Westminster Magistrates’ Court recently dealt with a prosecution brought by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) following the death of an employee of the defendant, RRS London Waste Papers Ltd (RRS) in March 2017.

The employee was found dead inside the compaction chamber of a baling machine and was held to have died as a result of sustaining serious crush injuries. Following his death the HSE carried out a full investigation and made the finding that the worker had fallen down the loading hopper into the compaction chamber. The investigation concluded that he was most likely attempting to clear a blockage when he fell and the impact of this initiated the compaction sequence. It was the view of the HSE that there had been breaches of health and safety legislation by RRS that led to this death and as a result instigated a prosecution.

Specifically the HSE found that this incident could have been prevented had RRS devised and instructed workers on a safe method for clearing machine blockages. Climbing up the baler to clear blockages exposed workers to the foreseeable risk of falling a significant distance either into the compaction chamber or the surrounding concrete floor – both of which would be likely to result in serious injury. The HSE felt that this method / practice was clearly unsafe and that RRS should have ensured a proper procedure was in place and followed so that the blockages could be cleared without putting employees at risk.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court found RRS guilty of breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,639.77 and a victim surcharge of £170.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Nicholas Wright, said: “This tragic incident, which led to the avoidable death of a father, was easily preventable and the risk should have been identified…Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery. Maintenance work should only be carried out when the piece of equipment is isolated and confirmed safe. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: “The HSE is achieving increasing profile for the steps it takes to investigate serious accidents in the workplace and prosecute companies that do not take appropriate care for the safety of employees. Whilst no fine can bring back the deceased employee or undo the damage caused to his family, we hope that this prosecution and substantial fine will ensure that this company now, if not already done so, significantly overhauls its safety procedures, and act as a warning to other companies operating similar machinery.

“It is an absolute requirement that employers consider all of the day-to-day activities that their employees undertake, or may need to undertake, as well as what risks are inherent in those activities in order to consider, identify and enforce measures designed to avoid or at the very least minimise those risks. All too often we see accidents like this that are both foreseeable and avoidable and result in tragic consequences for employees and/or their families. The HSE bringing and publicising prosecutions like this can only be a positive step in making employers consider and act on their obligations to their staff.”