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February 14, 2024

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Legal Lens – Health and safety lessons to be learned from Timmins Waste Services’ prosecution

As part of SHP’s new editorial partnership with Fieldfisher’s Health & Safety team, they will be providing a bimonthly analysis of recent and significant health and safety prosecutions, including any lessons to be learned for businesses to take note of.

This month, Beth Thompson (Associate) and Kirstie Imber (Associate) consider the successful convictions of Timmins Waste Services and its yard manager, Brian Timmins.


Timmins Waste. Credit: Google Maps

On 15 September 2018, David Willis, a 29-year-old worker at Timmins Waste Services (“TWS”) was sadly killed after falling into an industrial shredder at a site in Wolverhampton. The court heard how TWS’ yard manager, Brian Timmins, used a JCB grapple arm to lift Mr Willis onto a shredder that had become blocked whilst it was still switched on, in an attempt to clear the blockage.

CCTV footage reviewed during the investigation (led by West Midlands Police and the HSE) showed Mr Willis working inside the shredder whilst it was operating, before tragically disappearing inside the machine. Mr Timmins could then be seen looking around the yard and inside the machine, which the prosecution alleged was an attempt to locate the missing worker.

Rather than report the incident, the company continued to operate the equipment and disposed of 80 tonnes of recycled waste at a landfill site, suspected to contain Mr Willis’ remains (but which, in fact, were never discovered). Mr Willis was reported missing by his mother on the day of the incident and the Police were contacted after his coat was found near the shredder two days later.

Charges, conviction and sentencing

Beth Thompson, Associate at Fieldfisher

TWS was charged with the offence of corporate manslaughter, which the company denied, but pleaded guilty to the offence of failing to discharge its general health, safety and welfare duty to an employee.

Mr Timmins was also charged with gross negligence manslaughter and perverting the course of justice, however he denied that his actions were negligent or resulted in Mr Willis’ death and refuted being aware of what had happened or attempting to conceal the facts of the death. Mr Timmins did concede to consenting or conniving to TWS’ failure to discharge its health and safety duty.

Prosecutor Christine Agnew KC told the jury at Wolverhampton Crown Court about the “systemic failures across the company’s approach to safety management, such as absent risk assessments, a failure to implement control measures, the absence of safe methods of working, working instructions, supervision and training”, including a failure to isolate the shredder in question.

In December 2023, TWS was convicted of corporate manslaughter, fined £400,000, and ordered to pay costs of £29,815 to the CPS and £1,874 to the HSE. Mr Timmins was also found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter and was later sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. The jury did not reach a verdict on the charge against Mr Timmins of perverting the course of justice.

Reflecting on the incident, the Head of the CPS Special Crime Division commented that “operating the shredder with Mr Willis in a vulnerable position was grossly negligent, and fell far below what could be expected of a competent yard manager in his position”. After the sentencing exercise, the victim’s mother talked of the devastating impact that the incident had on her family, noting that there was a lack of closure due to Mr Willis’ remains not being discovered.

Further reading: Yard manager and company sentenced following death of employee in shredder

Lessons to be learned

Kirstie Imber, Associate at Fieldfisher

This case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of workplace health and safety measures and the gravity of the consequences when they are neglected. The aftermath also highlights several crucial lessons from a health and safety law perspective:

  • Corporate accountability: TWS’ corporate manslaughter conviction demonstrates that negligence at a corporate level can have severe consequences, including substantial fines, legal penalties, and damage to the company’s reputation
  • Individual accountability: Managers should remain aware of their responsibilities regarding workplace health and safety, and take proactive measures to prevent the risk of harm to employees.
  • Immediate reporting and investigation: TWS’ failure to report the incident immediately raised concerns over the company’s overall health and safety operation. Prompt reporting of incidents is key to ensuring a thorough investigation is carried out, and no further harm is caused.
  • Honesty and transparency: Concealing facts or attempting to cover up workplace incidents could potentially lead to even more severe legal consequences under criminal law.
  • Proactive health and safety management: The “systemic failures” in TWS’ safety management approach emphasises the need for proactive safety management. At a minimum, companies must conduct comprehensive risk assessments, implement control measures, establish safe methods of working, and deliver proper instructions, supervision and training to staff, so as to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others.
  • CCTV equipment: The case demonstrates how CCTV equipment can play a significant role in workplace health and safety, both proactively (in monitoring compliance) and reactively (in investigating incidents).

This case serves as a reminder of the tragic consequences of disregarding health and safety and the long lasting impact that negligence and failures can have on the lives of employees and their families, highlighting that there is a moral responsibility to prioritise health and safety, as well as a legal obligation.

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