Health & Safety – Increasing compliance risk across the UK

In a recent update, we identified seven steps a business should take in relation to crisis management. Those steps are particularly important in relation to the risk of Health & Safety incidents.

In this update, we've noted two recent prosecutions serving as a reminder that Health & Safety remains a key compliance risk and that the authorities will take enforcement action in the event of breaches. Against that backdrop, it's vital that organisations put in place measures to manage the process in the event the worst happens.

Prosecutions update

The first case relates to the tragic death of a three year old girl. The inflatable trampoline the girl had been playing on exploded unexpectedly ejecting her into the air. On landing, she sustained fatal head injuries. A nine year old who was also on the trampoline at the time suffered injuries. Johnsons Funfair Limited, trading as Bounce About, operated the trampoline. The business was prosecuted and pled guilty to a breach of section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The basis for the prosecution was that the business allowed the inflatables to be operated despite not having, and not seeking, operating instructions from the manufacturer and without having their inflatables properly annually checked and certified. It was fined £20,000 (based on its relatively small turnover – the fine would have been significantly higher if the business had been larger) and ordered to pay £288,475.62 in costs (this being an English prosecution).

In addition to the prosecution of the business, its operations manager was also prosecuted on the basis that he put the trampoline into use without carrying out any of the required testing and certification to ensure it was safe to be used by the public. He was given a six month custodial sentence and disqualified from acting as a company director for five years.

This case highlights the risk to both businesses and individuals of failing to follow compliance requirements.

In Scotland, a separate recent case has raised similar Health & Safety compliance issues. Kettle Produce pled guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in circumstances where a hygiene operative was choked unconscious having been trapped in a roller machine.

The business accepted that the conveyor belt and rollers should have been isolated and completely switched off before the weekly clean carried out by the hygiene operative. As a result, it accepted that it failed to ensure the safety of its staff.

The hygiene operative was unable to return to work for a period of six months following the incident, and the Sheriff hearing the case noted that he was fortunate to have survived.

At the time of writing, sentence has been deferred but we can anticipate that a significant fine will be imposed on the business.

Key messages

The key messages from these two recent cases are:

  1. Health & Safety remains a key compliance risk for all businesses operating across the UK.
  2. Regulators such as HSE and enforcement agencies will be robust in investigating and prosecuting suspected breaches.
  3. Individuals as well as organisations can expect to find themselves being prosecuted for such breaches.
  4. Given the risks, responsible businesses should implement a robust compliance system as well as having a plan to manage the process in the event a Health & Safety incident occurs.

Contributors

Ramsay Hall

Legal Director

Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate