• Robert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors: mines, poisoning, police, prisons

MINES

Death of coal miner in roof fall

In September 2011 Gerry Gibson was working at Kellingley colliery. He was killed when 15 tonnes of rock, which formed a section of roof, collapsed as a powered roof support was being operated. Six days previously, a similar roof fall had occurred. UK Coal Managers (now Juniper (No3 Ltd) had been aware of the earlier fall. No investigation had been carried out and insufficient precautions had been taken to prevent a recurrence. The company had not improved its system of monitoring roof supports to ensure that warning signs of ground movement would be quickly picked up.

Costs were not awarded so as not to jeopardise potential payments to the Miners’ Pensioners’ coal allowance scheme, a major creditor of UK Coal. An HSE inspector commented after the case that the HSE had prosecuted despite the company being in administration. There was significant public interest in a very serious offence and the company’s standard of managing health and safety was far below what was required.

Deaths of mineworkers

In June 2006 Trevor Steeples was killed at Daw Mill colliery near Coventry, operated by UK Coal Mining, when he was exposed to high levels of methane. In August 2008 Paul Hunt was killed at the same colliery when he fell from an inadequately maintained underground transporter into the path of a moving train. In January 2007 Anthony Garrigan was killed at the same colliery as he worked with colleagues to install rockbolts to keep a tunnel support wall in position. he was crushed to death when more than 100 tonnes of inadequately supported coal and stone fell on him. The tunnel had previously collapsed and UK Coal should have supplied a safer system of support. In November 2007 Paul Milner died at Welback colliery in Nottinghamshire. He was installing extra roof supports in order to salvage equipment from a coal face which had ceased production. Milner was crushed to death under 90 tonnes of rock when the roof collapsed. A suitable code of practice had been agreed to provide a safe system of work. This code was not properly implemented by UK Coal.

POISONING

In 2008 B was employed as a storeman by a Scottish local authority. He was responsible for supplying gardeners with weedkiller containing paraquat. The weedkiller was stored in a locked container. B was a keyholder. He put some weedkiller into mineral water bottles to take home for use in his own garden. On the way home he stopped at a club. The bag containing the bottles became mixed up with bags belonging to F. F drank the paraquat and died.

POLICE

Firearms death

In June 2008 PC Ian Terry was engaged in a firearms training session at a disused warehouse in Manchester. He was role playing an armed criminal. The training session involved practising to apprehend armed criminals from a car. Terry was killed by a colleague using a shotgun. He suffered fatal chest injuries. The officer responsible for the course, referred to as F to protect his identity, ran a course with a lethal combination of factors including the use of live ammunition in an aggressive scenario.

PRISONS

Prison suicide: Crown Censure

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has been subjected to a formal Crown Censure by the Health and Safety Executive, following the death of a prisoner. In September 2006 Daniel Rooney was a prisoner at HMP Bullingdon. He was observed in the act of attempting to hang himself. He was identifed as being at risk of self-harm and was moved to a safer cell. Later that day, Rooney hanged himself with a ligature made from his bedding and suspended from a shower rail support bracket. The bracket should not have been strong enough to support the ligature. Examination of the safer cell found a number of points where ligatures could be attached.

The provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 apply to Crown bodies, but Crown immunity means that such bodies are excluded from statutory enforcement, including prosecution and penalties.

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