The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK has had its hands full with investigating health and safety breaches and dishing out penalties to companies that have failed to adhere to regulations. Fines from recent years reflect the severity of these breaches.
Top 10 HSE fines
- Valero Energy UK & B&A Contracts: £5.1m + £1m costs (2019)
- Northern Gas Networks Ltd: £5m + £91.5k costs (2022)
- Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Ltd: £4.4m + £87.7k costs (2023)
- National Grid: £4m + £92k costs (2021)
- Boulby Mine: £3.6m (2022)
- Valencia Waste Management Limited: £3m + £21k costs (2023)
- Exolum Pipeline System Ltd: £2.3m + £157k costs (2023)
- Leadec Limited: £2m + £30k costs (2020)
- Karro Foods: £1.9m + £8k costs (2019)
- Celsa Manufacturing (UK): £1.8m + £146k costs (2019)
Breaches in health and safety legislation have severe consequences, often resulting in serious injury or loss of life. Workplace accidents include falls from height, fire and gas explosions and vehicle accidents on site. In all cases, employers have failed to mitigate workplace risks.
The penalties listed include the fine amount and the company's legal costs. An alarming observation is that two of the highest fines come from 2022, with one of the two sitting in second place. The big fines from recent times are an indication that comprehensive health and safety training is vital.
Top 10 HSE fines in detail
We've examined the causes of the UK's biggest health and safety fines over the past few years to help you understand how to avoid making the same mistakes. Take a look at the complete list of fines in 2019, the top 10 fines of 2020, the biggest fines of 2022 and penalties in 2023 thus far.
1. Valero Energy UK & B&A Contracts: £5.1m + £1m costs (2019)
H&S at Work Act Breaches: Sections 2 (1) & 3 (1)
The largest fines of 2019 were handed to Valero Energy UK Ltd and B&A Contracts Ltd over an explosion at a Pembrokeshire oil refinery in 2011, leaving four workers dead and one critically harmed. The blast happened as the five workers used a vacuum tanker to drain one of the Amine Recovery Unit's tanks.
The resulting explosion was so severe that it blew off the tank's 5-tonne roof, launching it 55 metres through the air, narrowly missing a highly flammable pipe track, before hitting a butane storage sphere.
HSE investigators discovered that the refinery's safety management systems possessed numerous longstanding failures. This resulted in the Amine Recovery Unit's flammable atmosphere risks not being adequately controlled or understood by everyone involved.
For their failure to prevent this human tragedy, Valero was fined £5 million (and £1 million in costs), while B & A Contracts were fined £120,000 (and £40,000 costs).
2. Northern Gas Networks Ltd: £5m + £91.5k costs (2022)
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."
3. Kier Infrastructure & Overseas Ltd: £4.4m + £87.7k costs (2023)
Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 Sections 2(1) and 3(1) and Regulation 13(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
After its two incidents of its workers striking overhead powerlines on the M6 motorway, causing the cables to fall in the path of passing vehicles, the civil engineering company Kier has been fined over £4m. Both incidents occurred on overnight road works.
While clearing tarmac from the hard should and loading a truck with an excavator, the raised loading bucket struck and severed an overhead powerline. This 11 kilovolt overhead powerline landed in the motorway and in a nearby field.
After an investigation, the HSE found that the workers failed to inform the network provider after this first incident. This meant that the cable was re-energised a number of times while it was lying in the motorway. Due to poor planning by Kier, the vehicle used was unsuitable despite more suitable vehicles being available.
During the second incident, a crane struck an unmarked overhead cable which resulted in a powerline getting hit and snapping by an oncoming lorry. The workers were unaware of the overhead hazards, and there was no task-specific risk assessment available for workers.
4. National Grid: £4m + £92k costs (2021)
Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 / 3 / 1
The largest health and safety fine in 2021 was handed to National Grid Gas plc. The health and safety offences arose from its failure to make records available for hundreds of properties, resulting in routine safety inspections not taking place.
When National Grid Gas sold part of its operations to Cadent Gas in 2016, they did not transfer the records of many buildings. That meant condition surveys, inspections, and routine maintenance had been missing for years.
It highlights that even if injuries do not result from such mistakes, you can still be subject to hefty fines.
5. Boulby Mine: £3.6m (2022)
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.
6. Valencia Waste Management Limited: £3m + £21k costs
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 Section 3
Valencia Waste Management Limited has been fined £3 million by the HSE for the deaths of workers Michael Atkin and Mart Wheatley in separate incidents in 2019 and 2020. The HSE investigated both incidents, leading to the prosecution of the company.
Mart Wheatley, a 31-year-old agency worker, died in 2020 while using a lorry to lift two skips simultaneously at Dartmoor National Park Conservation Works depot in Bovey Tracey, Devon. The fine reflects the serious nature of the safety violations.
