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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors Part 7: day care, diving, docks


Choking death

In April 2012 Alison Evans, a 34-year old severely disabled woman, was attending an adult day care centre in Leeds. Ms Evans had not developed a rotary chew, the circular motion which allows food to be ground down for swallowing. Tracey Ann Gilboy, a support worker, allowed a sweet to be given to Ms Evans. She choked and later died in hospital. Gilboy had failed to take reasonable care for the safety of Ms Evans in a way which set in motion a chain of events which resulted in her death.

Death from drowning

Nikki Deaney was a care worker at Springwood Day Centre. She was supposed to be providing one-to-one supervision for Majid Akhtar during a group trip to a reservoir. She lost sight of Majid who died from drowning when he suffered an epileptic seizure when he fell into the water. Deaney had spent a significant amount of time on her mobile phone instead of giving her full attention to Majid while walking him around the reservoir.


Death of diver: prison sentence for boat skipper

In March 2011 James Irvine was scuba diving from Guthrie Melville’s boat in Largo Bay on the River Forth estuary. He descended as normal but failed to surface. His body was found and recovered the next day. Melville had failed to assess the risks to Irvine and to provide appropriate supervision, equipment including a means of communication and essential safety gear. He had also failed to ensure that there were enough competent people to take part in the diving project and failed to have a standby diver in place to provide assistance to Irvine in the event of a reasonably foreseeable emergency. Since April 2005 Melville had shown the same lack of regard to essential health and safety regulations and had exposed a number of other divers to serious risk.

Melville was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.

The HSE’s Principal Inspector of Diving commented that diving was a high hazard activity. If it was conducted properly, in accordance with regulations and guidance, the risks could be managed. The minimum team size normally required when diving for shellfish was three: a supervisor, a working diver and a standby diver. Additional people might be required to operate the boat and to assist in an emergency.

Simple measures taken to ensure that a diver in trouble could communicate to the supervisor and that the diver was marked by a line and float, or by a line to an attendant on the dive boat, maximised the chance of a successful outcome to an emergency.


Dock worker seriously injured in capstan

In June 2014 a three-man team was securing an ocean-going vessel’s heavy mooring ropes at an Essex maritime terminal. The fingers of the left hand of one of the workers became caught between the rotating drum of a powered capstan and a heaving line. His left arm was dragged into the capstan and wrapped tightly around the rotating drum. He suffered multiple fractures, nerve and ligament damage. C.RO Ports Limited had failed to suitably identify and control risk associated with the use of powered capstans at the port. The system of work adopted was unsafe. Arrangements for the instruction, training and supervision of workers using the equipment were inadequate, as were those for the audit and monitoring of safety. The company had failed to heed warnings raised by workers before the incident. The HSE served an improvement notice on the company requiring it to suitable identify relevant hazards and to control risk in accordance with legislation.

An HSE inspector is reported to have commented after the case that all capstans feature dangerous rotating components. Capstans are difficult to guard, so it is vital that all workers must be made to stand well away from the danger zone while they are in use.

Worker decapitated

In 1998 Simon Jones was sent by an employment agency to work at Shoreham docks. He was employed by Euromin. Jones’ work involved the unloading of bags of cobblestones from the hold of a ship. The system for this involved workers standing near an open grab bucket attached to a crane. The lever in the driver’s cab for closing the bucket was very sensitive. When it was operated, the bucket closed in one second. Jones was decapitated when the grab bucket closed on him.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the police investigated the killing. The HSE issued improvement and prohibition notices and decided to prosecute Euromin for statutory offences. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute the company for negligent manslaughter. This decision was challenged in the High Court on behalf of Jones’ family.

The decision of the High Court was as follows:

  • The DPP’s decision not to prosecute would be quashed.

  • The DPP had been wrong in applying a test of subjective culpability rather than objective liability for the dangerous system of work.

The test for negligent manslaughter was objective. Negligence would be criminal if, on an objective basis, the defendant showed a failure to advert to a serious risk going beyond mere inadvertence in respect of an obvious and important matter which the defendant’s duty demanded he should address

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