Breaching health and safety regulations can result in heavy fines or even imprisonment. The Health and Safety Executive and the courts take a dim view of those who break the rules – even if it hasn’t led to any injury.
Regulations covering the workplace are designed to ensure that wherever possible, the likelihood of injury is minimised – and high fines are often meted out to serve as a deterrent to others.
A major oil, gas and chemical company was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £45,000 in costs after breaching safety regulations at a London site.
Following two small fires on its site within just three weeks, a fire inspection took place and this revealed a large amount of combustible material in the building. Inspectors also found that fire exits and escape routes were blocked. The company pleaded guilty to three serious breaches of fire regulations and was given the largest fine imposed to date under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.
A South-West City Council was prosecuted and fined £5,000 in May 2009 for breaching gas safety regulations.
It was fined for failing to ensure proper health and safety checks on gas appliances which led to faulty appliances being installed in local schools. (Fortunately the faulty appliances were quickly removed).
In 2009, a Staffordshire-based aluminium recycling company was fined £5,000 after admitting a breach of health and safety regulations.
A worker’s hand was severely damaged by the rotating blades of an extraction system within the recycling plant. The company hadn’t carried out a suitable risk assessment and had also failed to take precautions to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery.
Working at Height
Accidents involving people working at height are still the biggest cause of workplace death – and one of the main causes of major injury. More workers are injured falling from a ladder than any other access equipment. In March 2009, a building contracting company in Leeds was fined £3000 after a 33-year-old electrician fell three metres through a void on the first floor of a new school building. He was fitting a fire alarm cable when he fell, because scaffolding guardrails had only been properly secured at one end and collapsed as he leaned over them.
A supermarket in Kent was fined £2500 after a restaurant worker suffered severe burns to her legs and feet from hot oil. She was pouring the hot oil into a plastic bucket but it was so hot that the bucket melted and the oil poured over her legs and feet. She was left with serious burns and scarring.
A company which supplies photo booths to retail customers was fined £30,000 after three workers suffered debilitating contact dermatitis. A judge said the firm had given little thought to ways in which photographic chemicals could be safely mixed so that staff were not put at risk. Long term exposure to the chemicals caused allergic contact dermatitis which left one worker unable to even fasten a shirt button without the skin on his finger splitting open.
Hotel Kitchen Risk
A hotel owner in Skegness was given a suspended prison sentence after ignoring an HSE banning notice on gas appliances in the hotel kitchen.
The man told kitchen staff they could still use the equipment, although HSE had labelled them unsafe.
They had no extraction systems and put staff at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was also given 200 hours community service and ordered to pay court costs of more than £20,000.
Importance of Risk Assessment
Many prosecutions brought by HSE could have been avoided if employers had simply recognised the value of carrying out risk assessments – and ensured they were followed.
For example, retail is not considered a high risk industry but supermarkets and stores across the country have been charged with breaches of regulations after tins fell from shelves, customers were injured by slipping on wet floors, pedestrians were crushed by vehicles in loading bays or staff were hurt carrying heavy items.
These cases demonstrate the importance of ensuring that risk assessments are undertaken for even routine tasks and employees know the importance of adhering to company safety rules.