During 2018 and 2019, total fines for health and safety offences prosecuted by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Scotland) and the HSE (England and Wales) equated to £54.5m, although this was down 25% on the £72.6m for the 2017 / 2018 reporting period.
There were 147 fatal injuries to workers in the 2018 / 2019 reporting period.
While fines for fatalities (and non-fatal injuries) have seen a significant increase since the introduction of the Sentencing Guidelines in 2016 (while these guidelines have statutory effect in England and Wales only the Scottish High Court has concluded the guidelines ‘may be noticed for the purpose of sentencing similar cases in Scotland’) the judge in the Chevron case said no fine could ‘reflect the value of someone’s life’ and the reality is that all of these tragedies were avoidable.
Of this staggering amount we list the top-10 fines handed out:
1. Chevron fined £5m for refinery explosion:
This one was discussed on our February podcast and newsletter.
The former owners of an oil refinery in Pembroke were fined £5m after four contractors were killed in an explosion.
Dennis Riley, Robert Broome, Andrew Jenkins and Julie Jones had been draining a chemical storage tank at the then Chevron refinery in 2011 when flammable gases inside it ignited.
A fifth worker, Andrew Phillips, suffered life-changing burns.
Chevron said it recognised it “did not live up to” its own standards.
After the hearing, HSE Inspector Andrew Knowles said the incident was “entirely preventable”.
Chevron will have to pay the £5m fine and court costs of £1m as part of a deal it struck with Valero Energy UK, which bought the site after the disaster.
Mr Justice Lewis said B&A Contracts failed to follow its own health and safety protocol by using an unearthed hosepipe to drain the tank
Specialist cleaning company B&A Contracts, which employed Mr Broome and Mr Jenkins, was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000 after admitting health and safety breaches.
Those working for Chevron had failed to “know of or appreciate” the risk of “flammable vapour,” which had been building up in the tank over the years.
The court heard that days before the explosion one Chevron worker carried out a gas test which should have alerted the refinery to the flammable atmosphere, but the results were either mis-communicated or “not understood”.
“If the work had had been stopped [at this point] the explosion would not have happened. The four deaths and the injuries would not have happened,” said the judge.
Experts believed the blast would have been caused by either a spark from the workers’ unearthed hosepipe or by substances in the tank, which can ignite spontaneously when dry.
The explosion detached the five-tonne roof of the tank propelling it into a butane storage tank 55 metres away.
2. Rail freight company fined £2.7m after boy was electrocuted:
Rail freight company DB Cargo (UK) Ltd was fined £2.7 million, with £188,873.89 costs, following an incident in which a 13-year-old boy suffered life-changing injuries after receiving an electric shock from 25,000-volt overhead line equipment at Tyne Yard in Gateshead.
On 14 June 2014 two boys, aged 11 and 13, and two 13-year-old girls entered Tyne Yard where the two boys climbed on top of a stationary wagon, part of a 22-wagon train due to leave the yard later that day.
While on the wagon one of the boys made contact with the live current and suffered serious life changing injuries as a result, the other boy received minor burns.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) investigation found that trespassers often visited a disused signal box at the yard, known as the ‘haunted house’, as DB Cargo failed to ensure that non-employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety through its activities.
Sentence was passed at Newcastle Crown Court where DB Cargo was found guilty on 5 October 2018 following the ORR prosecution.
DB Cargo (UK) Ltd also pleaded guilty at the conclusion of the trial to a single count of contravention of a requirement to produce information under Section-20 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
A request was made for documentation from the defendant by one of ORR’s Inspectors and that request was refused. DB Cargo was fined £33,500 for that offence.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “Our thoughts remain with the victim who suffered such awful injuries, the other children injured and traumatised, and also their families and friends who will have been deeply affected by this harrowing incident.
“We welcome the sentence which clearly indicates the seriousness with which this offence is viewed, and we expect DB Cargo and the rail industry as a whole to look very hard at their sites and make sure they are doing everything possible to ensure they are secure. This incident is a reminder to adults and children that railway sites can have many dangers, often not obvious, and that trespass on railway premises can lead to serious injuries.”
