster. This quick-read guide sets out a summary of the government’s proposals. The new regime will be for buildings that are lived in by multiple households and 18 metres (6 storeys) high or more, but the government wants to design a flexible system that can adapt and expand to cover more buildings over time.

The proposals include the introduction of dutyholders who will be responsible for making sure buildings are safe at different stages of the building’s life cycle. The ‘accountable person’ in an occupied high rise building will have specific duties to residents, who are at the heart of the new system. The government is proposing to set up a single building safety regulator, and to introduce measures for the stronger regulation of construction products. In terms of enforcement, the proposals include the creation of new criminal offences to make sure that those responsible for the safety of a high rise residential building during the design and construction of the building, as well as when residents are living in it, comply with their responsibilities.

Consultation responses will be analysed over summer 2019 and a government response will follow.

Alongside the consultation paper, the government issued a call for evidence on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which regulates fire safety in workplaces and the parts used in common in multi-occupied residential buildings.

In a report published on 18 July 2019, the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee says that the government has been “far too slow” in reforming the building and fire safety regime and is still not doing enough to remove dangerous cladding from existing buildings.

In related news, new editions of volumes 1 and 2 of the building regulations guidance on fire safety (Approved Document B) will come into force on 30 August 2019 (see the circular letter). No new policy is being introduced – a separate call for evidence on the technical review of Approved Document B closed on 15 March 2019 and the responses are being considered.

£5 million fine for energy company after fatal explosion…

Valero Energy UK Ltd was fined £5 million (and ordered to pay costs of £1 million) following an explosion at an oil refinery in Pembrokeshire in 2011 which killed four workers and seriously injured another. This is one of the highest fines imposed for health and safety breaches since the new sentencing guideline came into force in February 2016. The five workers were emptying a tank using a vacuum tanker when an explosion took place, resulting in a fireball. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the explosion was most likely to have been initiated by the ignition of a highly flammable atmosphere within the tank, during what should have been a routine emptying operation in preparation for further cleaning and maintenance. There had also been longstanding failures within the refinery safety management systems, meaning that the risks posed were not understood or controlled. Chevron operated the refinery at the time of the incident, but Valero became the new owner a few months later. A second company, which was a long-term contractor carrying out the work, was fined £120,000 (with costs of £40,000).

…as number of £1 million-plus fines continues to rise

A car and commercial vehicle component manufacturer was fined £1 million after two employees suffered significant burn injuries when the vapour of a flammable chemical ignited and caused an explosion during the cleaning of a distillation tank at the company’s site in Gloucestershire. The HSE investigation found that no risk assessment for the cleaning procedure or planning for the use of the chemical had been undertaken and no safe system of work had been put in place.

Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd was fined £1 million (with costs of over £52,000) after a passenger died when his head passed through a droplight window and struck a trackside gantry while he was travelling on a Gatwick Express train in August 2016. An investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found that there had been a similar incident in 2002, with enforcement action taken against train operator South Central. The ORR said that the risks associated with droplight windows should have been identified by a suitable risk assessment, and control measures introduced accordingly. However, Govia Thameslink failed to take the appropriate action.

In related news, the ORR warned the rail industry to refocus its efforts on safety as it published its Annual Report on Health and Safety. See the press release.

‘Natasha’s Law’ to be introduced for food labelling

On 25 June 2019, the former Environment Secretary announced a new law which will require food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods. The law is named after the teenager who tragically died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette bought at Heathrow Airport in July 2016. Legislation will be introduced by the end of summer 2019 mandating full ingredients labelling for foods prepacked for direct sale, and will come into force by summer 2021.

HSE releases annual workplace fatality figures

The HSE recently released its annual figures for work-related fatal injuries for 2018/19. 147 workers were fatally injured between April 2018 and March 2019. Although this was an increase from 2017/18, the HSE says that the number has remained broadly level in recent years and there has been a long-term reduction in the number of fatalities since 1981. The figures show that agriculture, forestry and fishing and construction are the sectors that continue to account for the largest share of fatal injuries to workers. Agriculture, forestry and fishing and waste and recycling are the worst affected sectors, with a rate of fatal injury which is 18 times as high as the average across all industries respectively. The three most common causes of fatal injuries continue to be workers falling from height, being struck by a moving vehicle, and being struck by a moving object.

Whirlpool recalls tumble dryers following government intervention

Following an intervention by the Office for Product Safety and Standards, Whirlpool has issued a product recall of tumble dryers not yet modified from consumers’ homes. The recall relates to long-running fire safety concerns with certain models of tumble dryer. See the press release.

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