Top 5 health and safety prosecutions of 2023

A summary of the top 5 important Health and Safety Prosecutions from 2023, as well as takeaways from recent cases that businesses can learn from.

28 March 2024

2023 saw a wealth of new health and safety prosecutions. Below we highlight some key takeaways from recent cases that businesses can learn from.

Topics include tunnel systems, wall collapses, and protecting vulnerable employees.

Fines of £14 million in Croydon Tram Disaster

Transport for London (TfL) and Tram Operations Limited (TOL) received the largest fines of 2023: £10 million and £14 million, respectively, for health and safety failures resulting in the Croydon tram disaster. 

The incident in November 2016 killed seven and injured 21 after a tram was derailed outside the Sandilands tunnel complex. The tram driver became disorientated within the tunnel due to poor visibility. This resulted in the tram approaching a sharp corner at three times the speed limit and coming off the tracks. The driver was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Whilst this accident highlighted the fact-specific importance of installing adequate lighting and signage in tunnel systems, it should be a reminder to businesses about the importance of acting upon warnings / near-misses. TfL and TOL repeatedly failed to act on reports that drivers became disorientated within the tunnel complex. The Court criticised the organisations’ “over-reliance on fallible humans” rather than installing protective systems.

Morrisons fined £3.5 million over employee death

Morrisons supermarket was fined £3.5 million following the death of an epileptic employee. Matthew Gunn, 27, had a seizure whilst using the staircase and fell, suffering fatal head injuries.

A key takeaway from the court’s judgement is the need for bespoke risk assessments for vulnerable employees. The supermarket failed to consider the specific fall risks posed to epileptic employees. They also failed to utilise alternative access routes or identify points of danger on site, such as staircases or mobile platform ladders.

Businesses should ensure one-size-fits-all approaches to health and safety are avoided. Courts will come down heavily where simple measures are missed because individual vulnerabilities are not respected.

£3 million fine for deaths at waste management company

Valencia Waste Management Limited was fined £3 million following the death of two workers in 2019 and 2020.

In the first death, a HGV driver was crushed by wastepaper bales. Investigations found that agreed procedures had not been adhered to by Valencia. Bales were loaded by forklift at the same time as the lorry driver was securing  bales that had already been loaded. When the bale rows were toppled on loading, this placed the driver at fatal risk. Systems were in place to ensure drivers remained within their cabs or other safe locations, but these were not followed.

In the second, an agency worker attempted to ‘hot-swap’, which involves loading two skips onto a lorry bed at once by stacking them on top of each other. When the incompatible skips fell over, the worker attempted to fix the situation and was fatally struck when the skips fell. Appropriate training was not implemented, and the skips were not maintained in an efficient manner, displaying sizes and hot-swapping compatibility.

HSE comments following the company’s sentencing give two key lessons: firstly, businesses should implement regular training to ensure that employees remain aware of systems of work and that these are adhered to. Secondly, businesses should give riskier operations additional due diligence beyond standard working practices.

Network Rail receive £6.7 million fine after Stonehaven derailment kills three people

Network Rail pled guilty to criminal charges under health and safety legislation at Aberdeen High Court, receiving a £6.7 million fine. The train struck a landslide and subsequently fell down an embankment, killing the driver, and conductor as well as a passenger. The fine was reduced from £10 million due to the early guilty plea, Network Rail’s immediate action to improve health and safety standards, and its publicly-owned status.

A previous landslide near the crash site in 2002 had identified that a new drain should be installed in the area. Another landslide occurred in 2008, underlining the potential for soil failure (whether due to erosion or because the soil had become saturated). Due to a breakdown of communications between Network Rail and third parties, the new drain was not built to the agreed specifications by the contractor. To compound the issue, it was identified that Network Rail did not complete their check-in 2013 to confirm that the drain had been properly constructed. The drain was not, in fact, inspected until 2020 – an inspection the Court concluded was “cursory”.

The fine follows a Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report with lessons to heed across the transport sector and beyond.  RAIB suggested that organisations need specific plans for adverse weather events, enhanced supervision where civil engineering poses threats to life, and systems which ensure lessons are learned from past incidents.

Directors jailed after five lose lives in wall collapse

Two company directors were jailed, and their firms fined £1.6 million, after a wall collapsed at a metal recycling business and killed five agency workers.

The wall was made of temporary concrete blocks and had previously been reassembled, with large volumes of scrap metal briquettes placed against it. Pressure on the wall caused it to collapse on the workers below, killing them instantly.

Structural engineering assessments were carried out too late and reports from neighbouring companies about wall leaning ignored. This case highlights the importance of undertaking professional-led risk assessments at the outset of large projects.

If you or your business have any queries about health and safety concerns, please contact Kevin Clancy, or a member of our Health, Safety and Environmental team, who will work with you to provide solutions to the most challenging issues presented by an HSE investigation or prosecution.

This article was authored by Trainee Killian Dockrell.