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January 7, 2011

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Managing director admits he “wasn’t aware of his H&S responsibilities”

Two companies pleaded guilty to failing to protect workers after four agency staff fell 3.5 metres through an unsecured floor.

Spalding Magistrates’ Court heard that J&P Recruitment supplied staff to work as fruit packers at West End Cold Stores’ fruit packaging facility in Boston, Lincolnshire.

On 22 September 2008, four of the fruit packers were asked to remove ceiling insulation panels from one of the cold stores, which was being refurbished after it was destroyed by a fire. The men had not received any work-at-height training and were not provided with any advice on how to carry out the job. Therefore, they created their own method of work, which involved working from a man-riding cage, which they placed on a forklift truck.

In order to remove the last few panels they gained access to a mezzanine floor, which formed the edge of the interior roof. However, they had already removed the fixings from the floor panels on the mezzanine floor, so when they stepped on to the first panel, it gave way and all four men fell to the ground. Each suffered fractured bones and one worker is still unable to return to work owing to his injuries.

The HSE visited the scene two days later and issued a Prohibition Notice, which ordered the firm to stop using the unsuitable method for working at height. HSE inspector Jo Anderson told SHP that the firm should have ensured that the work was properly planned and undertaken by qualified workers. She also said the work could have been completed safely if the firm had hired a scissor lift or a cherry picker.

“All four workers involved in this incident suffered extremely serious injuries and could have been killed. They were employed to carry out tasks on the factory floor, and had no experience in working at height,” said Inspector Anderson.

“No risk assessment was carried out and no proper supervision took place while the ceiling panels were being removed – a serious failing on the part of both companies.”

J&P Recruitment appeared in court on 5 January and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £800 towards costs. West End Cold Stores appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the same Act. It was fined £15,000 and £1862 in costs.

In mitigation, J&P Recruitment’s managing director said the company is a small firm and admitted that he hadn’t been aware of his responsibilities for health and safety at the time of the incident.

West End Cold Stores said it deeply regretted the incident and has subsequently employed a health and safety consultant. It has carried out a full risk assessment for all work-at-height activities and provided all staff with work-at-height training.

Following the sentencing, Inspector Anderson said: “Employers and organisations that use agency workers have a joint responsibility to ensure the safety of all staff who work on site. Each party needs to be clear about their responsibilities to avoid serious incidents such as this.”

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Andy
Andy
11 years ago

It’s good to hear that Agency organisations are being prosecuted, all to often they want to take he money without having any responsibility for the workers they send to site. They should vet all workers on their books, including qualifications and training before sending them to a potential employer, hopefully with the correct PPE!

Les
Les
11 years ago

I cannot believe that a managing director would not be aware at least that he had H&S responsibilities, even if he might suggest he did not. I agree they are both responsible since if the agency takes people on their books it is quite obviously their responsibility (since they are being paid as a “sub-contractor” so to speak) to ensure that their employees are being employed specifically for the task stated and are suitable to do any of the work they are tasked with doing as is the end user

Paul
Paul
11 years ago

If the managing director of J&P Recruitment is not aware of his responsibility for Health and Safety he is not fit to be in that post and should be disqualified from being a director.

Ray
Ray
11 years ago

An interesting case and in principle I agree that both the Agency and the Hirer should be jointly responsible for workers. However, all too often agencies get away without providing proper training and PPE.

My only concern with this particular case is whether the agency was aware that workers would be used for WAH, as opposed to what they were sent there for – fruit packing. If not, how could the agency be held liable?

Ruthstrong4
Ruthstrong4
11 years ago

The Agency bear responsibility for placing their workers in a workplace without requiring certain standards. They depend on people being afraid to protest about dangerous practices in case they are not given anymore work. Did the workers understand properly what they were required to do? Was English their first language? This workplace needs a trade inion with fully trained H & S reps as part of a proper safety management system. shouldn’t be hard in a small company.

Shpeditor
Shpeditor
11 years ago

Not being aware of your responsibility is not mitigation surely it should be an aggravating factor!!!!