18 December 2013

Health and Safety - recent cases round-up

A brief round-up of some recent health and safety cases:

*1.                  Pirelli has been fined £20,000 after an employee broke his arm in a tyre testing machine at its Carlisle tyre factory. The worker had been trying to fix a fault on the machine following the Christmas shutdown when his left arm got trapped and was subsequently broken in three places when the machine started up. *

The HSE investigation found that although similar faults had occurred following previous Christmas shutdowns, Pirelli had not carried out any specific risk assessment in this regard.  The investigation concluded that Pirelli’s supervision of its maintenance employees was lacking and that general knowledge of the company’s health and safety procedures was inadequate. In addition, the HSE found that there was no system of work to check that the company’s Safe Working Procedures guidelines were being followed in practice.

2.                   The UK branch of car manufacturing giant General Motors was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay almost £20,000 in costs following the death of a long-serving maintenance electrician in its Ellesmere Port plant paint unit after he was crushed while trying to unblock a moving conveyor belt.

According to the findings of the HSE investigation, a doorway had been created through a wall at the back of the paint unit in circumvention of its existing safety system which meant that workers could access the conveyor system while it was still operating. Although a risk assessment carried out in 2000 highlighted the potential danger posed by the cut-away door, no steps were taken to rectify the situation and it became standard practice for workers to access the conveyor system in this way. 

3.                   Morgan Sindall and Northern Gas have been fined £35,000 and £50,000 and been ordered to pay almost £9,000 and £13,000 in costs respectively after being found to have failed to supervise welding work on a gas main which caused to a major blaze.

The HSE investigation heard that as a result of numerous safety failings by the two companies, welding work on a section of metal pipe work of a gas main led to a blaze which resulted in a number of homes being evacuated and the local ring road being closed for two days.

The investigation found that the companies had failed to effectively plan, supervise and manage the job as a whole, or provide the necessary risk assessment and safety procedures. The investigation also highlighted the lack of communication in the project and failings in the handover system following changes in personnel.

4.                   AETC Ltd, a specialist precision engineering company in Leeds, has been fined £300,000 after a worked died while carrying out maintenance work inside a vacuum casting furnace.

The HSE investigation found that the company’s repeated failings in relation to what was a recurring problem had put many workers at risk of death or serious injury for a number of years. According to the findings of the investigation, there was no procedure in place for maintenance work and no training or supervision in this regard, as a result of which work proceeded on the assumption that individual workers knew what they were doing despite repeated warnings of its health and safety manager to address these issues.

*5.                   An Altringham-based construction firm, RNT Developments and Construction Ltd was fined £5,000 for allowing its subcontractors to work in what were described as Dickensian conditions. *

Workers carrying out refurbishment work on a property for seven weeks had no access to running water or toilet facilities and had to work in bitterly cold, dusty and damp conditions inside the property. The HSE investigation noted that RNT should have made sure there were welfare facilities on site before allowing the refurbishment project to begin.

6.                   Ship repair company, A&P Tees Ltd, has been found not having a safe system of work in place and was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £23,500 in costs after a worker was crushed to death by a three-tonne anchor.

The HSE investigation found that the worker was not formally trained in the type of work he had been undertaking at the time of the accident and it was unclear how many times he had undertaken such tasks in the past. In addition, A&P had not carried out a relevant risk assessment in relation to the particular task and there was no effective supervision system in place to assess the competence of its employees.

7.                   United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of just over £15,000 after a radiologist was exposed to double the annual dose of ionizing radiation in just over three months after using a CT scanner with an unconventional but accepted technique.

The HSE investigation concluded that the Trust had not carried out a risk assessment for use of the CT scanner in that mode and had therefore failed to develop a safe system of work. In addition, although hospital managers knew about the technique in question, they did not make sure that proper health and safety procedures were followed.

*8.                   Michael Wilson was the owner of Chumleigh Lodge Hotel in London, and sole director of Chumleigh Lodge Hotel Limited. In May 2008, a fire was started in the hotel by one of the guests carelessly disposing of a lighted cigarette. Following an investigation into the circumstances of the fire, the company was charged with a number of offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2006. In particular, the company was found to be the ‘responsible person’ and had failed to carry out sufficient risk assessments, provide staff with safety equipment and/or training and had failed to ensure that emergency exits were clear. As a director of the company, Mr Wilson was found to have consented, connived or been negligent in relation to the offences committed by the company pursuant to article 32(8) of the Order and was sentenced by way of fines and terms of imprisonment in default. *

*Mr Wilson sought to appeal a decision of the Blackfriars Crown Court on the ground that he should not have been charged under s.32(8) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2006 as s.32(8) did not create its own offence, but merely entitled a director to be charged with the same offences as a company. *

The Court of Appeal held that although Mr Wilson was right in that he should have been charged under the specific offences and not under s.32(8), the defectiveness of the indictment had occasioned neither unfairness nor prejudice and the conviction was therefore not unsafe and was not overturned.

9.                   A Northern Irish feed supplier, J Murray & Son, has become the fourth company to be convicted of corporate manslaughter in the UK after the death of one of its employees after he was became entangled in the moving parts of a meal blending machine.

The HSENI investigation revealed that the company had removed safety panels from the top of the mixer to enable ingredients to be added more easily, exposing dangerous moving parts of the machine. The judge found that the death was ‘totally preventable’ and concluded that the company had been ‘grossly and thoughtlessly’ negligent.

10.               Jewson, a building materials and supplies merchants, were fined a total of £14,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,500 after being prosecuted for selling counterfeit hard hats which did not meet the requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations. Trading standards authorities estimate that approximately 63,000 such helmets have been sold over the past decade.

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