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March 21, 2005

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Nine-month jail term for health and safety “dinosaur”

A garage manager branded a health and safety “dinosaur” by a judge has received a nine-month jail sentence after an apprentice mechanic was engulfed in flames in an explosion at the Anchor garage, Peacehaven, Sussex, on 19 February 2004. Teenager Lewis Murphy died four days later from horrific burns.

Having been found guilty of manslaughter at an earlier hearing at Hove Crown Court, Glen Hawkins, was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court on 11 March, along with his father, Howard Hawkins, the garage owner, who was found guilty of breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. Hawkins senior received a fine of £10,000, with costs of £15,000.

Mr Murphy had been helping Glen Hawkins empty a mixture of petrol and diesel from a dustbin into a waste oil disposal tank on the garage forecourt when the petrol exploded. A flue pipe outlet from a gas boiler was situated next to the tank and was switched on at the time. The boiler caused the fuel vapour to be sucked into the flue and ignited.

HSE inspector Joanna Teasdale commented: “Minimal attempts had been made to overcome the hazards associated with fuel handling. The joint investigation with Sussex Police found that no formal procedures were in place for transferring and storing highly flammable liquids, or draining fuel from cars. Howard Hawkins had also failed to register his garage with the HSE.”

She added: “Most of the hazards of fuel removal can be mitigated by the use of a proprietary fuel retriever; providing a suitable container; eliminating static electricity; and capturing any petrol vapour displaced. This case is particularly distressing as Mr Murphy was learning the trade and so was heavily reliant on the duty of care owed to him by his manager and the garage owner. This was sadly absent.”

The main defence of both parties was that, when it came to health and safety, they relied on individuals’ common sense, inspector Teasdale told SHP.

Passing sentence, Judge Richard Hayward said of Glen Hawkins: “Causing the death of a person in such circumstances must be met with a prison sentence to punish you and send a serious message to people in the workplace that if they are grossly negligent they face prison.”

He continued: “To say that you were complacent about health and safety is an understatement. You regard health and safety as a tiresome intrusion into your business and a matter of common sense that you could leave to the experience of your mechanics. Being a dinosaur can sometimes be endearing but not on health and safety matters.”

The parents of the victim, Michael and Elizabeth Murphy, said: “We would like to get this message across to all those parties involved with placing young school-leavers in a working environment that they ensure that the companies they send these young people to are registered with the HSE, and that they are receiving proper health and safety training at the workplace.”


Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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