Barely a week goes by when a terrible workplace accident or an outrageous breach of health and safety laws is not in the news. Although the worst stories attract attention because of their sometimes Monty Python levels of farce or their particularly unpleasant outcomes, health and safety issues do not need to be dramatic to cause serious problems.
Accidents can happen anywhere and they usually do so suddenly and unexpectedly, therefore individuals and businesses often find themselves unprepared for the ensuing investigations and recriminations. Both criminal and civil repercussions can follow work related incidents so it is important that those involved seek immediate legal advice.
An Extraordinary Example with an Expensive Outcome
Photographs accompanying one health and safety story that recently made national news headlines had plenty of comedic value but proved no laughing matter.
Various newspapers carried a photograph of ‘foolhardy’ roofer, George Nicholls, balancing a fully extended ladder on the roof of his transit van while a workmate stood at its foot. The precarious arrangement was designed so that he could paint the third floor facade of a building on St Marys Road in Southampton in March 2014.
After a concerned member of the public notified the council’s environmental health officer, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and prosecuted both Mr Nichols and the company that sub-contracted him the work.
As well as the unusual improvisation of the ladder on the van roof, the HSE also found that the van was parked in a bus stop on a busy road with double yellow lines and that no barriers had been put up to prevent people walking below. This endangered members of the public.
Mr Nicholls pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; he was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £666 costs.
Meanwhile the company that contracted Mr Nicholls, Maintenance 24-7 Ltd, admitted to breaching Section 3(1) of the 1974 Act and Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £784 in costs. The company’s liability stemmed from its duty to ensure that the work at height was properly planned, managed and executed safely.
Fortunately in this case there were no injuries caused by this Pythonesque arrangement. However, the fines and courts costs should demonstrate the importance of operating a safe working environment, particularly where members of the public might be exposed to harm.