In this tragic incident, incompatible skips, differing in dimensions and positioned at an angle, led to a fatal accident when an individual attempted to rectify the situation on the lorry bed.
An investigation by the HSE revealed that the company neglected to conduct a proper risk assessment for skip operations, resulting in the absence of safe work systems and adequate training. Additionally, the investigation uncovered issues with skip maintenance and the absence of size labels on the skips.
Michael Atkin, a 63-year-old HGV driver from Wetherby, tragically lost his life during a waste collection operation at Valencia Waste Management Limited's Grendon Road site in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, on October 10, 2019. Employed by RT Keedwell, Atkin was at the site alongside a Valencia Waste Management employee, who was using a forklift truck to load rows of waste paper bales onto Atkin's lorry.
7. Exolum Pipeline System Ltd: £2.3m + £157k costs (2023)
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Sections 2 (1) and 3(1)
Pipeline transportation company, Exolum Pipeline System Ltd., has been fined £2.3m after its employees were exposed to the risk of serious injury and death. These safety breaches took place when workers were excavating a suspected pipeline leak in North Lincolnshire in 2018.
The risks from this excavation work were severe as there was the potential of petroleum in the pipeline forming a flammable cloud under high pressure. This could have extended several metres, causing those in the vicinity to be covered in a heavy spray of petrol and engulfed in petrol vapour.
Upon investigation, the HSE found that Exolum Pipeline System Ltd failed to identify and control the risks associated with conducting a pipeline repair.
"This incident had the potential to cause serious injury or death to multiple casualties and could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices."
8. Leadec Limited: £2m + £30k costs (2020)
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.
9. Karro Foods: £1.9m + £8k costs (2019)
H&S at Work Act Breaches: Section 2 (1)
Karro Foods Ltd, a Yorkshire food manufacturing company, was fined almost £2 million after two of its employees were critically injured after falling more than four metres through a roof light. One employee suffered a punctured lung, muscular contusions to his thigh, and four rib fractures.
The other worker suffered muscular injuries in one leg, a fractured skull, and an ear injury which still affects his memory, balance, and mental health.
This case's critical factor was the build-up of moss and grime on the roof light, which accumulated over the years. It was thus invisible to the naked eye, and nobody had made any workers aware of its presence.
HSE inspector Mark Slater said it was "a wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to provide adequate controls against the risks arising from working at height."
10. Celsa Manufacturing (UK): £1.8m + £146k costs (2019)
Management of H&S at Work Breaches: Regulation 3
Following a 2015 explosion that left two workers dead and one seriously injured, Celsa Manufacturing (UK) Ltd was issued a hefty fine after pleading guilty to allowing such an avoidable tragedy to occur.
The three employees affected were draining hydraulic lubrication oil from an accumulator vessel when a flammable atmosphere developed and unexpectedly ignited, causing the fatal blast.
After looking into the case, investigators discovered that the procedure carried out at the time was neither consistently undergone nor properly understood by many of Celsa's workers, indicating that a tragedy such as this was waiting to happen. Yet, this could have been prevented entirely had an appropriate risk assessment been carried out and suitable control measures implemented.
Other large health & safety fines
Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd: £1.5m + £29.2k costs (2022)
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 beenfound guilty of breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974and 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."
EPUT: £1.5m + £86k costs (2021)
Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 / 3 / 1
Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) was fined £1.5m for a litany of systematic health and safety failures that led to avoidable deaths.
The offence arose in connection to their failure to prevent suicides. The risk posed by ligature points had been highlighted, yet the trust took years to take action.
Judge Cavanagh commented that there was "no doubt the failures to remove ligature points were a significant cause in the deaths of 11 people who died during the relevant time period and of a 12th person who died just after and a number of near misses."
Synergy Housing & Orona Ltd: £1.5m + £80k costs (2019)
H&S at Work Act Breaches: Section 3 (1)
In one of the most tragic cases on this list, two companies were fined in January 2019 following the death of a child. The tragedy occurred when five-year-old Alexys Brown put her head outside a broken vision panel in her home's lift as it travelled upwards.
Since she was alone in the lift then, nobody could offer immediate assistance, and she ended up losing her life due to the injuries sustained.
The HSE investigation noted many critical failings on the parts of Synergy Housing Limited, the property owner, and Orona Limited, the company in charge of the lift's maintenance and repairs.
These failings included a lack of inspections, the vision panel not being replaced or repaired, no risk assessment carried out when the Browns moved in, key failsafe mechanisms not in place, and tenants not being given critical safety information.
As a result, Synergy Housing was fined £1 million (and £40,000 costs), while Orona was fined £533,000 (and £40,000 costs).
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