With the first half of 2022 behind us, the year has been one of new penalty heights. The highest fine of the year thus far is £1m more than the highest penalty in 2021. This increase continues the upward trend in health and safety fines when comparing the biggest fine in 2020 to the highest fine in 2019.
On the note of reaching new heights, many of the fines this year have resulted from fatal falls. After last year saw a lack of safeguarding as the prime reason to be on the receiving end of a fine, height risk measures are now in the spotlight.
Headline UK health & safety statistics
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that in 2020/2021:
- 142 workers killed at work
- 441,000 non-fatal injuries at work according to self-reports (Labour Force Survey)
- 51,211 non-fatal injuries reported by employers (RIDDOR)
- 1.7 million workers suffered from work-related ill-health
Top 10 H&S breach fines of 2022
- Northern Gas Networks Ltd: £5m + £91.5k costs
- Boulby Mine: £3.6m
- Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd: £1.5m + £29.2k costs
- Siemens Energy Limited: £900k + £6.3k costs
- Robert McBride Ltd: £480k + £3.3k costs
- Able UK Ltd: £200k + £21k costs
- Hanson Springs Ltd: £200k + £5.4k
- J. R. Adams (Newcastle) Limited: £200k + £15.3k costs
- Swain Scaffolding Limited: £120k + £9.4k costs
- Ensure Asbestos Management Ltd: £100k
Top 10 H&S breach fines of 2022 in detail
We have examined the UK's biggest health and safety fines of the year thus far to help you understand how to avoid making the same simple mistakes.
1. Northern Gas Networks Ltd: £5m + £91.5k costs
Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 3 (1)
Following a fatal fire and gas explosion in Mirfield, authorities found Northern Gas Networks Ltd to breach Health and Safety regulations and fined £5 million. In addition, authorities ordered the gas operator to pay £91,487 in costs.
The HSE found that the source of the gas escape was a fractured cast iron main running under the carriageway to the front of the property. Homeowner, Elena Frunza, was found during the property search and taken to the hospital. She passed away the following day.
Upon investigation, the HSE found that this main did not appear in Northern Gas Networks drawings and maintenance failings in line with the Pipelines Safety Regulations 1996.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. The HSE concluded that they failed "to follow their safety procedures, in this case requiring the prompt and effective investigation and correction of anomalies in their records."
2. Boulby Mine: £3.6m
Section 2 (1) and two counts of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
The owners of Boulby Mine, a mining company, have been fined £3.6m after an investigation by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed deficiencies in the company's risk assessment and planning of works processes.
Poor health and safety practices and safeguards led to the serious injury of two electrical contractors. One victim received serious burns from an 11,000-volt electrical system that electrocuted him after he unknowingly came into contact with a live electrical chamber in 2016. The second victim came in contact with a live conductor on a 415-volt electrical system in 2019.
3. Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd: £1.5m + £29.2k costs
Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 & Work at Height Regulations 2005
Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd has been found guilty of breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and several safety regulations. The company was subsequently fined £1.5 million and ordered to pay costs of £29,239.
Electrician Keith Poppleton fatally fell 8 metres from a crane's walkway when an access panel gave way beneath him. He was repairing wiring, which was causing short-circuiting at the time of the accident.
The HSE found that the company failed to maintain the access panels of the crane walkway. Furthermore, the investigation also found that the panel had undergone weld repair, but there was no evidence that the company had ensured they securely replaced the panel. The HSE inspector, Jonathon Wills, said, "this was an incident that could easily have been prevented had the company considered the risks associated with such access panels."
4. Siemens Energy Limited: £900k + £6.3k costs
Regulation 13(1) of the Construction Design & Management Regulations 2015
The HSE fined a principal contractor and subcontractor after an employee's retina was damaged during an explosion caused by a cable strike during construction works. Simens Energy Limited was the principal contractor, and they subcontracted high voltage cabling expert, VolkerInfra Ltd.
