Building Supplies Company Fined £730,000 Following Near-Fatal Accident

Employers who fail to take comprehensive steps to protect the health and safety of their workforce can expect severe punishment. In one case, a building supplies company was fined more than a year’s profits after two of its employees narrowly escaped death when they were run down by a combi-lift truck.

The company’s yard featured a busy combination of vehicles and pedestrians. It had purchased a number of the combi-lift trucks, despite concerns expressed by drivers that their lift masts created a blind spot. No risk assessment was carried out in respect of their use prior to their deployment.

Two workers had just finished loading a lorry when they were hit by one of the new trucks. The driver had not seen them because they were in the blind spot. One of the workers escaped with a fractured ankle, but the other suffered life-changing injuries after the truck dragged him along the ground. His head was directly in front of the truck’s wheel when it stopped and he escaped with his life by pure chance.

The company subsequently pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that pedestrians and vehicles could circulate in its yard in a safe manner, contrary to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. In imposing a £730,000 fine, the judge found that the company’s culpability was high and that its failures had created a high likelihood of harm.

In dismissing the company’s challenge to the level of the financial penalty, the Court of Appeal noted that the breaches of duty had subsisted over an extensive period and that there had been near misses even before the introduction of the combi-lift trucks. The company’s annual pre-tax profits averaged about £600,000, but the fine was payable over four years and was not disproportionate.