5 high health and safety fines from the second quarter of 2022

Written on 1 August 2022

With the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently releasing its latest round of fatal injury statistics, employers are yet again reminded what’s a stake what it comes to workplace health and safety practices, and just how serious the consequences of non-compliance can be. 

Sometimes, it can be easy to see these statistics as mere figures, but behind the numbers are real people, as well as potentially significant penalties for breaching health and safety law, namely the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Indeed, in the last few months alone, we’ve seen numerous heavy fines for health and safety failings. Here are just five such cases which further highlight the importance of having effective health and safety management arrangements in place. In each of them, fines exceeded half a million pounds.

1. Carlsberg fined £3m after ammonia gas leak

Brewing company Carlsberg was recently fined £3 million after an ammonia gas leak at one of its breweries led to the death of a contractor and serious injury of another.

An investigation by the HSE found Carlsberg had failed to put proper controls in place to prevent exposure to ammonia.

The court heard how contract workers were removing a compressor from a refrigeration system when there was a large, uncontrolled release of ammonia.

Carlsberg Supply Company UK Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was additionally fined costs of £90,000.

The HSE said: “Industry guidance on safe isolation of plant should have been followed. This would have ensured that a higher level of isolation was in place, for prevention of exposure to this highly toxic and flammable substance”.

It added: “Both the client, Carlsberg, and the principal contractor should have worked together to ensure that the risk was adequately managed. Not only Carlsberg had a duty here. There was also a very clear duty on the principal contractor”.

The HSE stresses that “projects involving multiple contractors require effective management arrangements, so it’s clear who is responsible for every part of the work and that safety checks are carried out before allowing work to start”.

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2. Network Rail fined £1.4m after employee crush injury

Network Rail was fined £1.4 million after a worker suffered “life-changing” injuries when crushed in a collision between two railway maintenance vehicles.

An investigation by the industry regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), found several failings in Network Rail’s safety management. ORR investigators found failures in planning, briefing, communication at all levels, and giving proper instruction and information to safety-critical staff.

During sentencing, the judge said the accident was the result of “layers” of operating failures within Network Rail. In particular, there was a lack of clarity as to what was going on and insufficiently robust supervision.

The ORR stated: “The incident was caused by totally inadequate supervision of the task at all levels. Nobody was making sure that those under their supervision had been following safe working practices, which led to this incident that could easily have been avoided”.

Notably, Network Rail did have sufficient risk assessments and a whole suite of safety controls in place – but these were not followed by workers. The ORR found a longstanding depot culture of not following the rules. Local workarounds had become normal custom and practice.

3. Health board fined £850k following vulnerable patient’s death

A health board was heavily fined following the death of an elderly patient who left a hospital ward unnoticed through an unsecured door.

A HSE investigation concluded that the board had failed to act on previous absconding incidents. The vulnerable patient, who was a known wanderer, suffered a fatal head injury after falling in icy conditions in hospital grounds.

HSE investigators found that “reasonably practicable” measures were not taken to protect vulnerable patients from wandering and potentially coming to serious harm.

The Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £850,000, with costs of £10,600.

The HSE said the board had a duty to protect patients and that they failed to identify or act on the absconding risk. It commented: “Despite significant warnings, there was no risk assessment or physical security measures introduced to prevent vulnerable patients from leaving the ward unnoticed. This incident was easily preventable and the risks should have been identified”.

4. Hermes fined £850k for fatal training failings

Hermes Parcelnet was fined £850,000 after an employee sustained fatal injuries while undergoing training on the operation of a trailer mover at a depot yard. The employee was struck by the mover while using it to reposition a laden trailer.

The HSE’s investigation found the company had not ensured that their in-house trainer was sufficiently instructed on how training should be safely delivered. No one on-site was monitoring whether the training taking place was being appropriately provided.

The company’s training plan set out that towing a trailer should not take place until the second hour of training. The worker had started his practical training around 30 minutes before the incident occurred. ln that time, he had already been involved in moving a laden trailer with the mover.

In the training course, the company had also failed to make sure that the trainer used two trained banksmen at all relevant times. The trainer was sometimes in positions where it was unlikely that they would have been able to see and correct any mistakes.

The court prosecutor said the worker lost his life in circumstances which were foreseeable and entirely avoidable, saying: “By failing to identify the risks arising from providing training to employees in the operation of a trailer mover, Hermes Parcelnet put their employees at unacceptable risk”.

Hermes Parcelnet Ltd admitted failing to ensure the safety of employees and failing to provide a system of work which was reasonably practicable, safe and without risks. The firm accepted it had failed to make sure that those training employees gave “adequate” information, instruction and supervision.

The court sheriff said “There were a number of significant failings on behalf of the company and, if addressed, the tragic consequences of this case may have been avoided. The company did have appropriate working systems in place but they were not sufficiently adhered to or implemented. It is patent that the company failed to protect their employees from the risk created”.

The sheriff reduced the fine from £1.2m because of the guilty plea.

5. VolkerRail fined £550k after excavation trench collapse

A railway infrastructure company was fined £550,000 after an investigation and prosecution by the Office of Rail and Road following a collapsed excavation trench.

ORR investigators found the company had failed to prevent danger to workers undertaking excavation work beside railway. A worker was in a trench as part of the excavation work. A trench wall collapsed, burying the worker.

The trench was some two metres deep and had been constructed without any support to the sides, despite evidence of unstable ground conditions. Expert evidence showed that the collapse would not otherwise have happened.

The ORR also found that the company did not adequately brief its construction team on how to complete tasks. Poor management arrangements also meant failings were not corrected and complaints not fully acted on.

In sentencing remarks, the judge said trench supports had been delivered to the site but not used. The judge commented how it was clear that some concerns were raised regarding the work, and that while some steps were taken following these concerns, the methodology was not fully adapted.

VolkerRail Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was also ordered to pay costs of £85,400.

The ORR said: “VolkerRail Ltd had opportunities to correct working practices and make the works safer but these opportunities were missed. The result led to extremely serious injuries to one of its employees”.

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