A homeware firm has been fined £2.2 million – the largest financial penalty ever to be handed out following a local authority prosecution – after a worker fell from a wooden platform and suffered a fatal head injury.
Judge Francis Sheridan branded Decco Ltd’s health and safety procedures as “idiotic” and “wholly inadequate” after the fatal incident claimed the life of a temporary worker, who had only been employed at the company’s Chesham site for one week.
William Richardson’s family were in court to hear how he had been unloading pallets when he slipped on the wet wooden platform and fell eight feet onto a concrete floor. He was flown to hospital by air ambulance but died eight days later, having never regained consciousness.
Judge Sheridan imposed the £2.2 million fine after hearing that spring-loaded gates designed to protect workers from the platform edge at Decco’s 30-acre industrial site were badly worn. The barriers had not been fixed even though industry guidelines, issued seven years earlier, had warned of the dangers.
Judge Sheridan said: "The design was a ‘Heath Robinson’ do-it-yourself contraption, in my view. The whole of the edge was unguarded which was simply disgraceful.
"This was an obvious danger. With or without safety advice, it would be idiotic to proceed without having regard to that.
"One doesn’t need guidance, one just needs a modicum of common sense to realise this system was wholly inadequate and a disaster waiting to happen.
"Those responsible for this company should hang their heads in shame at the failings that led to a man’s death."
Judge Sheridan, sitting at Aylesbury Crown Court, heard that Chiltern District Council had subsequently issued the company with an improvement notice.
Lara Murray, an Associate with Palmers, who specialises in health and safety law, said: “This wholly avoidable fatal incident occurred because safe systems of work were not in place; the court heard how Mr Richardson had been working at the company as a temporary member of staff and had not received any training or safety briefings.
“This, added to the make-shift safety gates which were clearly not fit for purpose, resulted in the judge handing down a record fine. This case sends a message to employers that it is simply not worth cutting corners when it comes to health and safety matters as breaches may result in serious injuries or fatalities, as well as hefty financial penalties.
“It also serves as a timely reminder for all businesses to review their own risk assessments and employee training manuals.”
For help and advice on updating your businesses’ risk assessments and employee training manuals, please contact us.