DB Cargo (UK) Ltd Limited was found guilty of failing to discharge its duty under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was therefore guilty of an offence contrary to Section 33(1)((a) of the Act.
3. DHL fined £2.6m after worker crushed to death:
Logistics firm DHL were fined £2.6m following the death of an employee Robert Baynham, 50 who was killed when a stack of car and lorry tyres (each weighing over half a tonne) fell through an office roof on 2 February 2016.
Mr Baynham, died in hospital from head trauma and spinal injuries as a result of the accident.
DHL said “safety remains paramount” to the company.
Another man suffered serious injuries and two other people were hurt during the same incident at DHL’s tyre distribution centre in Prologis business park on Central Boulevard.
Coventry City Council, which led a three-and-a-half-year investigation into the incident, said the company had “fundamentally and systematically failed to manage health and safety” at the site.
The incident was also the product of a “multi-layered systemic failure of DHL management,” it added.
DHL pleaded guilty to failure to ensure the health and safety of its employees and failure to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
The warehouse stores tyres picked for commercial customer orders, which are distributed throughout the UK.
The jury at an inquest, found the practice of high and top-heavy stacking of tyres in the stillages adjacent to the office were too close to each other and at risk of being knocked over by forklift trucks.
A DHL spokesperson said it accepted the judge’s findings and fine. “Once again we offer our sincere condolences to Mr Baynham’s family and our regrets for the injuries sustained by the three other colleagues,” a statement said.
4. Celsa fined £1.8m after steelworks blast killed two men:
Celsa pleaded guilty to failing to make a risk assessment before the blast at its Cardiff plant in November 2015. Peter O’Brien, 51, from Llanishen, Cardiff and Mark Sim, 41, of Caldicot, Monmouthshire, both died following the incident.
The company apologised “for the shortcomings which contributed to the most tragic event in our history”.
At Cardiff Crown Court, a judge said the steelworks looked “like a bomb site” after the blast.
A safety mechanism failed to shut down a heater which got too hot and then exploded, the court heard.
Five other men were also injured in the blast at the plant in Splott, Cardiff. Worker Darren Wood was seriously injured.
Other workers who heard the explosion tried to go to their colleagues’ aid but were met with intense fires and smoke preventing them from getting to the cellar.
The court was told the workers were probably unaware the oil levels in the tank had dropped below the minimum safety level as the oil heater, which was still switched on, would have turned off but for an electrical failure.
Mr O’Brien’s wife Marie said: “No person should ever go to their place of work and not return. This was a preventable accident; he was torn away from us so suddenly and cruelly and no sentence will ever be enough for our loss. We will always love and miss Peter very much, but we need to find some closure now.”
Mr Sim’s wife Samantha described her husband’s death as “the most traumatic experience I have ever dealt with”. “He has left a huge void in our hearts and our lives, a void people say heals in time, but I believe it never truly heals, we just learn to live our lives differently.”
Celsa admitted failing to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Richard Bowen, the factory’s Health and Safety Manager said some employees had “little or no training” on risk assessments, and Celsa had not put in place steps to make sure workers carried them out.
Judge Neil Bidder said, “If the job being done by Mr O’Brien and Mr Sim had been properly risk assessed, I am sure that this accident would not have occurred and that they would not have been killed and Mr Wood seriously injured.”
Celsa was ordered to pay the £1.8m within six months, plus £145,771.85 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge.
5. Karro Foods fined £1.8m after fall from height:
A food manufacturer has been sentenced after two workers were seriously injured when they fell over four metres through a roof light.
Leeds Magistrates’ Court was told how, on 13 April 2016, the two employees of Karro Foods Ltd were investigating a leak from the roof at the Malton site, which the workers did not realise contained several roof lights. The workers were walking closely together, and both stood on the same roof light which consequently fell through due to the weight.
