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May 28, 2024

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SHP LEGAL COLUMN

Legal Lens – Health and Safety lessons to be learnt from Ward Recycling Limited’s prosecution

This month, as part of SHP’s editorial partnership with Fieldfisher’s Health & Safety team, Beth Thompson (Associate) and Kirstie Imber (Associate) consider the successful conviction of Ward Recycling Limited, including any lessons to be learnt for businesses to take note of.

Background

On 30 January 2020, Dean Atkinson, a 32-year-old worker at Ward Recycling Limited (“Ward Recycling”) was sadly killed returning to his workstation on the picking line when he was struck and killed by one of two loading shovels.

Credit: HSE.

The incident was reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the same day, who attended the site alongside the police. During the investigation (led by Cleveland Police and the HSE), CCTV footage covering the area where the incident happened was reviewed.

The investigation found that the safety standards were far below where they should have been with a complete absence of controls for pedestrians, such as Mr Atkinson, within the main shed area in which the loading shovels were operating.

The route taking Mr Atkinson back to his workstation emerged from behind a concrete wall into an area where the loading shovels were operating. It was a high-risk area, and the shovel operators had little opportunity to see Mr Atkinson. Other workers attempted to stop the operator; however the operator was unable to hear them over the noise of the engine and machinery.

The HSE had previously visited another site under the operation of Ward Recycling and issued enforcement measures relating to workplace transport and traffic management In addition, the owner of Ward Recycling was also the owner of the recruitment agency that employed Mr Atkinson.

Charges, conviction and sentencing

Beth Thompson, Associate at Fieldfisher

Ward Recycling was charged with the offence of corporate manslaughter, and failing to discharge its general health, safety and welfare duty to an employee. The company denied all charges.

The Court heard that there were “lots of vehicles moving around, and people … had to cross the main floor of the building where the plant machines were operating”, and that Mr Atkinson was wearing a “bright orange high-visibility jacket and trousers”, as reported by Nexis Newsdesk. Despite this, the operator of the loading shovel was unable to see Mr Atkinson and struck him on the head with the shovel before crushing him beneath the machines wheels.

In January 2024, Ward Recycling was found guilty of all offences at Middlesborough Crown Court and received fines of £1.75 million for corporate manslaughter, and £400,000 for the breaches of health and safety regulations.

Reflecting on the incident, HSE Inspector Stephen Garner commented that this “tragic incident could easily have been avoided if Ward Recycling had implemented simple control measures.

“Following the incident, it took the company less than a week to put in place an alternative traffic route to protect pedestrians.

“Had this been in place before the incident, Dean Atkinson would not have lost his life. Sadly, pedestrians being struck by vehicles on waste sites has caused many fatal accidents on waste sites and the industry should be well aware of the risks.”

Lessons to be learnt

Kirstie Imber, Associate at Fieldfisher

This case is a stark reminder of the importance of workplace health and safety measures, and the gravity of the potential consequences when they are neglected or breached.

  • Corporate Accountability: Ward Recycling’s corporate manslaughter conviction reaffirms that negligence at a corporate level carries criminal consequences. While Ward Recycling went into liquidation shortly after the incident, other companies that continue to operate will potentially suffer grave reputational damage alongside the hefty fines and legal penalties.
  • Mobile Machinery: This case demonstrates once again the ongoing risks posed by mobile machinery and is a reminder to businesses operating large machinery to carry out risk assessments and remain alert to the risks to workers and third parties.
  • Proactive Health and Safety: Had Ward Recycling adopted a more pro-active approach to health and safety; Mr Atkinsons death could have been avoided. At a minimum, and in compliance with health and safety law, companies need to be actively identifying and mitigating risk, establishing safe systems of work and implementing control measures such as segregating mobile machinery and pedestrians.
  • The Court’s Approach: During sentencing, the Judge acknowledged that the fine was unlikely to ever be paid, owing to Ward Recycling’s insolvency, however he hoped it would be a deterrent to other companies. It should not be under-estimated that the Courts continue to fine companies heavily for breaches to health and safety law and corporate manslaughter, in the hope that future companies will heed the penalties and adopt better health and safety practices.

Finally, this case is a reminder of the severe human impact of failing to abide by health and safety legislation. This impact is not limited to employees; the lives of contractors, agency workers and third parties with no connections to the company and its operations may also be affected.  While companies may be fined and penalised, it is ultimately people who end up suffering the worst consequences of an incident.


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

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Ronnie
Ronnie
23 days ago

Why wasn’t a custodial sentence imposed on the MD?