HSE Blog Post: Manufacturing firm fined £145,000 after two employees killed by explosion

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Norwich based manufacturing firm Harford Attachments Limited have recently been fined £145,000 and ordered to pay costs of £65,900 by Norwich Crown Court as a result of an accident at work that resulted in the death of two employees.

In July 2015 the two workers had been spray painting several welded steel buckets in a spray booth provided by the company. As they prepared to spray the next batch, the flammable vapour created whilst cleaning the spray paint guns was ignited by an ignition source which was present at the scene. This caused an explosion, killing both workers.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation that followed found that the explosion had been caused by an “inconsistent and incomplete” approach to health and safety by the company and its employees. For example, no risk assessment had been carried out before the start of operations.

Some three years later, the Company pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and regulation 6(4)(f)(i) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002 at Norwich Crown Court.

Section 2 Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974

Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 establishes a general duty on all employers to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

Section 40 of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 sets out the definition for what is reasonably practicable. It says that “it shall be for the accused to prove (as the case may be) that it was not practicable or not reasonably practicable to do more than was in fact done to satisfy the duty… or that there was no better practicable means than was in fact used to satisfy the duty…”.

Regulation 6(4)(f)(i) Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002

The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002 require the elimination or reduction of the risk of fire and explosion from substances connected with work activities.

Simply put, these Regulations create a two stage process for employers. Stage 1 is to assess the risk of fire and explosion from workplace activities. If the employer determines that a risk of fire and explosion does exist, then stage 2 is to put in place suitable control measures to eliminate any risks entirely or if reduce the exposure of employees to the risks to as low as reasonably practicable.

In pleading guilty, the company admitted that it had failed to carry out an appropriate assessment of the risks associated with spray painting and therefore had not put in place the measures necessary to either eliminate or to control and manage those risks.

Section 33 of the 1974 Act makes it an offence for a person to fail to discharge a duty which he is subject to by virtue of section 2 of the 1974 Act or to contravene any health and safety regulations.

Whilst it did not happen in this case, directors may also find themselves liable. Under section 37 of the 1974 Act, where an offence is committed with “the consent or connivance of or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”

So companies – and in some cases even directors themselves – may find themselves in court if they fail to follow health and safety legislation.

The Harford case therefore demonstrates clearly just how vital it is for companies to not only have thorough health and safety arrangements in place but also to make sure that legal duties are understood and action is taken. It’s arguable that had the correct policies and procedures been in place in the Harford case the tragic accident could have been prevented altogether.

Cartwright King have a team of Health and Safety Solicitors who are on hand to assist with any regulatory queries that you may have. To get in touch you can contact us here.

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