One worker suffered four fractured ribs, a punctured lung, and muscular contusions to his outer right thigh. The other suffered a fractured skull, muscular injuries to his right leg and injuries inside his ear which cause ongoing problems with his balance, memory and mental health.
The HSE’s investigation found the roof was made of asbestos cement and had several rooflights situated along it but they were not visible due to the build-up of moss and dirt which had accumulated over the years. Employees had also not been made aware of them.
Karro Foods Ltd of Hugden Way, Norton Grove Industrial Estate, Malton, Yorkshire pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £1,866,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,019.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Mark Slater commented: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to provide adequate controls against the risks arising from working at height.
“Consideration of roof fragility and rooflights, visible or not, should be made, especially on older buildings.”
6. Two firms fined over £1.5m after child killed in lift:
Two companies were sentenced following the death of a five-year-old girl who became trapped while using a lift at her home in Weymouth.
Bournemouth Crown Court was told how Alexys Brown’s family moved into the property in 2009 of which Synergy Housing Limited, as part of the Aster Group, became the owner. The property had an internal lift used by Alexys’ brother who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition and is wheelchair bound.
On 13 August 2015, Alexys got into the lift to get her brother’s phone from upstairs. She put her head through a hole in the vision panel and as the lift moved upward, the five-year-old’s head got stuck between the lift and the ground floor ceiling. Alexys died as a result of her injuries.
Synergy Housing Limited of Link House, West Street, Poole pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £1m and ordered to pay costs of £40,000.
Synergy Housing accepted that its duties were not to be delegated and that the failings of Aster Property were part of its breach.
The charge against Aster Property Limited of Sarsen Court, Horton Avenue, Devizes, was ordered to be left to lie on the court file and was not separately sentenced.
HSE Inspector Leo Diez commented: “These companies failed in their duties to put systems in place to ensure the lift in the Brown’s family home was kept safe – more could have been done by Synergy, Aster and Orona. As a result of their negligence, a wholly avoidable tragedy, under horrific circumstances, has occurred where a five-year-old child has lost her life and a family have been left utterly devastated at the loss of their little girl.
“Companies should know HSE will not hesitate to take the appropriate enforcement action against those who flout health and safety law.
“Safety-critical aspects of the use and maintenance of the lift were also missed. From December 2013 until 12 May 2015, the lift was not inspected at all, even though safety critical problems had previously been identified they were not rectified.
In 2015, when the call-out report contained a warning, there was still a failure to act. Those breaches went unchecked over a long period of time during which the lift became more dangerous for the Brown family to use.”
7. Hampshire County Council fined £1.4m after six-year-old girl sustains serious head injury:
Hampshire County Council was fined after a six-year-old girl playing on an unsecured street bollard suffered a life-changing head injury.
Bournemouth Crown Court was told how, on 28 December 2015, the girl visiting Lymington with her family, climbed onto the cast iron hinged bollard on Quay Hill, a cobbled pedestrianised street when the bollard fell to the ground taking the child with it resulting in serious, life-changing head injuries that were initially life-threatening causing her to spend six months in hospital in a critical condition.
The extent of her brain injury will not be fully known until her brain has matured.
The HSE’s investigation found that the bollard – which weighed approximately 69kg – was damaged and not appropriately secured. This matter had been reported to Hampshire County Council prior to the incident and monthly scheduled inspections had failed to identify this. The investigation also found insufficient information, instruction and training were provided to the council’s highways department personnel conducting ad hoc and monthly inspections, and the inspection guidance was misleading.
Hampshire County Council of The Castle, Winchester, Hampshire was found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £1.4m with full costs of £130,632.
Speaking after the case, HSE Inspector Angela Sirianni said: “Councils have a duty to adequately assess and control risks to members of the public from street furniture.
“A child has been left with life-changing injuries as a result of what was an easily preventable incident. Council inspections failed to identify this risk over a long period of time and then, when alerted to the damage to the bollard, failed to take the urgent action required to prevent injury.”
