SOME RECENT HEALTH & SAFETY PROSECUTIONS
We keep an eye on reported Health & Safety prosecutions and the following examples help focus a bit of attention on Health & Safety, Safe Systems of Work, Risk Assessments and Training. Full details can be found on the HSE website.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)
A company which maintains and repairs aircraft ignored the risks associated with using hand-held vibrating tools for a period of 22 years, during which time approximately 100 employees were exposed and went on to develop Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). At least 30 employees were exposed to risk of significant harm. The Employees used a range of hand-held vibrating tools including orbital sanders, rivet guns, grinders and drills.
The company had not carried out a suitable assessment of the work activities that exposed employees to vibration and had failed to implement additional controls to reduce exposure so far as was reasonably practicable. It had failed to implement a safe system of work in order to control exposure to vibration.
In addition, employees had not undergone suitable health surveillance to identify symptoms at an early stage of the disease. This would have prevented it from progressing to a disabling condition.
The Company was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £39,620.92.
Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002 (DSEAR)
Two employees worked in a paint spraying booth. They had sprayed several welded steel buckets and were preparing for their next batch. The flammable vapour generated whilst they cleaned or flushed a paint spray gun was ignited by one of the various sources of ignition which were present at the scene. An explosion occurred, killing both workers.
The HSE found the immediate cause of the explosion to be the inconsistent and incomplete approach to health and safety by the company and its employees. This resulted in the lack of suitable control measures; specifically, a suitable and sufficient safe system of work for the activities in the spray booth.
The Company pleaded guilty to breaching the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and DSEAR. It was fined £145,000 and ordered to pay costs of £65,900.
A lorry driver lost his arm after it was drawn into moving machinery whilst he was making a delivery of grain to a farm. Part of the load had tipped onto the floor of a shed due to a tailgate door being open, and whilst the driver was walking to the rear of the trailer, he lost his footing in a heap of grain. When he put his hand out to steady himself his left arm came into contact with a rotating auger and was drawn in, causing him to lose his left arm.
The safety interlock which would have prevented the auger from turning whilst the tailgate was open was not functioning, meaning that there was significant risk of exposure to moving parts. The emergency stop device for the discharge mechanism had also failed to function, as it was operated through the same circuitry. If simple checks to ensure the safety devices and systems were functioning correctly had been undertaken on a regular basis the accident would not have happened.
The Company pleaded guilty to breaching the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and has been fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £531.40 in costs.
Fall from Height
A construction worker fell through a fragile plastic skylight into a basement whilst carrying out works on the refurbishment of a large house. The Principal Contractor who had been appointed to carry out the £5m refurbishment had appointed a Company to carry out specialised demolition work at the site.
The distance he fell was over three metres. He suffered a severed spine and will not regain the use of his legs. He was 30 years old at the time of the incident.
The Principal Contractor and the demolition company had both failed to:
- check the skylight to see if it was fragile;
- take action to stop people falling through it;
- make adequate plans for the demolition; and,
- formulate and implement safe systems of work.
Other factors were found: -
- Workers had been put at risk from construction activities at the site ranging from demolishing a roof without edge protection to manually handling wood beams weighing an estimated 200kg.
- A supervisor of the Demolition Company directly controlling the work had no formal training relating to supervision and some of the workers (including the victim, who was Romanian) had to rely on unofficial interpreters to pass on instructions and tell them what the health and safety records contained.
The Principal Contractor pleaded guilty to breaching the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regulations) and was fined £270,000 and ordered to pay £7,025.98 in costs.
The demolition Company also pleaded guilty to breaching the CDM Regulations 2015 and was similarly fined £270,000 and ordered to pay £7,025.98 in costs.
An 86-year old gentleman moved into a Nursing Home when he was no longer able to cope at home. After moving into the Nursing Home, this gentleman contracted Legionnaires’ disease, a serious waterborne form of pneumonia, and later died in Hospital.
For more than a year, during which time major refurbishment works were carried out, the Company failed to implement the necessary control and monitoring measures required to safely manage their hot and cold water system. It also found those responsible for overseeing legionella controls and for taking crucial water temperature measurements had not been trained to the required standard.
The Company pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £3m (yes, £3,000,000!) and ordered to pay costs of £151,482.
Service user - fall from height
A 66-year old resident at a care home sustained serious injuries when she accessed an unsecured flight of stairs and fell down 13 steps. She was able to access the area through an unlocked door at the top of the stairs directly opposite her bedroom. Following the accident, she was treated in hospital for a head injury, a bite to her tongue, laceration to her right calf and an injury to the left leg.
The incident took place seven days after a CQC inspection. Inspectors had informed the provider at that time that they had found doors leading to the basement area unsecured and warned the provider that this was unsafe for people using the service. The CQC brought the prosecution.
The Company had failed to take effective and prompt action to secure the doors and ensure that residents were safe. It was reasonable for the Company to fit an adequate lock to the door following the inspection; after the incident it took only 15 minutes for the provider to secure the door, without incurring significant expense.
The Company pleaded guilty to one offence of failing to provide safe care and treatment resulting in avoidable harm to the Resident and was fined £16,000, ordered to pay £9,500 towards the cost of the prosecution and a £120 victim surcharge.
And finally…when an employer is not necessary at fault… the employee is 'in the dock'.
Prosecution of a Bus Driver
In February 2016, a bus driver lost control as he negotiated a gap in a section of a guided busway. The bus jumped out of the track, travelled across an adjacent path and came to rest up the side of a grassy embankment. As a result, five of his passengers suffered injuries which included a fractured spine, pelvis, ribs and whiplash.
The driver was reading a time duty card at the time and therefore had no vision of the busway ahead, nor did he have a grip of the steering wheel. The investigation also found the driver was driving at speeds of 52mph when the maximum recommended speed in that area was 30mph.
The driver pleaded guilty to breaching the Health & Safety etc Act 1974 and has been sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs of £2,000.
Having systems in place to manage Health & Safety is mandatory. Typically this will involve a hierarchy of step, as follows:
- Health & Safety management system
- Written risk assessments covering the significant hazards
- Safe systems of work
- Surveillance where necessary
- Trained employees at all levels.
When all the above is working in harmony, it minimises the likelihood of anything going wrong.