Not a month goes by without harrowing reports of fatalities or serious injury in the workplace.

These stories emphasise that, despite the UK’s world-leading position in health and safety, there is still much to be done in 2020 to drive down the figures and ultimately ensure people return home safely at the end of the working day.

The first month of the year saw the following five high fines for health and safety failings.

1. Gas cylinder firm fined £700k after worker killed by shrapnel

A manufacturer of gas cylinders was ordered to pay out more than £869,000 for safety breaches after a worker was killed by shrapnel ejected from testing equipment.

The maintenance engineer was leak testing cylinders by applying compressed air inside to create pressure. While venting air through a leak test manifold, it catastrophically exploded

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that prior to testing, vaporol, a mineral oil-based corrosion inhibitor, had been placed in the cylinders. The inhibitor contaminated the leak test manifold and the applied pressure caused it to fail.

The worker had added vaporol at the request of a customer to the cylinders. The company’s own assessment found that the sequence of how cylinders are tested needed to be passed down to employees but that this never happened.

Chesterfield Special Cylinders Ltd was found guilty of breaching the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £700,000 with full prosecution costs of £169,498.

The judge said the company “could have and should have acted with a great deal more care than they did”. He added: “What they did fell far short of the standards expected of them and they failed to take the measures to ensure that the use of vaporol was safe.”

"This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident caused by the failure of the company to identify any additional risks that arise when work processes are adapted”. It stressed “Companies should accurately identify and control all potential hazards in the workplace and thereafter monitor performance through effective supervision."

HSE

2. Demolition firm fined £500k after untrained worker crushed to death  

A demolition firm received a half-million-pound fine after a labourer was killed when a concrete slab collapsed underneath him.

The worker was helping an excavator operator to demolish a multi-storey building. He had been using an Oxy-Propane lance to burn through reinforced steel bars to help the operator remove a section of a reinforced slab. A third worker alerted a supervisor that their work had made the structure unsafe and the demolition was halted. However, the supervisor then ordered props supporting the remaining slab be removed. Less than 10 minutes later, it collapsed.

The court heard that the excavator may have moved back onto the slab after the props were removed.

An investigation by the HSE unearthed that:

  • CCTV from overhead cameras showed demolition work had been unsafely carried out in the weeks before the incident.
  • The worker was not adequately trained to use the Oxy-Propane lance and had no training on the use of his safety harness – which was not attached when the slab collapsed.

McGee Group Limited, the principal contractor for the project, pleaded guilty to a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company was fined £500,000 with £66,236 in costs.

"This is a case of a company wanting to have good systems to protect the workers but not paying enough attention to what was actually happening at the site. [The worker] should not have been allowed to operate an Oxy-Propane lance. Employers have a duty to check workers have sufficient skills, knowledge, experience and training before they allow them to use equipment. "

HSE

3. McAlpine fined £260k after fall from height at director’s property  

A construction company was handed a six-figure fine after a worker fell through an unprotected opening in a water tower at a property owned by a director of the firm.

The worker was attaching straps to a water tank so that it could be moved to a lower floor when the incident occurred. HSE investigators found he fell almost five metres through an opening that did not have fixed-edge protection.

Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the:

  • Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
  • Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

The company was fined £260,000 and ordered to pay £38,299 in costs.

"Falls from height often result in life-changing or fatal injuries. In most cases, these incidents are needless and could be prevented by properly planning of the work to ensure that effective preventative and protective measures are in place such as edge protection or barriers built to the correct standard.

This incident could have easily been prevented if the company had undertaken a thorough risk assessment and installed adequate edge protection around the opening to prevent falls."

HSE

4. Company fined £181k after airport baggage handler fractures skull

A company providing airline was landed with a substantial fine after an employee fell from a height of more than two metres.

The worker was injured during loading of luggage onto an aircraft. The employee was kneeling down at the top of a luggage belt-loader to fasten cargo straps when the loader was struck by a passing vehicle. She fell 2.2m through a gap in railings onto the tarmac below.  

A HSE investigation found that the company had foreseen the risk of a collision between the vehicles that operated in the congested space around the aircraft but had failed to implement measures to guard against the risk of driver error when vehicles manoeuvred around aircraft. The investigation also found that the company was aware belt-loaders had a gap in their railings but failed to put in place any meaningful measure to control the risk that someone might fall through.

Menzies Aviation (UK) Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £181,500 with costs of £21,043.

"Airports are busy and complex workplaces where workers face many hazards, particularly from the movement and operation of aircraft and vehicles. Currently, accident rates in the industry are well above the national average for all industries. Companies should assess the risks to their own and others’ employees and put in place measures to control these risks."

HSE

5. Firm fined £150k after heavy equipment falls on driver

A company supplying material and handling equipment received a significant financial penalty this month after a lorry driver suffered serious injuries when one-tonne equipment landed on him, “pinning him to the ground”.

The equipment was being moved on a forklift when it pivoted on the forks and fell on top of the lorry driver who was standing nearby.

The driver had been asked to wait in the carpark while a forklift operator became available to take delivery of the machinery. An on-site employee, who had been operating forklifts for just a few months, was instructed to lift the machinery out of the lorry.

HSE investigators “found that the work could have been carried out safely using a crane rather than a forklift truck which was unsuitable. The company also failed to ensure that people were excluded from areas where they would be in danger”.

HSE inspectors commented that the firm only had a part-time health and safety officer on site.

Briggs Equipment UK Ltd pleaded guilty to five breaches of health and safety legislation. It was fined £150,000.

"This incident could have been avoided if the correct equipment had been used for the activity and the lorry driver had been instructed to wait in a safe place until the lifting operation had finished. This incident was entirely foreseeable and could have been avoided if simple control measures had been put in place"

HSE

Dramatically reduce risk with our outsourced support

Penalties for breaching health and safety law have increased 381% since tougher sentencing guidelines were introduced, with the average fine now standing at £27,000 per conviction. With this in mind, it pays to receive the right support.

At Ellis Whittam, we help employers to meet their health and safety responsibilities and reduce risk on a daily basis. Our tailored support gives you access to expert advice and guidance from a named Health & Safety Consultant, bespoke documentation and on-site assistance with risk assessments, plus award-winning software for real-time insight into your compliance.

To find out how Ellis Whittam can reduce your risk of prosecution by c.50% and cut the cost of any fine imposed by 85%, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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