8. 2 Sisters Food fined £1.4million after worker crushed:
2 Sisters Food Group was sentenced following an incident on 6 September 2012, in which an employee was attempting to clear a blockage on a conveying system at its Foxhills Industrial Estate site in Scunthorpe, when he was struck by a large metal stillage where in his body was crushed at chest height against the end of the unit as a result he sustained multiple injuries including several fractured ribs, fractures to his back and a punctured lung.
The HSE’s investigation found the company had failed to identify deficiencies in the guarding on the machine, and the clearing of blockages was usually carried out while the machine was still in operation.
2 Sisters Food Group Limited of Trinity Park House, Fox Way, Wakefield pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £1.4 million with £38,000 in costs.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Kirsty Storer said: “The employee’s life-threatening injuries could easily have been prevented had the company identified the guarding deficiencies and put in place simple measures to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery.
“This should serve as a lesson to others in the food processing industry about the importance of effectively guarding their machinery to stop others being similarly injured.”
9. Clancy Docwra fined £1m after worker killed:
Clancy Docwra Limited and one of its employees have been sentenced for health and safety breaches after another worker was struck by an excavator and was killed.
Southward Crown Court was told how during a night shift on a construction site in Stratford on 2 March 2014 site operative Mr Kevin Campbell had been disconnecting lifting accessories from a metal pile that had just been extracted from the ground when he was crushed against a concrete wall by an excavator mounted vibrator (EMV) attached to a 35-tonne excavator that he was working in close proximity too.
Mr Campbell died from his injuries; another site operative who was directly next to him also faced a risk of being struck, the court heard.
The HSE found the construction company which was the principal contractor; Clancy Docwra Limited, failed to ensure the safety so far as is reasonably practicable of its employees and of others who were not their employees working on the site.
The investigation also found that Daniel Walsh, who was the site supervisor for the site and the person operating the excavator at the time, failed to take reasonable care for other persons on site at the time.
Clancy Docwra Limited pleaded not guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 was fined £1,000,000 and ordered to pay costs of £108,502.30.
Site Supervisor Daniel Walsh pleaded not guilty to breaching Section 7(a) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was given a six-month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay costs of £15,000.
HSE Inspector Darren Alldis said: “This death was wholly preventable and serves as a reminder as to why it is so important for companies and individuals to take their responsibilities to protect others seriously and to take the simple actions necessary to eliminate and minimise risks.
“If the risks had been properly considered by the company, and simple and appropriate control measures were put in place, then the likelihood of such an incident occurring would have been significantly reduced. Informing all site operatives of the specific risks they face when carrying out such tasks and the control measures required of exclusion zones, the importance of communication and the mandatory use of excavator safety levers were simple actions that should have been put in place and their effectiveness monitored.
“All those with legal responsibilities must be clear that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action including where appropriate prosecution against those that fall below the required standards”.
10. Veolia fined £1m after reversing vehicle death:
Canterbury Crown Court heard how, on 18 October 2013, Veolia ES (UK) Limited’s employee Mr John Head suffered fatal injuries when he was run over by a reversing refuse collection vehicle (RCV) whilst he was walking across the yard, at the Ross Depot Waste Transfer Station in Folkestone.
The HSE’s investigation found that multiple vehicles, including RCVs and articulated lorries, were manoeuvring around the yard with no specific controls.
The company failed to adequately assess the risks involved in the yard and did not implement industry recognised control measures to protect employees.
Veolia ES (UK) Limited of Pentonville Road, London was found guilty after a trial of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974. The company was fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £130,000.
HSE Inspector Kevin Golding said: “This should be a reminder to all industries, but in particular, the waste industry, to appropriately assess the risks and implement widely recognised control measures to adequately control manoeuvring vehicles, in particular reversing vehicles and restrict pedestrian movements around vehicles.”
According to the latest set of annual workplace fatality figures, released by the HSE, there were 12 fatal injuries to waste and recycling workers between April 2017 and March 2018.