Large fines imposed on companies for health and safety breaches

Several recent Crown Court cases illustrate the potential consequences for businesses of breaching health and safety legislation:

  • An employee at a fish processing company suffered fatal injuries when a stack of boxes of frozen fish fell on him while he was helping to clear up a previously fallen stack of boxes in one of the cold store areas. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that there was no safe system of work or instructions given to staff on how pallets should be stored. The company also had no written procedure or plan for dealing with incidents of frozen boxes of fish falling. The company was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £24,800 to the HSE.
  • An 89-year-old care home resident received significant scalding injuries and subsequently died of those injuries. An HSE investigation found that bathroom taps were not adjusted to limit the temperature of the water to a safe level for bathing. The investigation also identified that the company policies and procedures were deficient, particularly as residents were vulnerable and depended on care providers for a safe environment to live in. The company also failed to effectively communicate information and instruction to its staff so that the control measures could be implemented effectively. The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £50,000 to the HSE.
  • An HSE investigation was initiated after an engineer fell seven metres from a loft in London, breaking his back and his ankles. He had been fixing a telephone fault in the roof void of a residential block of flats. The investigation identified several management failures by the telecoms company, including inadequate planning of work taking place near fragile surfaces, and checking that it was carried out safely. The company was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £98,913.51 to the HSE.
  • During a refurbishment task, an operative using the controls within a refuse truck’s cab closed the tailgate on a worker who was at the rear of the vehicle, crushing him to death. An HSE investigation found that a fault with the safety limit switch had jammed it in the actuated position, which meant that it was possible to completely close the tailgate using the in-cab controls. The investigation identified that the incident occurred due to a poor system of work resulting from an unsuitable and insufficient assessment of the risks, including failure to prop open the tailgate adequately. Two duty-holder companies were fined £815,000.