17 August 2015
HSE Investigations into the Construction Industry
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) deal with a significant number of investigations into fatalities and injuries in the workplace.
In the last month alone have secured a number of convictions and substantial fines for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005. These cases highlight the importance of ensuring a safe environment for workers and the need for effective representation during HSE investigations.
For the year 2014-2015, 184 work-related fatalities were reported to the HSE and it found that 142 workers had been killed at work. This figure is in addition to 78,000 other injuries suffered by employees and reported under the HSE’s reporting scheme RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013). RIDDOR places specific duties on certain individuals to report serious workplace accidents and ‘near misses’ to the HSE.
Last month a Glaswegian scaffolding company were fined £40,000 after a worker fell six metres to his death, having fallen through a rotten scaffold tower deck and suffering serious head injuries. The Court found that the company had failed to provide safe and suitable working equipment for their customer and his workers, and was therefore in breach of health and safety.
In a similar case earlier this month, a roofing contractor pleaded guilty at Kings Lynn Magistrates’ Court for failing to ensure that work at height was properly planned, supervised and carried out in a safe manner. They also pleaded guilty to failing to provide necessary equipment or take measures to minimise the consequences of a fall, in breach of the Work at Height Regulations. The contractor was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £3,415 in prosecution costs and a £300 victim surcharge after an employee fell through a roof he was working on. The fall resulted in injuries to his back and sternum and he was required to remain in a full body brace for six weeks.
In May, the HSE also secured two convictions for breaches of Health and Safety relating to the death of a labourer, Andrew Ward. Mr Ward was killed when he fell through a fragile roof of a building material supplier’s site in North London, where he was contracted to fix a leaking cement roof. The company pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court and was fined £93,750 and ordered to pay full costs of £12,580.
Although these sentences can have a real impact on construction firms, contractors, and sole traders, fines for accidents involving industrial equipment can be significantly higher, particularly for larger companies.
For example, earlier this month the DS Smith paper mill was fined £400,000 by Exeter Crown Court and ordered to pay £34,000 in prosecution costs for breaching the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 after an operations manager was pulled into unguarded machinery by a conveyor belt and killed. This was despite reports that a consultancy firm had carried out a health and safety assessment at the mill shortly before the incident.
HSE investigations can be lengthy and lead to significant reputational damage as well as substantial fines, so it is important that companies or individuals under investigation be properly represented.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have a growing practice in relating to construction regulation offences and are recognised as market leaders for regulatory and criminal defence.
If you or your business is subject to an HSE investigation for any reason you will require expert legal advice. The Criminal and Regulatory solicitors at Slater and Gordon can help so call us on freephone 0808 175 7722 or contact us online and we will call you.