Health and Safety Quarterly Update – Q1 2022

27 April 2022

This quarterly update provides a summary of a selection of news stories relating to health and safety investigations and prosecutions, published in the period January - March 2022.

January

DECO-PAK FOUND GUILTY OF CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER

In January 2022, Deco-Pak, a garden supplies company, was found guilty of corporate manslaughter after a fatal accident at its premises in Hipperholme, West Yorkshire on 14 April 2017. Andrew Tibbott, a 48 year old father of two, was attempting to clean a sensor on a robotic packing arm and was fatally injured.

An investigation into Mr Tibbott’s death resulted in the company being charged with corporate manslaughter under section 1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (“CMCHA 2007”). In addition, two of Deco-Pak’s directors were charged with gross negligence manslaughter and breaching the general duties under the Health and Safety (etc) at Work Act 1975. At trial the prosecution alleged that Deco-Pak enabled key safety features to be bypassed or disabled. As a result, the prosecution stated, Mr Tibbott’s death was “wholly avoidable”. The jury found Deco-Pak guilty. Deko-Pak’s Director, Rodney Hall, was acquitted and the jury were unable to reach a verdict in the case of Managing Director, Michael Hall.

The events leading up to a fatal incident are often complex and attributable to various circumstances and actions of individuals at all levels. It is therefore often difficult to prove that the way in which senior management organised or managed the activities of the company was a substantial element of the breach of duty owed. For more information on this case, see our earlier blog: Review of recent corporate manslaughter cases: Deco-Pak, Bosley Mill, Aster Healthcare

 

WATER COMPANY AND CONTRACTOR FINED AFTER EMPLOYEE FRACTURES LEG AT RESERVOIR

Northumbrian Water Limited and its contractor, JW Colpitts & Co Limited, were fined after a worker was injured when he was hit by a 1.5 tonne water valve as it was swung by a crane. An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (“HSE”) found that both companies had failed to conduct the required risk assessments of the work and the hazards involved; did not adequately supervise workers; and had not put in place the proper safety measures and systems for the types of work they were doing.

Both companies pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Northumbrian Water was fined £365,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,360.69 and a victim surcharge of £120. JW Colpitts was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,452.22 and a victim surcharge of £120.

 

February

SMART MOTORWAYS: HIGHWAY ENGLAND DO NOT OWE A DUTY OF CARE TO DRIVERS

On 1 February 2022, the Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) confirmed that National Highways, a government-owned company in charge of maintaining motorways and major roads in England, will not face a charge of corporate manslaughter in relation to the death of Nargis Begum in September 2018. Ms Begum, a 62 year old mother of five and grandmother of nine, died after her broken-down car was hit by another vehicle on a “smart motorway” in South Yorkshire whilst she was waiting for roadside assistance.

A smart motorway is a stretch of road where technology is used to regulate traffic flow with the aim of easing congestion. Depending on the type, a smart motorway can sometimes be without a hard shoulder. Ms Begum’s car was on a part of the M1 which had no hard shoulder.

Last year, an inquest into Ms Begum’s death concluded that the CPS should consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate. The CPS later concluded that National Highways do not owe road users a “relevant duty of care” under the provisions of the CMCHA 2007, one of the key elements of the offence.

 

WASTE COLLECTION COMPANY CHARGED IN RELATION TO DEATH OF EMPLOYEE

FDS Waste Services Ltd, a waste collection company, has been charged with corporate manslaughter after the death of one of its employees, Yamal Ameggaron Mohamed, on 13 December 2018. The CPS alleges that Mr Mohamed was not properly separated from moving vehicles while hand-sorting waste and adequate training and supervision to prevent a collision had not been provided. The company and its director have also been charged with breaching their duties under health and safety legislation. The case is listed for a plea hearing in July 2022 and the trial will take place in November 2022.

 

£5 MILLION FINE AFTER FATAL GAS EXPLOSION

On 9 February 2022 Northern Gas Networks was sentenced for health and safety breaches after a fire and gas explosion in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. The explosion occurred at a residential property, causing the death of the owner. The HSE’s investigation identified a fractured six inch cast iron pipe running under the road to the front of the property as the source of the gas leak, but the pipe did not appear on the company’s drawings. As a result, it had not been properly maintained over the years.

Northern Gas Networks pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This section imposes a duty on all employers to conduct their business in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonable practicable, that individuals who are not in their employment are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. The company was fined £5 million and ordered to pay costs of £91,487. The HSE commented that other gas network operators should take the opportunity to learn from this incident.

 

POWER COMPANY DENIES HEALTH AND SAFETY BREACHES

The owner of Drax Power Limited, one of the UK's largest power companies, has been accused of risking workers' health by exposing them to wood dust. Some of the work conducted at Drax involves burning wood pellets to create energy and it is alleged that this process has caused employees to breathe in the dust, putting them at risk of respiratory and other illnesses, the risk of which Drax had failed to properly manage.

The company, based near Selby, North Yorkshire, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of breaching health and safety legislation between 2006 and 2017. The trial will begin on 5 June 2023 and is estimated to last for four weeks.

 

UK INTRODUCES NEW SAFETY RULES ON BOARD SHIPS

New rules were introduced in the UK to tighten up safety for those who work in enclosed spaces on board ships. The updated legislation goes further than that currently required under international maritime law. The changes will require ships to protect workers through measures such as regular safety drills and providing atmosphere testing equipment. While it is accepted that working in enclosed spaces is necessary on vessels, the new rules are in reaction to the deaths of six people over a ten-year period from 2009 to 2019 in UK ports and aim to reduce the risks and protect workers as much as possible. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has also extended these measures to a wider range of vessels than those previously covered.

 

March

CROYDON TRAM CRASH: TFL AND OTHERS PROSECUTED

TfL, Tram Operations Limited (“TOL”) and tram driver, Alfred Dorris, have been charged with offences relating to the crash of a tram in Croydon in November 2016. The tram ran off the tracks and tipped over near the Sandilands stop after the driver took a curve at 45mph, where the speed limit in that area was actually 12mph. The crash killed seven passengers and injured 51 others.

The Office of Rail and Road (“ORR”) allege that TfL and TOL "failed to ensure the health and safety of passengers on the Croydon Tramlink network, so far as reasonably practicable”. Mr Dorris is accused of a failure to "take reasonable care of passengers". The ORR confirmed that no corporate manslaughter charges would be brought against TfL or TOL.

 

ALUTRADE FINED £2 MILLION

On 25 March 2022, Alutrade Ltd, a recycling firm based in Oldbury, was fined £2 million alongside a costs order of £105,514 after pleading guilty to corporate manslaughter. The offence related to an employee, Stuart Towns, a 34 year old father of one, who died after being struck from above while walking underneath a hopper machine. The machine contained engines powering a conveyor belt with scrap metal and Mr Towns was working within the immediate vicinity which, it was argued, occurred because the fence which surrounded the machine was broken.

In addition to this incident, West Midlands Police released CCTV footage which revealed a significant number of health and safety breaches, including staff clearing blockages themselves by jumping in the machine, often while members of senior management watched on. The company accepted that it fell short on health and safety standards and that its “gross negligence” led to the fatal injury.

Alutrade directors Malcolm George and Kevin Pugh, and health and safety manager Mark Redfern were initially charged with gross negligence manslaughter but later pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. They were ordered to pay £21,109, £9,702 and £7,243 respectively.

For a consideration of the elements the prosecution would have had to prove in such a case, see our blog published last year - Recycling firm charged with corporate manslaughter

 

INQUIRY INTO BABY DEATHS AT NHS SHREWSBURY AND TELFORD REVEALS “THE WORST MATERNITY SCANDAL IN NHS HISTORY”

A report published by Donna Ockenden on 30 March 2022 has revealed significant failings at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust between the years 2000 and 2019 which resulted in the deaths of 201 babies and brain damage in 94 others. Ockenden commented that there had been “a failure to listen, a failure to investigate, a failure to learn, and a failure to change — and therefore a failure to safeguard patients.”

West Mercia police are currently investigating the deaths of two babies which occurred last year to ascertain whether any criminal offences, including corporate manslaughter, have been committed by the Trust and the hospital staff members.

 

INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED INTO ASBESTOS RELEASE IN PARLIAMENT

The HSE is investigating a release of asbestos in Parliament which could have affected as many as 117 members of staff. The news was conveyed at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which is working on the restoration and renewal of the palace of Westminster. A survey found asbestos in around 2,500 places on the Parliamentary estate and the release is reported to have occurred between 23 and 27 October 2021 including in Speaker’s House, the residence and offices of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The release was not noticed until 19 November 2021 and the site was closed immediately.  The HSE was not formally notified until 10 February 2022, and staff members potentially affected were not told until 17 February 2022. The delays are said to have been caused by disputes around whether the incident crossed the threshold for making a report to the HSE.

 

SAINSBURY’S FINED £1 MILLION AFTER CUSTOMER SUFFERED “HORRIFIC INJURIES”

Sainsbury’s has been fined £1 million following a conviction for breach of health and safety rules. The store had created a queuing system in the car park during lockdown using high visibility, red and white plastic tape to mark lanes, but when this was later vandalised, the store manager replaced it with thin baler twine tied tight between two pillars. On 21 June 2020, a customer using a mobility scooter rode into the twine at speed causing severe injuries to her face. It was found that no risk assessment had been conducted regarding the use of the twine. The supermarket was also ordered to pay £18,263.62 costs and a victim surcharge of £190.

 

Further Information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our Health, Safety & Environment team.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sophie Wood is a Senior Associate in the Criminal Litigation team with extensive experience in advising corporate and individual clients involved in a wide range of internal, criminal and regulatory investigations. Sophie has acted for individuals and companies involved in investigations brought by the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and local authorities, and is a member of the firm’s cross-practice Health, Safety and Environment Group.

Liam Hurren is a trainee solicitor at Kingsley Napley and is currently in his fourth seat in the Criminal litigation team. Liam's previous seats were with the Dispute Resolution team; the Family and Divorce team, supporting them with all aspects of financial and private law children work; and the Private Client team.

 

Share insightLinkedIn Twitter Facebook Email to a friend Print

Email this page to a friend

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

Leave a comment

You may also be interested in:

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility