The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued itself with a Crown censure following an accident that caused a worker at its Buxton testing facility to be injured.
A prototype hydrogen storage vessel was being tested for its intended use. A connector failed and hydrogen ignited, causing the worker serious burns while he was conducting the experiment. HM Inspectors found that the incident could have been avoided via recognised control measures established in longstanding published guidance. The accident occurred due to failings to manage, plan, assess and control a well-known risk of serious injury or death.
The HSE was served with a Crown Improvement Notice, requiring it to arrange for a system of work for leak and proof testing an assembled test tank and hydrogen line, to ensure the safety of employees and other people in the vicinity; with which it promptly complied.
Since the HSE is a government body, it cannot face prosecution like private or commercial organisations. The maximum sanction a government body can receive is a Crown Censure. It is, as stated on the HSE website, “the way in which the HSE formally records its decision that, but for Crown immunity, the evidence of a Crown body’s failure to comply with health and safety law would have been sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of securing a conviction.”
The HSE admitted to breaching section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, whereby it exposed employees to risks to their safety, health and welfare, by accepting the Crown Censure. There are no financial penalties associated with a Crown Censure; however, it becomes an official record of the government body’s failure to meet the standards set out in law, once accepted.
Whilst Government bodies such as the Ministry of Defence, receive Crown Censures from time to time, it is highly unusual that the HSE would earn one itself.