Supermarket giant Tesco has been handed a £700,000 fine after a 91-year-old pensioner slipped at its Hemel Hempstead store and broke his hip.
On 6 August 2015 Dennis Satchell was pushing his trolley in a meat and dairy produce aisle at the Tesco Extra store in Jarman Way. He slipped on pooling watery liquid, which was leaking from refrigerator units. He fell and suffered multiple hip fractures, and is still unable to bend his leg.
An investigation by Dacorum Borough Council found the leaks should have been able to drain away, but had not been able to do so because of blockages in the drains under the floor – bacteria had set the leakage into a jelly-like consistency, which prevented further liquid passing through.
Luton Magistrates' Court was told that the chillers hadn’t been turned off and the aisle had never once been closed to the public as the problem first began on 5 June 2015, 63 days before the accident.
Over the two months to the day of the incident, Tesco called in maintenance engineers in several times, to no material effect. The engineers and other Tesco staff used machines to suck up the liquid, only for it to return because the leaks were continuous and the blockage was still there.
The court heard that management failed to implement a number of options to mitigate the risk, such as turning off refrigeration units, closing all or parts of the aisles affected or using barriers to restrict access. Staff working on the shop floor had been complaining to store management, and had been reduced in the absence of other effective measures being taken, to putting down flattened cardboard to try to soak up the leaks – thereby introducing a further trip hazard.
Tesco, whilst it admitted guilt, did not accept the extent of its offending, arguing that it bore only a medium level of culpability, and that the failures giving rise to the injury being sustained were failures local to the Jarman Way store, and that there was not a high likelihood of injury from slipping by reason of its safety failures.
District Judge Leigh-Smith had to hold several hearings and heard from a number of witnesses and experts. He found that Tesco had been highly culpable. The maintenance issues repeatedly reported through Tesco’s Bengaluru call centre should have been identified and addressed at area management level, and that there was a high likelihood of people slipping and sustaining a material level of injury.
Tesco admitted breaching s 2 and s 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, in that it failed to ensure the health and safety of Tesco staff, and its customers.
Costs will be awarded at a later date.
Councillor Julie Banks, Dacorum Borough Council's portfolio holder for community and regulatory services, said the investigation lasted more than four years.
“We will always take action where we deem it necessary to protect the public. This case sends out an important message, highlighting the need for businesses to comply with health and safety law and take all appropriate measures to prevent risk of injury to their employees and the public."
According to Hemel Today, a spokesperson for Tesco said: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our colleagues and customers and we are deeply sorry for this accident.
“Since this happened in 2015, we’ve given all staff at this store improved training in health and safety and maintenance escalation procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”