On 25 November 2014 William Richardson, an agency worker, was employed to unload pallets by Decco Ltd, Chesham, Buckinghamshire, a DIY wholesaler. Mr Richardson fell eight feet from a wet and inadequately guarded platform whilst unloading pallets. He was flown by helicopter to hospital but died following an eight-day coma.
It was revealed at Aylesbury Crown Court that spring-loaded gates designed to protect workers from the platform edge were badly worn. Mr Richardson slipped on the wet wooden platform onto a concrete floor below. Industry guidance (published seven years prior to the accident) stated that unguarded edges were dangerous. Despite this, the barriers were not fixed.
Judge Sheridan said that “The design was a Heath Robinson do-it-yourself contraption, in my view. The whole of the edge was unguarded which was simply disgraceful. This was an obvious danger. With or without safety advice, it would be idiotic to proceed without having regard to that. One doesn’t need guidance, one just needs a modicum of common sense to realise this system was wholly inadequate and a disaster waiting to happen. Those responsible for this company should hang their heads in shame at the failings that led to a man’s death”.
The company admitted two breaches of the HSWA 1974 and were fined £2.2m following a reduction from £3.3m due to an early guilty plea. The prosecution submitted that the company had an annual turnover of £100m last year and employed 255 permanent employees.
In mitigation, James Ageros QC, for the company said that they had no previous health and safety convictions in 80 years of trading. He said the company had gone “the extra mile” to ensure that the correct safety measures were in place post-accident.
The prosecuting authority was Chiltern District Council. This fine is the largest to date in a local authority prosecution.