Health and Safety – November/December 2017

Print publication


Sentencing update, interim report on building regulations and fire safety and looking ahead to 2018.

2017 draws to a close with no let-up in £1 million-plus fines

In a prosecution brought by the UK’s rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), London & Southeastern Railway Limited and cleaning company Wetton Cleaning Services Limited were fined a total of £3.6 million following the death of a train cleaner who fell on the live rail.  ORR inspectors “found a culture of cutting corners, which exposed workers to serious risks”.  See the ORR press release here.

A principal contractor was fined £3 million and ordered to pay full costs after a worker died while carrying out demolition activities at a recycling site in Wales. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) principal inspector said that it was “clear there was a wholesale failure to manage health and safety” and that the company “put cost-cutting ahead of health and safety”.  The site owner was fined £75,000 for failing to adequately supervise and monitor the demolition activities and was also fined £150,000 after a separate HSE investigation found that it had failed to report a number of incidents, including that two workers had been diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. The company was ordered to pay full costs.

National kitchen manufacturer and supplier Howdens was fined £1.2 million after an agency driver was fatally crushed when a forklift truck overturned at the company’s Workington site.  The HSE inspector said: “This tragic incident could have been avoided if Howden Joinery Ltd had implemented a safe procedure to ensure that pedestrians were kept at a safe distance during loading and unloading work. Duty holders should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards”.

Focus on the waste and recycling industry

A waste management company in the North East was fined £900,000 after a sub-contractor suffered an electric shock when he cut through a live cable while removing an item of industrial equipment.  He had been told it was safe to start the work.  An HSE investigation found that the company had failed to adequately plan and manage the work.

A Kent-based recycling company was fined £666,700 after a worker suffered life threatening head injuries when he was struck by the boom of a telehandler.  An HSE investigation found that the company failed to suitably plan the management and overseeing of workplace transport activities on site, and its employees had not received the appropriate level of training.

A clothing and textile recycling company was fined £650,000 after an 89-year old worker was fatally struck by a reversing delivery vehicle driven by a visiting driver to the site.  An HSE investigation found that the company had failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks arising from vehicle movement.

A company was fined £255,000 for corporate manslaughter and its director sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment suspended for two years and 300 hours of community service after a factory worker was fatally crushed when he fell into a trommel – a piece of machinery used to sort waste material – at a recycling yard. An investigation found that there was no safe system of work for the trommel and it was in a dangerous state.  The company director was disqualified for eight years.

The HSE has announced that it will be taking the lead on an investigation into the deaths of five workers who were killed when a wall collapsed on them at a metal recycling plant in Birmingham in July 2016.

Other sentencing news

Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust was fined £333,333 and ordered to repay £130,000 in costs after five elderly patients died as a result of falling while being cared for in hospitals run by the Trust. In his sentencing remarks, the judge noted that the Sentencing Guidelines provide that there should normally be a reduction in the level of fine to take account of the fact that a defendant is a public body. The level of reduction is at the discretion of the sentencing judge in the light of all the circumstances. The judge began by considering the level of fine which would have been appropriate if the Trust had been a private company.  This was a medium culpability category 2 case (with a starting point of £600,000 and a range of £300,000 to £1,500,000). Taking into account all of the significant harm factors and aggravating and mitigating factors, he decided that the proper starting level of fine would have been £1 million.  This figure was reduced by one third to £666,666 because of the Trust’s cooperation and early guilty plea.  This figure was then reduced by 50% to reflect the Trust’s financial circumstances (a ‘large’ organisation under the Guidelines with a significant level of revenue but running at a deficit) and the fact that it was a public health care body.

Associated British Ports was fined £666,000 after an employee suffered multiple injuries when a 600 kilogram bag of fertiliser fell on him while he was removing pallets from the front of a stack. An HSE investigation found that the company had failed to follow its own risk assessments (bags were not stacked according to industry guidance) and failed to review its stacking practice after earlier incidents.

A healthcare provider was fined £550,000 after it failed to appoint sufficient professionals to run the internal occupational health service, compromising the health and safety of employees, patients and general members of the public, and failed to provide adequate health surveillance for its workers.

The HSE was issued with a Crown Censure (the maximum sanction a government body can receive) after one of its laboratory workers suffered serious burns when conducting an experiment.

Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: interim report published

In July 2017, the government announced an independent review of building regulations and fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.  The terms of reference for the review were published on 30 August 2017.  The interim report setting out the findings to date and the direction of travel for the final report was published on 18 December 2017.  A summary can be found on pages 9 and 10.  The review to date has found that “the current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose”.  The conclusion is that “this is a call to action for an entire industry and those parts of government that oversee it. True and lasting change will require a universal shift in culture. The industry has shown this is possible in the way the health and safety of construction workers has seen a positive transformation in culture and practice over the last decade. This change needs to start now”.

Looking ahead to 2018

  • The final report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety is expected in spring 2018. A summit with key stakeholders will be called in early 2018.
  • We await the outcome of the Sentencing Council’s consultation on a draft sentencing guideline for gross negligence manslaughter (see the August 2017 edition of the Regulatory round-up).
  • The government is due to respond to the report of the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety (see the July 2017 edition of the Regulatory round-up).