This quarterly update summarises a selection of news stories relating to health and safety investigations and prosecutions published in the period April – June 2022 as well as some of the key corporate manslaughter cases which have been brought in recent months.
Recent corporate manslaughter cases
Greenfeeds, a food waste recycling company was found guilty of corporate manslaughter on 7 June 2022 after a six week trial at Leicester Crown Court. The company was sentenced on 16 June 2022 and was fined a total of £2 million. Key individuals in the ownership and management of the company were also sentenced to varying terms in prison for gross negligence manslaughter and breaches of section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974.
The charges related to an incident at the company’s Normanton, Leicestershire plant at which biofuel and pig feed were produced from recycled products. On 22 December, a member of yard staff climbed into a tanker which was not fully emptied to clean it. The employee got into difficulty which led a colleague to attempt to rescue him but both died at the scene before emergency services arrived.
An investigation found that the cleaning method whereby employees climbed into the tankers with a power washer had no proper risk assessment in place, including no method statement for entering and exiting the tanker and no provision of breathing equipment or PPE for employees entering the tanker. It was also found that staff had previously expressed concern about the safety of the cleaning method and the concerns has not been acted upon.
ROYAL AIR FORCE
An investigation is on-going into the death of Sergeant Rachel Fisk which occurred on 2 September 2021 at RAF Weston on the Green. Sergeant Fisk’s parachute appeared not to open during a planned jump. The join investigation between the HSE and the police is pursuing relevant lines of enquiry, including a review of the equipment used during the jump and the relevant digital data regarding the exercise at the RAF base.
Oxford Coroner’s Court was told that the investigators are looking at potential offences of corporate manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter and breaches of health and safety legislation. The case was adjourned and a further pre-inquest review is expected to take place later this year.
In October 2018, an inquest was launched into the deaths of two men at Banham Poultry in Attleborough. The pest control subcontractors were found dead at the chicken factory in the early hours of 4 October 2018.
The inquest has been repeatedly adjourned since it began to allow for further investigation by the police and HSE. In November 2021, the police confirmed that they were looking into potential charges for corporate manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter. The latest review will take place on 19 July 2022.
FDS WASTE SERVICES
FDS Waste Services Ltd, a waste collection company, was charged with corporate manslaughter after the death of one of its employees on 13 December 2018. The CPS alleges that the employee was not properly separated from moving vehicles while hand-sorting waste and adequate training and supervision to prevent a collision had not been provided.
The company and its director were also charged with breaching their duties under health and safety legislation. The case is listed for a plea hearing on 11 July 2022 and the trial will start on 28 November 2022.
On 25 March 2022, Alutrade Ltd, a recycling firm based in Oldbury, was fined £2 million alongside a costs order of £105,514 after pleading guilty to corporate manslaughter. The offence related to an employee who died after being struck from above while walking underneath a hopper machine. During the investigation a significant number of other health and safety breaches, including staff clearing blockages themselves by jumping in the machine, were revealed.
The company accepted that it fell short on health and safety standards and that its “gross negligence” led to the fatal injury. Directors Malcolm George and Kevin Pugh, and health and safety manager Mark Redfern were initially charged with gross negligence manslaughter but later pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. They were ordered to pay £21,109, £9,702 and £7,243 respectively.
PROPOSED RELAXATION OF HEALTH AND SAFETY RULES TO EASE COST OF LIVING
A relaxation to health and safety rules has been one of the suggestions tabled to assist the UK population with the rising cost of living. It is reported that the Prime Minister is considering reviewing nursery rations of staff to children to allow more children to attend nurseries and free up parents to work. This would bring England more in line with Scotland which has more lenient regulations. Currently both England and Scotland allow one adult for every three children under two, but with regards to children aged two, England’s rules allow for one adult for every four children whereas Scotland allows for one adult for every five children.
Other suggestions in the area of health and safety include extending the time limit for MOTs to once every two years. Critics have raised concern about compromising safety as an easy way out of rising costs.
GRAHAM ENGINEERING SENTENCED AFTER FATAL ACCIDENT
On 26 April 2022, Graham Engineering was fined £500,000 and ordered to pays costs of £145,487 in relation to an accident that occurred on its site in Whitehalls Industrial Estate in 2018. An employee, Colin Willoughby, was fatally injured after lying on his back underneath the raised middle section of a 1,000 tonne capacity press attempting to remove debris from the base of one of the pistons.
