Recent Prosecutions – Can Any Lessons be Learnt?
We keep an eye on reported Health & Safety prosecutions and the following examples should help you focus a bit of attention on Health & Safety, Risk Assessments and Training.
Vehicle’s Faulty Brakes Resulting in Fatalities
An 11 year old 32-tonne truck with faulty brakes killed four people, including a four-year-old girl, when it careered down a steep hill in Bath.
The court heard that the Haulage Company did not carry out the recommended brake efficiency tests on the vehicle, which had almost 450,000 miles on the clock at the time of the incident. The final safety check carried out by the mechanic was described as “wholly inadequate”.
The owner of the haulage company was convicted of four counts of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years and six months in prison; and the mechanic was also convicted of four counts of manslaughter and sentenced to five years and three months.
The lorry driver, was previously cleared by a jury in a separate trial.
MEWP Failure - Fatality
Two people were working in the basket of a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), a cherry picker, at a height of about 30m. One person was operating the platform and his colleague was removing netting from a building’s façade when a section of the cherry picker’s boom buckled causing the basket to crash to the ground seriously injuring the operator and killing his colleague.
A factor in this case was that the same boom had buckled on a previous occasion. The fall on that occasion was halted by the roof of a block of flats. The failure of the boom was never fully investigated but the Company were advised by the manufacturer of the cherry picker to replace the boom. The Company choose to repair it instead.
The company failed in its duty to maintain the cherry picker and ensure that it was in good working order before being hired out; and that the cherry picker was thoroughly inspected at least every six months.
The company director was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for breaches of health and safety law after his company hired out an unsafe cherry picker. The company was also fined £61,000 for failing to ensure that those using the equipment were not exposed to the risk of injury or death, for failing to maintain the equipment and for hiring the cherry picker out when it had not been certified as safe.
Another company, which had been hired to carry out statutory thorough inspections was also fined £30,000 for failing to carry out a thorough examination of the platform and its safety-critical parts.
Inadequate PPE and Risk Assessment
Two employees were cleaning pipework using sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) granules. Water reacted with chemicals in the system causing the liquid to heat up, creating pressure in the hose. The hose then detached and sprayed the two workers with the solution.
One staff member sustained life-threatening burns to one side of his face, his neck, back, arms, buttocks and leg. The other worker was severely burned on one side of his head, his neck, back and left arm.
The Company failed to adequately risk assess the task. The cleaning equipment given to its workers – particularly the hosing – was not suitable and the personal protective equipment (PPE) was inadequate.
Sodium hydroxide can cause chemical burns and permanent blindness upon contact with eyes. It is recommended that PPE, such as rubber gloves, safety clothing and eye protection, is worn during handling.
Whilst the Company pleaded not guilty to breaching s 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, it was found guilty. The company was fined £150,000. No costs were awarded due to it being in liquidation.
Working at Height - Step Ladder Fall
A worker was seriously injured after falling from a worn step ladder that was not Company property. The worker was servicing a large delivery truck using a 2m A-frame step ladder when he fell and hit his head, probably on the truck bed.
Whilst the 20 year old ladder that the worker fell from was mechanically sound, it was heavily work, with worn away tread on the rungs and a missing anti-slip foot.
Whilst the ladder was not a Company asset, the Company did not know where the ladder had come from. The Company had no register of what equipment was available.
The Company had sophisticated procedures for carrying out risk assessments, and those identified all appropriate risks and control measures, such as inspections and training staff but none of the senior managers or workers at the depot were familiar with these documents.
The Company had not trained its staff to select, inspect and use equipment for work at height.
The Company pleaded guilty to breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and was fined £900,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,820.00.
The above cases are a tragic reminder that employees must perform their duties diligently. Consequently, employers should take all steps necessary to ensure that workers are competent and trained in how to do their job and use equipment correctly. Employers have a duty not to cause, or fail to prevent, physical or psychological injury, and must fulfil their responsibilities with regard to personal injury and negligence claims.
Whilst fines are now based on a Company’s turnover, the level of fines above combined with the potential to be sent to prison, it acts as a stark reminder – Don’t ignore Health & Safety.