04 February 2015

Health and safety case update

Significant fines handed out after the death of an employee

The National Coal Mining Museum Trust (‘NCMM Trust’), a construction company and a supplier of construction equipment have together been ordered to pay £590,000 in fines and costs after a worker was crushed and killed between a tunnel construction machine and the dumper machine he was operating. The accident happened 138 metres below ground during work to construct new tunnels as part of a £2.7 million improvement project. The HSE’s specialist mining division issued Metal Innovations Ltd, which supplied the dumper, with a prohibition notice because it did not have a readily-accessible emergency stop function, and failed to meet design and supply safety requirements. The contractor, Amalgamated Construction Ltd, exposed workers to serious danger by failing to carry out a suitable risk assessment of the machine and its operation, and by putting an unsafe machine to work. The Museum, although it had not contributed causatively to the death, had failed to ensure that its mine was run in accordance with safety regulations. The three defendants, each of whom pleaded guilty to the offences, were sentenced as follows:

  • Amalgamated Construction Ltd was fined £110,000 with £245,000 costs
  • Metal Innovations Ltd was fined £80,000 with £110,000 costs
  • The NCMM Trust was fined £10,000 with £35,000 costs

Scottish Health Board prosecuted for serious safety failings

Lothian Health Board was recently fined £40,000 for health and safety breaches after a pensioner was struck and killed by one of its vans as she walked on a marked pedestrian route across an access road into one of the main entrances to Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital. A joint investigation by the HSE and police found that the board had failed to provide a safe pedestrian route for patients, staff and members of the public: the layout meant that those using the crossing would generally face away from oncoming traffic; delivery vehicles often reversed down the access road when they were unable to turn at the bottom due to parked vehicles, and a reconstruction concluded that the van driver would have been able to see the pedestrian for less than two seconds before losing sight of her. In addition no risk assessments had been carried out in relation to the access road, any of the hospital delivery areas, or in respect of any traffic management issues within the site, there were no warning signs to alert drivers or pedestrians to the risks, and no security barriers to control access to the area. 

Requirement of risk assessments for employees travelling to and from work abroad

In the negligence claim Dusek v Stormharbour Securities LLP, the High Court found that where an employee was required to take a helicopter ride abroad in the course of his employment, his employer owed him a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that he was not subject to unnecessary risk. This was irrespective of whether or not the employer had organised the ride, because in this case the employer knew of obvious potential dangers such as that the flight route was over a remote, inhospitable, inaccessible and mountainous area in the Peruvian Andes. The helicopter was chartered by a Peruvian company, and the employer had no knowledge whether that company had flown with the helicopter company previously, had carried out a risk assessment or had any safety concerns. The employer’s failure to enquire into the safety of the trip or make an appropriate risk assessment breached its duty of care to its employee, and was held to be a cause of the employee’s death when the helicopter crashed, killing all the passengers.

What Dusek v Stormharbour means for you

This judgment is a clear reminder that the duties employers owe to ensure the health and safety at work of their employees are not limited to the UK, but also apply where employees are working abroad in the course of their employment. A more detailed article on this case will feature in the next newsletter.

Category: Article