The HSE found that Graham Engineering had failed to carry out a risk assessment and ensure the press was being used safely. Following the trial, Graham Engineering was found guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company’s Manufacturing Director was however found not guilty of an ancillary charge under the same legislation.
UPDATES TO PPE AT WORK REGULATIONS
From 6 April 2022, the regulations on wearing PPE at work changed following a judicial review case brought against the UK government. The High Court concluded that the UK had failed to properly implement two EU Directives relating to PPE at work rules. The crux of the issue was that under UK law, the PPE at work rules only applied to “employees”, whereas the court held that EU law intended the rules to cover “workers” in their entirety. The changes made to the regulations this year reflect that judgment.
The regulations cover matters such as requiring an employer to provide suitable PPE to an employee where risks to the employee’s health and safety cannot be controlled by other means, and to ensure that any PPE provided to their employees is maintained, or cleaned/replaced, as needed.
GUILTY PLEA IN PRIORY HOSPITAL CASE
On 20 April 2022 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Priory Healthcare Ltd pleaded guilty to breaches of section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The charges related to the death of Francesca Whyatt, a 21-year-old patient at The Priory, who was discovered unconscious on 25 September 2013.
NETWORK RAIL FINED £1.4 MILLION
National Rail has been prosecuted as a result of the conclusions of an investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The investigation was launched following an incident in which a worker suffered life-changing injuries after being crushed between a piece of machinery and a people carrier.
The ORR’s investigation found breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 including failings in the company’s management of the worksite, a lack of supervision, poor communication at all levels and failure to provide adequate training to staff whose role involved safety risks. Network Rail was fined £1.4 million and also ordered to pay costs of £63,118.71.
INVESTIGATION INTO COVID SAFETY AT COLLEGE IDENTIFIES HEALTH AND SAFETY BREACHES
Burnley College was the first educational employer to be issued with a formal warning in respect of failures to adequately protect against Covid-19. The college was formally investigated by the HSE after the death of teacher, Donna Coleman, aged 42. Ms Coleman died from contracting Covid-19 and her family maintained that it came from the college.
The HSE concluded that "Burnley College was not taking all reasonably practicable measures to control Covid-19 within the workplace at the relevant time". However, it also found that from an assessment of the evidence, it was inconclusive whether Ms Coleman contracted Covid-19 at work or as a result of work activity. The failings identified by the HSE related to social distancing and ventilation in the office generally and specifically during meetings and a lack of the proper notification of close contacts of those who tested positive, with staff even being encouraged not to report.
EALING COUNCIL SELF-REFERRED TO HSE DUE TO LACK OF COMPLIANCE WITH HOME SAFETY STANDARDS
Following an internal audit of building safety, Ealing Council has referred itself to the HSE. The audit found that a significant number of homes in Ealing did not have an in-date fire risk assessment and there was no process for recording fire risk remedial actions, as well as those for electrical, asbestos and water safety.
The HSE has confirmed that the council has breached its Home Standard, putting tenants at risk. The council said the failing was largely due to falling behind on completing and verifying safety checks during the Covid-19 pandemic but assured the HSE that it is now in the process of putting in place the proper assessments and ensuring all remedial work is being completed.
SAFETY BREACHES LED TO FATAL ACCIDENT AT GOAT FARM
Yorkshire Dairy Goats has been prosecuted following the identification of various heath and safety breaches which led to the death of a farm worker. On 1 August 2018, 53-year-old Janet McDonald, an employee of the farm in York, was struck by a reversing telescopic materials handler vehicle, the driver of which having failed to see her.
An investigation by the HSE concluded that the incident could have been avoided if pedestrians and vehicles as the farm had been properly segregated. The company pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay costs of £20,000.
CARE PROVIDER TO BLAME FOR DEATH OF VULNERABLE ADULT AT CARE HOME
The Richmond Fellowship Scotland, a care provider, has been found guilty of health and safety breaches relating to the death of a vulnerable adult with severe learning difficulties. The resident, Ms Glasgow, drowned after running a bath for herself in the early hours of a morning in 2016 without the awareness of support workers.
