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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Health and safety large fines

Recent high levels of fines in health and safety prosecutions The highest reported fine in 2019 for health and safety offences was imposed on Valero Energy UK Ltd and B&A Contracts Ltd under sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act 1974 (HSWA). Valero was fined £5 million plus £1 million costs. The prosecutions and fines followed an explosion at an oil refinery in Pembrokeshire in 2011. Four workers were killed and another was seriously injured. They were emptying a tank, using a vacuum tanker, when the tank exploded . The explosion caused a fireball which removed the roof of the tank. The roof of the tank was projected 55 metres and struck a butane storage installation. It narrowly missed an area where highly flammable materials were kept. The HSE investigation concluded that the explosion was most likely caused by the ignition of a highly flammable atmosphere inside the tank, during a routine emptying operation in preparation for further cleaning and maintenance. There had been longstanding failures within the refinery’s management systems. This resulted in the risks of flammable atmospheres not being understood or controlled. At the time of the incident the refinery was operated by Chevron Ltd. Ownership was transferred to Valero in August 2011. Another large fine was imposed on DB Cargo, a railway freight operator, in March 2019 at Newcastle Crown Court. The company was fined £2.7 million plus £188,000 costs under section 3 of HSWA following an incident in which a 13-year old boy was electrocuted. The incident took place when the boy tried to climb onto the roof of a rail wagon at the company’s marshalling yard. He came into contact with a 25,000 volt overhead power line and suffered loss of part of both of his legs and seven fingers. The company had failed to secure the yard despite having been repeatedly warned of the risks to trespassers. No credible obstacles were in place to stop people entering the yard, there was no adequate security patrol and there was no signage to deter trespassers. Warning signs were either indistinct or had been torn down. In May 2018 DHL was fined £2 million plus £100,000 costs at Aylesbury Crown Court for breaches of sections 2 and 3 of HSWA. The offences related to the death of a worker from crushing injuries. The incident occurred at the company’s depot in Milton Keynes. The deceased worker was trapped between a reversing lorry and a loading bay. The company had not assessed the risks of loading and unloading container vehicles, nor had it implemented a safe system of work. There as also a lack of staff training. There was no specific risk assessment or safe system of work for yard activities, including the use of banksmen and reversing vehicles. The company had a written system of work for vehicles reversing into loading bays but it was stored in an office and not used. Veolia ES (UK) Ltd, a refuse collection company, was fined £1 million plus £130,000 costs under section 2 HSWA at Canterbury Crown Court in January 2019. In October 2013 an employee of the company, working at its yard in Folkestone, was run over by a reversing refuse collection vehicle. He suffered fatal injuries. Multiple vehicles were manoeuvring around the yard with no specific controls. Veolia had failed to adequately assess the risks involved in the yard and had not implemented industry-recognised control measures to protect employees. In October 2019 Celsa Manufacturing (UK) Ltd, a steel making company, was fined £1.8 million plus £145,000 costs at Cardiff Crown Court, for breaches of regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The offences related to the deaths of two workers in an explosion at the company’s site in Cardiff. The deceased were working on an accumulator which exploded. A flammable atmosphere developed inside the accumulator as hydraulic lubrication oil was being drained from it. The flammable atmosphere was ignited by an electric heater within the accumulator. The company had failed to assess the risks to which workers were exposed when draining oil form the accumulator. A procedure known as “blow down” had developed by custom and practice. This procedure was not fully understood nor consistently carried out by workers. Karro Foods Ltd, a food manufacturing company, was fined £1,866,000 plus £8000 costs at Leeds magistrates’ court in March 2019, under section 2 of HSWA. In April 2016 two employees of the company were investigating a leak in the roof of the company’s site. They did not realise that the roof had a number of rooflights. Both workers stood on the same rooflight and fell through it. One suffered multiple fractures and muscular injuries. The other worker suffered a fractured skull, muscular injuries and injuries to his inner ear. The roof was made of asbestos cement and the rooflights were not visible because of a buildup of moss and dirt. In January 2019 Synergy Housing Ltd was fined £1 million plus £40,000 costs at Bournemouth Crown Court for a breach of section 3 of HSWA. The offence related to the death of a five-year old girl in a lift. The girl entered an internal lift in her home, which was owned by Synergy Housing. The lift was used by the girl’s disabled brother. The girl put her head through a hole in the lift’s vision panel. Her head was stuck between the lift and the ground floor ceiling. She suffered fatal injuries. Synergy had primary responsibility for the safety of the lift. The company accepted that, as landlord, its responsibilities could not be delegated. When a vision panel was damaged in early 2013, it was not replaced. In December 2019 Hampshire County Council was fined £1.4 million, plus £130,000 costs, at Bournemouth Crown Court for an offence under section 3 of HSWA. In December 2015 a six-year old girl was seriously injured when an unsecured street bollard , on which she was playing, fell to the ground. She suffered life-changing head injuries and spent six months in hospital. The bollard, which weighed 69 kg, was damaged and not properly secured. This had been reported to Hampshire County Council, which was responsible for the bollard, but subsequent monthly inspections failed to identify the defect. Insufficient information, instruction and training were provided to the council’s personnel who carried out inspections.

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