Three senior managers at a food waste recycling plant in Leicestershire have been handed prison sentences for gross negligence that resulted in two workers being overcome by toxic fumes and drowning in a road haulage tanker containing pig feed. The Newark-based family-owned and run business, which is being liquidated, has been fined £2 million. We spoke to the HSE’s Principal Inspector to get the full story.
Greenfeeds’ accounts manager Gillian Leivers was handed a 13-year prison sentence and her husband and managing director Ian Leivers sentenced to 20 months at Leicester Crown Court on 16 June after a six-week trial. A third senior member of staff, transport manager Stewart Brown, was given a one-year prison sentence, suspended for two years.
The Leivers’ business, which produced bio-fuel and pig feed from recycled products and delivered the material using road haulage tankers, was found guilty of two counts of corporate manslaughter and fined £1 million for each of the fatalities.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) brought the case with the assistance of Leicestershire Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after two workers at Greenfeeds’ recycling plant in Normanton, Bottesford, Leicestershire, died on 22 December 2016. The investigation found a catalogue of health and safety failings.
On the afternoon of the incident, a yard staff member, 19-year-old Nathan Walker, was instructed to clean a haulage tanker that contained about six tonnes of semi-liquid pig feed.
During the cleaning process, he had entered the confined space through the tanker’s top hatch. The teenager, however, soon found it difficult to breathe. Overcome by toxic fumes, he fell into the animal feed.
Another worker, 35-year-old Gavin Rawson, heard what had happened and climbed through the hatch to pull Nathan out but was also overcome by the fumes and collapsed in the animal feed.
‘The investigation revealed that as well as toxic fumes from the food waste, there was a lack of oxygen and excess of carbon dioxide within the confined space,’ said HSE principal inspector Samantha Wells. ‘Neither employee had any breathing equipment to assist them.’
Under the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997, businesses are required to follow a hierarchy of controls. Entering the space is a last resort and should only be permitted when there is a safe working environment and breathing apparatus is provided.
'The organisation wasn’t supervising, it wasn’t monitoring and it didn’t provide any training for any of the yard staff. All that you would expect was absent'
As Samantha explains, although Gillian Leivers was in the office directing the work, she was managing the company and in a position of control. She knew of the risk but failed to ensure there was a safe system of work for cleaning the tankers.
‘Directors have that control,’ Samantha told IOSH magazine. ‘They need to ensure that risks are managed effectively. Having monitoring arrangements is critical because if the system of work isn’t safe, monitoring will pick that up.
‘This is a company that didn’t have arrangements for health and safety. It wasn’t planning for or managing the risks. It wasn’t supervising, it wasn’t monitoring and it didn’t provide any training for any of the yard staff. All that you would expect was absent.’
Gillian’s son had also attempted to rescue Nathan but had to use a ladder to climb out of the tanker when he started to struggle to breathe.
‘Multiple fatalities are typical of these types of incidents but they are easily prevented by ensuring a safe system of work is established and employees are trained to understand the risks,’ said Samantha.
‘They should have been told about the risks and should have been trained not to go and attempt a rescue. It is critical when you are dealing with these well-known risks that those people who work for you understand that.’
Emergency services used a saw to cut holes in the side of the tanker and pulled both men out but despite attempts to resuscitate them, they died at the scene. A post-mortem concluded drowning in animal feed as the cause of death.
The joint investigation found that Greenfeeds did not have any procedures in place to ensure the cleaning process was undertaken safely nor were yard staff warned about the risks.
The working method of entering the tank to clean it had not be properly risk assessed and there was also no method statement for entering the tanker or for rescuing anyone in the event of an incident.
According to The Guardian, Judge Peter Fraser had told the court: ‘The method statement that had been adopted at Greenfeeds for years, and which the senior management knew about, was simply climb in, clean the tanker and take your chances.’
Significantly, investigators found the company had also failed to keep a record of when staff had entered the tanker and cleaned it, so it was difficult to determine how often the practice took place.
Witness statements taken by the police and HSE lead inspector Jenna McDade’s team revealed that staff members had repeatedly voiced their concerns about the safety of cleaning the tankers but Greenfeeds’ management had ignored the warnings.
All three managers had pleaded not guilty to the charges of corporate manslaughter. However, the company did plead guilty to failing to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety and welfare of its employees, including Nathan Walker and Gavin Rawson to carry out cleaning work within confined spaces contrary to section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act between 1 July 2015 and 31 January 2017.
Gillian Leivers, who had directed the cleaning with Stewart Brown, was found guilty of two counts of gross negligence manslaughter. The court also found her guilty of breaching sections 2(1) and 37(1) of the HSW Act. She had failed to discharge her duty to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of Greenfeeds’ employees, including Nathan Walker and Gavin Rawson, in carrying out cleaning work within confined spaces, with her consent and/or connivance and/or neglect.
Leicestershire Police reported that she has been disqualified for being a company director for 15 years.
According to The Guardian, Judge Fraser had told her: ‘Your blatant disregard for the very high risk of death was of an extreme nature. I am also of the view that your behaviour was motivated by avoiding the cost of implementing proper safety measures.’
As a director of Greenfeeds, her husband Ian Leivers was found guilty of breaching section 2(1) of the HSW Act as the court believed that the offence was committed with his consent, connivance or was attributable to his neglect. He has been disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.
Stewart Brown was found guilty of breaching section 7(a) of the HSW Act for failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others who might be affected by his acts or omissions at work.
The CPS also charged him with two counts of gross negligence manslaughter but he was found not guilty in both cases.
‘This incident could have been easily prevented by those in control by assessing the risks and putting appropriate control measures in place,’ added Samantha.
‘It should serve as a reminder of the importance of effective health and safety management and the devastating consequences when these are not implemented and monitored.
‘The individuals with management responsibilities have been held to account in this tragic case. The HSE expects that directors and senior managers ensure that risks are managed effectively. This is an example where they have failed to ensure that the risk of entering the tankers was properly managed. The consequences have been horrific and two young men have died just doing their job.’