A small-scale mining company that was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws after one of its workers was injured and trapped in a mine collapse, has been fined £100,000, despite the firm facing liquidation.
Three Ds Mining was operating a shaft at Danygraig Colliery, Neath Port Talbot, on 15 May 2017 when miner Gwyn Woodland was badly injured after the roof gave way. Mr Woodland was trapped beneath a half-tonne rock but his life was saved by his colleague, Huw Thomas, who managed to smash the rock with a sledgehammer.
A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Three Ds Mining had used repurposed and untested pallet boards as roof supports rather than much stronger and more reliable half-rounds timbers – a decision taken by Three Ds Mining’s director, David Jones.
Three Ds Mining denied three breaches of health safety laws but was convicted of failing to ensure the safety and welfare of employees and failing to make a sufficient assessment of risk, following a six-day trial at Swansea Crown Court. At a sentencing hearing on Friday 10 September, Three Ds Mining Ltd was fined £100,000, to be paid over a four-year period.
'I remain incredulous that anyone thought that was the way to treat an employee or a fellow human being, by exposing them to that risk'
Judge Catherine Richards said the firm had chosen 'cost-cutting at the expense of safety'.
'Anyone looking at the supports and the working conditions would have concluded that. I remain incredulous that anyone thought that was the way to treat an employee or a fellow human being, by exposing them to that risk,' she said.
Judge Richards also said that Three Ds Mining had tried to avoid a proper investigation of the incident by trying to get Mr Woodland to attend work, and it had not set out the nature of his injury in proper detail. Mr Woodland suffered three fractures to his spine in the incident and has been unable to work since. The court heard Mr Woodland had been compensated for his injuries outside of court.
However, the court also heard that Three Ds Mining’s turnover had reduced from £180,000 in 2018 to just over £10,000 this year and was currently not trading while facing possible liquidation, meaning the imposed fine may potentially never be paid.
'I would have no hesitation imposing a figure of the higher bracket if I considered that was realistic given the financial position of the offender company,' Judge Richards said.
'This company's fortunes have fluctuated over the years but in recent years have been between £10,000 and £30,000 turnover. The least penalty I can impose is one of £100,000 concurrent on each count.'
The case raises the issue of imposing fines on companies who are found guilty of health and safety offences, but who are unlikely to be in any position to pay the financial penalty.
One significant case occurred in March this year when Drayton Manor Park Ltd was fined £1 million for failing in its duty of care to Evha Jannath, an 11-year-old school girl who died in May 2017 after being thrown from boat at Drayton Manor theme park’s Splash Canyon ride and who subsequently drowned.
Although Drayton Manor Park Ltd pleaded guilty, Mr Justice Spencer said when passing sentence that there was no prospect of the fine being paid since the company had gone into administration. The family-owned company ran into financial problems and was sold in August 2020; the new owners – Looping Group – took the business and assets only, not responsibility for any liabilities.