26 April, 2021
In one case Peter Coleman (54) died after becoming trapped underneath a refuse collection vehicle in 2014.
The court heard that the incident happened when Mr Coleman was collecting waste from a leisure complex. His vehicle began to roll away, and it was whilst he was attempting to regain control of the vehicle and stop it that he became trapped underneath the rear of it. The vehicle then rolled into a tree and caught fire. He was trapped for 90 minutes before being freed by the emergency services but died later in hospital. The evidence was that the handbrake had been on at the time.
Mr Coleman's employer, F&R Cawley, had failed to properly maintain the vehicle, and didn't properly scrutinise the work of its technicians who had carried out safety checks on it. The brakes on the vehicle's 2nd axle were faulty and a safety mechanism had been disabled.
F&R Cawley Ltd was found guilty of breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, in that it failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that a person in their employment, namely Peter Coleman, was not exposed to risks to his health and safety, namely the risk of death or serious injury from unsafe operation of refuse collection vehicles.
The waste management company was also found guilty of breaching sections 3(1) of the Act, in that it failed to conduct its undertaking, namely waste collection, in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment, including members of the public, were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
As a result, the judge fined the company £1.5 million and ordered them to pay costs of £475,000.
Upon handing down the £1.5 million fine, the judge said it had been reduced as there had been notable improvements in health and safety since the incident.
However, he noted two previous incidents where the company was fined £100,000 in 2015 when an employee's arm was caught in a conveyor belt, and in 2009 when a metal door from a skip fell on to a driver's head.
He said the fine is in line with the company's results as despite suffering a loss during the pandemic, it will "no doubt return to the profits it enjoyed previously".
In another case brought against Enterprise Managed Service, part of Amey, the court heard how Kane Beard (22) tripped and fell under the wheels of the refuse lorry when he was working as part of a 4-man collection crew on a routine collection of recyclable waste. There had not been a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, and there was a failure to adequately supervise the round. The HSE said that the accident could have been avoided if the risk assessment had been carried out which would have identified when reversing could be avoided.
Enterprise Managed Services admitted breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The company was fined £1.02 million and ordered to pay costs of £60,476.
HSE inspector Michelle Morrison further said, after the hearing,
'Those in control of workplaces are responsible for identifying and implementing suitable methods of working to reduce the need for vehicle reversing.
'Companies should be aware that [the] HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.'
These tragic cases are a stark reminder that the courts (despite the pandemic and the impact on an organisation's turnover over the last year or so), will be more than ready to impose heavy levels of fines in accordance with the organisation's pre-pandemic turnover. The general principles of fines are that they needs to be proportionate to the overall means of the offender and have a real economic impact on the organisation, to ensure they take health and safety seriously. However, we would expect the Courts to allow a greater degree of flexibility in paying the fine by way of instalments over a longer period of time. In the case of F&R Cawley the fine is to be paid over 5 years, but Enterprise Managed Services only have 3 months to pay.
Ensuring organisations have safe working procedures in place does not just relate to operational aspects of the job but does extend to ensuring that work equipment is maintained, and that risk assessment are done. Having safe and reasonable working procedures in place for work equipment includes having both planned preventative and condition based maintenance regimes in place. Another common theme arising from HSE prosecutions is the questionable level of supervision, instruction, training and information provided to employees working in critical high risk areas of work.
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