Supermarket chain Morrisons has been found guilty of four health and safety failings following the death of one of its workers.
Matthew Gunn died 12 days after falling on the staff staircase at Morrisons’ Ashchurch Road store in Tewkesbury in September 2014. Matthew had worked for the company for 10 years and had suffered from epilepsy since the age of four.
The 27-year-old was moved to the grocery department from the canteen following an epileptic seizure, and adjustments had been made by Morrisons to ensure he had a safe working environment. A week before his fatal fall, Matthew had suffered a seizure in the warehouse, and his mother had been called to take him home. He subsequently suffered what was described as an ‘absence’ while retrieving some of his belongings.
On the day of his fall, Matthew was discovered unconscious at the foot of the staff stairs by two colleagues. The post mortem report said he died of a traumatic head injury.
The inquest heard that a seizure may have caused the fall, although it was not possible to determine that with any certainty. However, the inquest jury’s conclusion also said: ‘An absence of a structured process and ownership in relationship to managing a person with epilepsy, a lack of communication, no personal risk assessment or the monitoring thereof, and insufficient reporting all led to missed opportunities that may have contributed to Matt’s death.’
Morrisons said that it had measures in place to record any epileptic episodes in store, either in the employee’s personnel file if the episode required first aid treatment, or in the company’s accident book and/or reported to the local authority or GB Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if the epileptic event caused an accident or was RIDDOR reportable.
Prosecution and sentencing
The supermarket chain was charged with the following three health and safety breaches, which it denied:
- Failure to ensure the health and safety of an employee who had epilepsy
- Failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the employee who had epilepsy
- Failure to review risks to which an employee with epilepsy might be exposed.
Morrisons admitted a fourth charge of failing to supply the council with requested information relating to the death of the employee.
After a three-week trial at Cirencester Courthouse, the jury found Morrisons guilty on all four charges. The judge placed the offences in the highest category of culpability and harm, and Morrisons was fined £3.5m.
Following sentencing, Peter Tonge, Tewkesbury Borough Council’s head of community services, said: ‘This was a long and difficult investigation, and the successful court outcome is a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of our investigation team. Matthew was extremely vulnerable to health and safety risks in his workplace due to his severe epilepsy.
‘Despite being aware of the risks, Morrisons failed to put in place a number of simple measures which could have kept Matthew safe at work. Furthermore, Morrisons failed to cooperate with elements of our investigation, and we are satisfied that the substantial fine imposed by the court reflects the seriousness of the omissions and failures on the part of the company.’
In 2014, the supermarket was ordered to pay £80,000 in fines and costs after a worker slipped on a wet floor. She was not seriously injured. The company was previously prosecuted in 2011 after a worker broke her elbow slipping on oil at the same store.
Other major supermarkets that have been fined for health and safety failings include Tesco and Co-Op.