£1.4m fine for Total UK Ltd following major fire

On 29 June 2010 a major fire broke out at the Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire. The HSE’s investigation revealed that the root cause of the fire was an uncontrolled release of crude oil.

Robert Greenacre was a 24-year old man working near a crude oil distillation unit. He was working with a colleague beneath a distillation column containing hot crude oil. They were tasked with blinding a low pressure steam line in a distillation column. The blind had been removed a few weeks earlier to allow steam into the column to clean it. The column had several tonnes of hot crude oil. It was being restarted and unbeknown to Mr Greenacre and his colleague the blind had not been replaced. They therefore mistakenly opened a piece  of equipment and the crude oil was released. A short time later it ignited. Mr Greenacre’s colleague escaped with minor burns but Mr Greenacre was fatally injured.

The court heard how Total had failed in its safety management systems by omitting to replace the blind. The fitters were not aware of the absence of the blind or that the column contained crude oil. The hazard was not identified within any documentation.

Total pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH) and were fined £1.4m and ordered to pay costs £34,084.05.

Whilst Total pleaded in mitigation that their general attitude to health and safety was good, the fine imposed was significant given the fatality and that the incident could have been foreseen. The court also took into account time constraints placed on employees and Total’s previous conviction arising from the 2005 Buncefield explosion.

Rogue trader imprisoned for six months

Christopher Shaw, known under several aliases, was jailed for six months for carrying out illegal gas work at a home, putting a family with two children at risk of serious injury, or even death.

Mr Shaw traded as SOS Express Plumbing. He was known to the police and a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to attend Bradford Magistrates’ Court in connection with several gas safety offences.

Despite not being a registered gas engineer, either with Gas Safe or the previous gas registration body Corgi, Mr Shaw installed a boiler at a family home in breach of a prohibition notice, which prevented him from performing gas work. The boiler installation was later found to be unsafe, exposing the family and those nearby to potential carbon monoxide poisoning, fire and explosion.

The family experienced persistent problems with the boiler, which Mr Shaw returned to repair on several occasions. The faults were eventually discovered by a registered gas engineer working for the boiler manufacturer.

The unsavoury nature of Mr Shaw’s work came to light at the hearing when it was revealed that he received a Prohibition Notice in 2011 after carrying out unsafe work at various properties between March 2010 and May 2011, including a house run by a charity which supported homeless people.

Mr Shaw pleaded guilty to breaches of 3 (3) and 26 (1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and Section 33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was given a six-month prison sentence for each of the three charges to run concurrently.

Scaffolder prosecuted following a member of the public’s filmed footage

Greg Pearson of Enfield, trading as ”Pearsons Scaffolding”, was prosecuted after a member of the public provided the HSE with photographs and video evidence of a poorly constructed scaffold in central London. The scaffold was fifteen metres high. It had been poorly erected with workers as well as members of the public walking beneath it clearly placed at risk.

The HSE served a Prohibition Notice ordering work to be stopped until the scaffold was made safe.

Mr Pearson pleaded guilty to ss 6(3) and 10(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He was handed two prison sentences of ten weeks to run concurrently, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay costs of £200 and a victim surcharge of £80.

Failure to comply with enforcement notices lands MD with fine 

Jan Willem Boruch was the sole director of Janbor Ltd, a company specialising in the recycling of  wood waste. Janbor Ltd, a Hertfordshire-based company, was served with three Improvement Notices in October 2014 relating to work activity at its plant, but failed to comply with them.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served the notices and prosecuted Mr Boruch, rather than the company, for its failure to comply. He was fined £8,000 after pleading guilty to an offence under Section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was also ordered to pay legal costs of £2,089.

Although this case arose from relatively minor health and safety breaches against a small company, it highlights the consequences of failing to comply with enforcement notices, particularly the potential personal liability of directors of companies.