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Largest ever fine £2.2m handed to ‘idiotic’ firm after death

Katie Coyne14/09/2016 - 14:00

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Employee fell 8ft from the platform
Employee fell 8ft from the platform

A Chesham homeware firm has been handed the largest fine to date for a local authority prosecution following the death of one of its workers.

Decco was fined £2.2m and branded ‘idiotic’ by the sentencing judge following the death of Mr William Richardson who sustained fatal brain injuries.

Mr Richardson fell eight feet onto concrete from a platform with no guard rail while he was helping to unload a delivery.

The accident happened on 25 November 2014 and while Mr Richardson was airlifted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford he died on 3 December from his injuries.

Mr Richardson was an agency worker and had been working at the Decco warehouse in Latimer Road, Chesham, for less than a week.

An investigation by EHOs from Chiltern District Council found that while Mr Richardson had undergone training in manual handling and a basic induction, there was no record of him having any training on working at height.

EHOs also found that the safety mechanism on the platform, whereby the gate should spring close was no longer working properly and could be, and was frequently, left open.

Senior EHO working on the case, Nick Phillips, explained that on talking to Mr Richardson’s colleagues it was clear that the gate was often left open. This was so that workers could retrieve items on the top of palette loads to reduce the height of the load so that it could fit onto the platform, through the warehouse door.

Decco pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The Bucks Free Press reported that the sentencing Judge, Francis Sheridan, labelled the company ‘idiotic’ and that its safety failures were ‘breathtaking’. It reported Mr Sheridan as saying: ‘The design [of the gate] 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.’ Decco was also ordered to pay the councils full prosecution costs of £21K. It has since replaced its old gate system with a swing over palette gate, the HSE recommended design in this case.

 Phillips said: I hope this has a positive effect on other companies and the way they carry out work at height so that adequate safety measures are put in place.’

  Chiltern District Council cabinet member for health and housing, Cllr Graham Harris, said: ‘Our thoughts are with Mr Richardson's family at this very difficult time. This was a tragic incident resulting in the death of a man going about his daily work.

‘Safety at work is something most of us take for granted and unfortunately sad incidents like this serve as a reminder of how vitally important it is that Health and Safety is properly managed and risks addressed.’

The judge in this case followed the new sentencing guidelines, which consider culpability and harm as well as factoring in a company’s size and turnover.

 Since the new guidelines were brought in earlier this year, there have been a number of cases involving local authorities prosecuting health and safety case resulting in very large fines. Although the trend towards large fines and costs being awarded appears to pre-date their introduction.

·      £1.72m Earlier this month care home company Embrace was fined £1.5m and ordered to pay £200K in costs, following the death of one of its residents. The manager of the home where it happened was also ordered to pay £20K towards costs and given a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

·      £1m – In June this year Watling Tyres near Sandwich, Kent, was fined £1m for the death of an apprentice ten years ago. Matthew Hoare was killed after a tyre he was trying to repair exploded and threw him seven metres across a room where he struck a wall.

·      £400K In January 2016 retail store chain Wilko was given a £200K fine after an employee was killed in a crash between two fork lift trucks at one of its distribution centres. It was ordered to pay £199,943 in full costs.

·      £1.2m Oxford Crown Court fined Hugo Boss £1.1m in October 2015, following the tragic death of four-year-old Austen Harrison who was crushed by an unsecured 115kg three-way mirror at its Bicester Village store. Hugo Boss was found to have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined a further £100,000 for other offences under the Management of Health and Safety Work Regulations.

·      £1.7m In November 2013 Svitzer Marine was fined £1.7m following the death of three of its workers in 2007 after one of its tug boats sank in foggy conditions. The boat involved – the Flying Phantom – had previously been involved in an accident resulting in £150K worth of damage and safety recommendations had been made but not implemented.


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