Lessons from recent health and safety prosecutions

Thursday August 1, 2019

Every day the Health and Safety Executive brings new prosecution cases for serious breaches of safety in the workplace. They often end in successful convictions.

We’ve selected three recent prosecutions to show you what can happen when health and safety issues aren’t dealt with properly. The consequences can be fatal and yet often are completely avoidable with good planning and awareness of hazards and risks.

Road traffic incident on a children’s expedition

Leaving the familiar confines of the school raises many health and safety concerns for teachers. And many companies cater for children’s activities outside of the school system. Good practice involves making risk assessments before outings to identify potential hazards.

Fast-moving and unpredictable traffic means that roads will be high up on the list of threats. Navigating a group of children across a busy road should be a last resort and advanced planning of the best route is essential.

In July 2019, an adventure activity and team-building organisation was fined after a child was hit by a car and seriously injured whilst on an expedition. The organisation was fined £10,000 for not complying with Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and also had to pay more than £20,000 in costs.

They had failed to plan a route to allow for safe passage across the dual carriageway. The group of teenagers, led by an adult supervisor, attempted to cross the busy carriageway despite there being a footbridge just 400 metres away. As a result, one pupil was struck and suffered multiple fractures.

There is a balance to be achieved when allowing children to participate in challenging activities and implementing proportionate safety measures. In this case, the risk could have been reduced or eliminated if the organisation had planned a safer route in advance or if specific traffic control measures were in place at the crossing point.

Burn injuries at a car manufacturer

Whether through the misuse of flammable chemicals or the result of an accident involving hot equipment or materials, burn injuries can happen at just about any workplace. Flammable chemicals can pose a particular threat if employees are not adequately trained or informed of the dangers, uses and correct storage of flammable substances. Burns are an all-too-common yet easily avoidable result of this inadequate training.

This summer, a manufacturer of vehicle components was fined £1 million after two employees suffered burns. They were burnt when the vapour from a flammable chemical, which was being used to clean a distillation tank, ignited and caused an explosion.

The HSE found that the business had failed to perform a risk assessment for the correct procedure for cleaning the distillation tank. It also found that no planning had been undertaken for the use of the flammable chemical during the cleaning activity. Be warned: don’t put lives at risk by failing to devise safe systems of work when using flammable chemicals or other flammable substances.

Falling from height at a construction site

Falling from height is the most common cause of fatal injury in the UK workplace. Figures just published by the HSE show that 40 out of 147 fatal injuries (37%) in the last 12 months were caused by a fall from height. Such falls also account for about 10% of non-fatal injuries.

A construction company was recently fined £10,000 after an employee, who was under the age of 18, stepped backwards through an unprotected stairway opening. He fell from the first floor onto the concrete ground floor and suffered two fractured ribs and bruising.

Whether your business is in construction or another industry, it’s essential to plan control measures and a safe way of working at height, especially when inexperienced workers are on site. In this case, installing guardrails around the stairwell would have prevented the unnecessary fall.

Keep your employees safe and your business out of court

These three examples barely scratch the surface of recent successful prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive. They demonstrate the harm caused and the financial penalty that comes with inadequate health and safety measures. Many prosecutions are the result of poor planning and the failure to carry out an appropriate risk assessment. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to take health and safety seriously, for the sake of your employees and your business.

If you need help to ensure your health and safety procedures are fit for purpose, then contact one of our experts at The Health and Safety Dept.

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