The care provider had given support workers a baby monitor to alert them if Ms Glasgow was out of bed but the HSE found this to be insufficient as Ms Glasgow was light on her feet and her movements were not always picked up by the monitor. The workers on shift during the hours in question had not been at this particular location before so were unfamiliar with Ms Glasgow (with no induction procedures in place to make them familiar) and were caring for four other residents at the time due to staff shortages.
The Richmond Fellowship Scotland pleaded not guilty to charges under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 but were found guilty following the trial and fined £450,000.
HSE’S FOCUS TURNS TO MENTAL HEALTH IN NEXT TEN-YEAR STRATEGY
The HSE has recently published its ten year strategy which confirms that its focus continues to be to ensure that those who fail to protect against risk will be held to account and bear the cost. It also plans to concentrate its efforts “on areas of greatest health and safety challenge”, with mental health and building safety two of the areas which will be of particular focus.
While the HSE reports that there has been real progress in managing workplace safety risks in Great Britain, it recognises that this is not the same for work-related ill-health, particularly mental health issues and stress. Current trends show that the most commonly reported causes of work-related ill-health in Great Britain are now stress, depression, or anxiety. The HSE intends to reduce this trend by delivering interventions and working with businesses and the wider industry.
HERMES FINED £850,000 AFTER EMPLOYEE CRUSHED TO DEATH
Delivery firm, Hermes (now named Evri) has been fined in relation to the death of an employee at one of the company’s depots in Motherwell. The employee, David Kennedy, was crushed to death between the arm of a moving trailer and a stationary trailer during a night shift while he was being trained by a colleague.
The HSE’s investigation concluded that Hermes had not properly planned the systems and processes in the depot’s yard and had not assessed the risks faced by employees when undergoing training. Hermes had a policy in place regarding suitably trained individuals being responsible for trailers during training but this had not been followed. Hermes pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety legislation and was fined £850,000.
CALSBERG CONVICTED FOLLOWING 2016 AMMONIA GAS LEAK
In June, Carlsberg pleaded guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The offences related to the death of one contractor, David Chandler, and the serious injuries caused to another, David Beak, after an ammonia gas leak at the company’s Northampton brewery.
The HSE found that Calsberg had failed to put proper gas isolation controls in place and when the contractors had attempted to remove a compressor from the refrigeration system there had been a significant, uncontrolled release of ammonia. The company pleaded guilty to the charges at Birmingham Crown Court and was fined £3 million with £90,000 in costs.
A case was also brought against Crowley Carbon Ltd which was involved in the management of gas at the site but the company was placed into compulsory administration by creditors before trial.
GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR EVIDENCE ON THE AWARENESS AND ENFORCEMENT OF HEALTH AND SAFEFTY REGULATIONS IN THE SHORT-TERM AND HOLIDAY LETTING MARKET
The government has highlighted concerns around the increase in short-term and holiday letting with new entrants into the market being unaware or not complying with health and safety regulations. The concerns have stemmed from the rise of homeowners advertising their properties on new platforms such as Airbnb, with no guidance provided on health and safety legislation they must abide by, and enforcement agencies having no oversight of how much of this activity is taking place in their jurisdictions.
Evidence will be collected by the government on the awareness of, enforcement of, and compliance with the key regulations in fire safety, gas safety, health and safety and food hygiene standards in the short-term and holiday letting market. It is hoped that it may also redress the current imbalance in hotels and formal hospitality accommodation having to meet strict rules, in comparison to the informal holiday letting market seemingly being able to fly under the radar.
ROOFING COMPANY AND ITS DIRECTOR BOTH GUILTY OVER DEATH OF WORKER
Total Contractors, a roofing company based in Hove, and Brighton firm, Southern Asphalt, alongside their directors were held responsible for the death of worker, Graham Tester, aged 60. Mr Tester had been working on a building site in Brunswick and was using a ladder secured only by two nails to a timber frame when he fell and suffered fatal injuries. The HSE found a number of significant health and safety breaches, including the absence of any scaffolding or barriers to prevent workers from falling from heights on the site.
Lewes Crown Court sentenced Steven Wenham, director of Total Contractors, to five years in prison for gross negligence manslaughter, and John Spiller, director of Sothern Asphalt, 15 months. Mr Wenham is prevented from being a company director for 10 years. The companies were also convicted of offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Total Contractors was fined £190,000 with costs of £30,000 and Southern Asphalt was fined £120,000 with costs of £20,000.