VolkerInfra Ltd's employee was driving the excavator that struck an existing live cable resulting in multiple live explosions. Upon investigation, the HSE found that Siemens Energy did not fully complete the permit to dig.
In addition, Siemens Energy and VolkerInfra Ltd had failed to check the able marking before work began. Authorities also found the monitoring and supervision at work to be inadequate. Siemens Energy was fined £900k with costs of £6.3k, and VolkerInfra Ltd. was fined £180k and to pay costs of £6.4k.
5. Robert McBride Ltd: £480k + £3.3k costs
Regulation 6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002
Robert McBride Ltd. has been fined nearly half a million pounds after an accident involving a batch of hairspray catching fire and scorching an employee's arm. The HSE investigated the incident and found that the company had breached regulations regarding the production of dangerous substances and explosive gases.
The factory worker was putting powder into a vessel using a metal scoop. The powder was going through the lid of the vessel, which could not prevent the build-up of a flammable atmosphere. Some of the vapours caught fire which engulfed the worker's torso. Robert McBride Ltd. pleaded guilty and said they deeply regretted the injury sustained by their employee.
6. Able UK Ltd: £200k + £21k costs
Health and Safety at Work act 1974 Regulation 2(1)
In another fatal fall, Able UK Ltd was fined £200k with nearly £21k in costs after one of their workers fell 15 meters after the platform he was working on gave way.
The civil engineering company worked on a contract to dismantle four platforms from the Brent North Sea oil and gas field. The accident occurred on the Brent Bravo platform. Upon investigation, the HSE found that the company had failed to conduct a full structural appraisal of the platform before dismantling it. Therefore, the risk assessment and method statement could not reflect the appraisal findings.
Authorities found this to fail to ensure employees can carry out work safety. HSE inspector stated, "it is essential for those in control of the work to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of all those involved with the work."
7. Hanson Springs Ltd: £200k + £5.4k
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Regulation 2(1)
Following an accident involving a worker severing two fingers, Hanson Springs Ltd was fined £200k and ordered to pay around £5.4k in costs.
The incident occurred after the worker tried to replace a worn blade of a vertical bandsaw. An investigation by the HSE found that the employee had received poor training in using the machine, and the supervisor did not conduct a formal competency test.
Furthermore, the employee's training included lubricating a new blade despite this being unnecessary with a self-lubricating machine. As a result, operational management had no safe method of blade lubrication in place.
8. J. R. Adams (Newcastle) Limited: £200k + £15.3k costs
Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
Following a fatal fall, transport and haulage company J.R. Adams (Newcastle) Ltd. was fined £200k. While unloading goods from the transport shipping container, an employee fell about 1.5m from the rear of the container.
The HSE found that the company didn't have control measures to prevent or mitigate the risk of a fall from the rear of this container. Furthermore, the company failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment for this specific work task.
9. Swain Scaffolding Limited: £120k + £9.4k costs
Health and Safety At Work Act 1974, Section 2, Sub Section 1
Following the death of scaffolder Jeff Plevey, four individuals were found guilty of health and safety breaches. One of the guilty parties, Stewart Swain, is the director of Swain Scaffolding Ltd. Plevey was crushed to death after a church wall collapsed on him in Cardiff.
The judge found that the cause of death was the failure to stabilise the wall and stated that Swain made "errors of neglect rather than wilful blindness."
10. Ensure Asbestos Management Ltd: £100k
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 2(1) and 3(1)
Ensure Asbestos Management Ltd has been fined £100k; its director has been jailed after failing to protect workers from asbestos exposure. There is little prospect of payment with the company in liquidation, so authorities did not order costs.
The asbestos removal company was on contract for a refurbishment project at a department store in Plymouth, where its workers raised concerns about being put in harm's way. Upon investigation, the HSE found that the company had deliberately falsified documents and taken shortcuts in managing the danger of asbestos exposure which put workers at risk.
HSE inspector stated that the company had "failed to work within the law despite having a wealth of knowledge on the risks associated with asbestos exposure".
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