Health and Safety – November/December 2019

Two Health & Safety Inspectors in hard hats overlooking some papers Print publication


Sentencing update, including latest £1 million-plus fine; online marketplaces and product safety policy paper; and more.

Latest £1 million-plus fine and other sentencing news

Hampshire County Council was fined £1.4 million after a six-year old girl suffered a life-changing head injury when the street bollard she was playing on, which was damaged and not appropriately secured, fell to the ground. The investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that insufficient information, instruction and training was provided to those carrying out inspections, and the inspection guidance was misleading. The matter had been reported to the Council previously, and monthly scheduled inspections had failed to identify the issue.

A property management and development company was fined £600,000 after five employees, who used vibrating powered tools to carry out grounds maintenance tasks, developed Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. The HSE investigation found that the company had failed to assess or manage the risks associated with vibrating tools, to provide suitable training or health surveillance for its maintenance workers, or to maintain and replace tools which increased vibration levels.

Thames Water Utilities Limited was fined £300,000 after three workers were carried along a sewer when a 150-year old gate collapsed, engulfing them. The HSE investigation found, among other things, that the company had no effective means of collating, comparing and adapting to the impact of multiple work activities.

A construction company was fined £225,000 after a worker died when the front tipping dumper truck he was manoeuvring on a spoil heap overturned following a loss of control. The HSE investigation found major deficiencies in the management of tipping operations on the spoil heaps. The HSE inspector said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the employer to assess the risk related to tipping operations, implement safe systems of work, and failure to ensure that such systems were communicated to groundworkers and were followed”.

Which? publishes policy paper on online marketplaces and product safety

On 20 November 2019, consumer organisation Which? published a policy paper on online marketplaces and product safety. It says that research and testing regularly finds large numbers of unsafe consumer products being sold via sellers on online marketplaces, and that this “Wild West” of product safety requires a more proactive approach by the marketplaces and a robust response by regulators to meet consumers’ expectations and ensure their safety. Which? is calling for regulation to strengthen the legal responsibilities of online marketplaces and ensure that public authorities have adequate powers, tools and resources to require action from marketplaces when consumers are put at risk. In the meantime, it says that clearer government guidance is needed in line with the Codes of Practice envisaged in the government’s Online Harms White Paper. Conclusions and recommendations are set out on page 21 of the policy paper onwards. See the press release with a link through to the document.

Commons Select Committee calls for independent national safety body

On 1 November 2019, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee published its report on the safety of electrical goods in the UK. The report, which focuses to a large extent on what is described as “the Whirlpool tumble-dryer saga”, also scrutinises the role of the government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), which was set up in January 2018. The Committee says that the failings of OPSS in dealing with the Whirlpool issue question the body’s authority, independence and transparency. Among other things, it says that OPSS has not yet delivered a fully operational and credible hub for consumers to register their electrical goods and access information on recalls, a comprehensive injury database or indelible marking for electrical goods, and has not made enough progress on the sale of recalled second-hand electrical goods or those that do not meet safety standards. It says that the failure to make more progress in these areas and to tackle manufacturers such as Whirlpool is exacerbated by OPSS’s lack of civil sanctions. The Committee’s Chair said: “The major product safety issues raised by Whirlpool have also highlighted the need for a tough and independent national safety body with the teeth to stand up for consumers. [OPSS] is not fit-for-purpose and should be scrapped. It should be replaced by a truly independent body, equipped with the full array of powers necessary to ensure that people have confidence in the safety of electrical goods in their homes”. See the press release with a link through to the report.