Fines for health and safety breaches in the UK were less substantial in 2020 than in 2019. We've examined the failings that prompted these penalties and the underlying statistics behind them.
Every employee has the right to work in a safe and protected environment, and all organisations have a legal duty of care to comply with. It's worth remembering that often the highest cost of health and safety incidents is on your company's reputation and employee morale.
In 2019 every health and safety fine in the top 10 was more than £1 million. As only 3 of the top 10 fines in 2020 were at this level, you might expect a fall in sickness and injury. However, the picture is far from clear cut. Many areas continue a downward trend with the notable exception of work related stress!
Key UK health and safety statistics
Despite the UK having one of the best health and safety records in the world, the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in 2018/2019:
- 147 workers killed at work
- 69,208 non-fatal injuries to employees (RIDOR)
- 138,000 over-7-day-absence injuries
- 443,000 up to 7-day-absence injuries
- 28.2m working days lost due to work-related ill-health and workplace injuries
- 12.8m working days lost because of stress, depression, anxiety or musculoskeletal disorders
- Workplace injuries and ill health cost: £15 billion (2017/18)
We have examined the causes of the biggest health and safety fines in the UK, to help you understand how to avoid the substantial penalties associated with compliance breaches.
1. Leadec Limited: £2m + £30k costs
Health and Safety At Work Act 1974: Section 2
The largest health and safety fine handed out in 2020 was to Leadec Limited, a specialist industrial services company, after a worker suffered a fatal injury whilst cleaning waste-water pipes.
Joseph McDonald, an employee of Leadec Limited, was using high-pressure water jetting equipment to clean paint residue from pipes in the paint shop at a car manufacturing site in Solihull. During the process, Mr McDonald was struck by the end of a flexi-lance, causing a fatal injury.
An investigation by the HSE found that while the company recognised the risks of operating high-pressure water jetting equipment, they had unfortunately failed to put in place appropriate measures to mitigate the risks. They had not implemented or enforced the use of various control measures such as a pressure regulator or an anti-ejection device, which were missing at the time of the incident and, training and supervision were also not up to standard.
2. Rhino Construction & Building Services: £1.3m + £4k costs
Work at Height Regulations: Section 4
The firm pleaded guilty to failing to plan and carry out work at height in a safe manner. As a result of the company's failures, one of its employees fell through a hole in the ground floor into the basement beneath, suffering grievous injuries.
According to HSE guidelines, "working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries." Furthermore, "you must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people with the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job."
3. Costain Limited: £1.2m + £22k costs
Health and Safety At Work Act 1974: Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1)
Costain Limited, a Maidenhead-based construction firm, has been hit with a huge £1.2m fine after two workers were injured by a collapsing cage while building a road.
The accident involved a mobile elevated working platform (MEWP) with two workers inside. One employee suffered a life-changing head injury and another a fractured leg. A third worker narrowly avoided injury after moving out of the way just in time.
An investigation carried out by HSE found that the company was aware the cage was visibly leaning and that workers had raised concerns. Neither recognised the instability of the cage or took measures to ensure the work was carried out safely.
4. Phillips 66 Limited: £1.2m + £20k costs
H&S at Work Act Breach: Sections 2 (1) & 3 (1)
The refinery giant, Phillips 66, has been fined £1.2 million after a sudden superheated steam blast almost killed one worker and left another in intensive care. Apprentice Scott Irvine was hospitalised for six months and required special care for an additional 13 months after he was thrown across scaffolding by the sheer force of the blast. Mr Irvine suffered 60% burns, while his supervisor suffered 40% burns.
The HSE investigation found that the accumulation of steam which led to the blast happened over a short period of time, but a suitable network of safety protocols had not been implemented to help identify and deal with such a risk.
Phillips 66 have promised to take steps "to prevent a similar event from happening again."
5. Modus Workspace: £1.1m + £68k costs
H&S at Work Act Breach: Section 3 (1)
A London refurbishment firm, Modus Workspace, was fined over £1m after a worker fell 3m, suffering grievous injuries. While testing a sprinkler system for leaks from an extension ladder, one of Modus' employees fell into the gap between the internal roof and the external wall after the ladder slipped away.
The HSE found that appropriate measures had not been taken to prevent such incidents. Investigating HSE inspector John Berezansky commented that the "injuries were life-changing and he could have easily been killed. This serious incident and devastation could have been avoided if basic safety measures had been put in place."
6. Delphi Diesel Systems: £1m + £10k costs
Health and Safety At Work Act 1974: Section 2 (1)
Delphi Diesel Systems was fined £1m (reduced to £600k on appeal) and ordered to pay £10k in costs as two workers were burnt while cleaning a distillation tank.
The vapour of a flammable chemical, which was being used to clean the distillation tank part of a component washer, ignited and caused an explosion. Both employees suffered significant burn injuries, with one employee’s injuries being so serious they could not return to work for over two months.
An investigation by the HSE found that no risk assessment had been undertaken for the procedure of cleaning the distillation tank and that no safe system of work had been put in place. The investigation also found that no planning had been undertaken for the use of the flammable chemical during the cleaning activity.
7. Chesterfield Special Cylinders: £700k + £169k costs
H&S at Work Act Breach: Section 2 (1)
A manufacturer of gas cylinders, Chesterfield Special Cylinders Limited, has been fined over £869,000 for H&S breaches after an engineer was killed by shrapnel ejected from work equipment. The engineer was leak testing gas cylinders when one of them suddenly exploded.
An HSE investigation found that Chesterfield failed to sufficiently assess the risks from the use of Vaporol, a mineral oil-based corrosion inhibitor, inside cylinders during leak testing, ultimately resulting in an avoidable fatality.
8. TM Telford Dairy: £600k + £14k costs
H&S at Work Act Breach: Section 2 (1)
At TM Telford Dairy, a Telford-based yoghurt manufacturer, an engineer was severely burnt after coming into contact with nitric acid cleaning solution with a temperature of 650°C, while performing maintenance on a faulty valve. The valve exploded under pressure and the acid surged upwards, hitting the facility's roof and raining down upon the engineer and another worker.
The HSE discovered that the company had provided no formal training to the two workers involved regarding isolation and lock-off procedures, safe removal of valves, and use of work permits. According to the HSE, "if a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the injuries sustained by the employees could have been prevented."
9. McGee Group: £500k + £66k costs
Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 Breach: Section 22 (1)
A demolition company, McGee Group Limited, has been fined over £500k after one of its workers was fatally wounded when a concrete slab collapsed beneath him. This happened despite another worker having made a site supervisor aware of the unsafe conditions they were working in.
Findings from the HSE investigation revealed that the victim had not received adequate health and safety training. Moreover, CCTV footage also revealed that demolition work on the site had been unsafely carried out in the weeks preceding the incident.
10. Viridor Waste Management: £400k + £13k costs
Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations Breach: Section 4 (1)
Waste management firm, Viridor, has been found guilty of inflicting a "life-changing injury" on one of its workers, resulting in a penalty of more than £400k. What happened is that a Viridor employee was working on foot in his role as a banksman, when a contractor reversed a 22.5-tonne shovel loader onto him, crushing the lower half of his body.
In a statement to the HSE, Viridor’s director apologised to the victim and his family for the incident. Viridor accepted that despite having procedures in place to manage vehicle safety on-site, on this particular occasion, they were regrettably not adhered to.
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