Blackburn Magistrates’ Court was told that on 11 December 2016, an employee working at the Preston branch was asked by the store manager to start moving a variety of sizes of boxed bikes from the ‘goods in’ area to another location upstairs in order for them to be assembled.
There were 72 boxes and each one weighed between 10 and 20 kg, and had been stacked two or three boxes high on their narrow ends.
While removing a boxed bike from the stack, some of the boxes toppled forwards on to other boxes causing a domino effect. The worker was trapped before he managed to call a colleague who helped free him.
Preston City Council investigators revealed that there were a number of breaches, including failing to undertake a risk assessment for stacking boxed bikes; failing to provide employees with appropriate training in relation to boxed bikes; and failing to adequately control and manage the stock of boxed bikes. The investigation also found that the store was overstocked by 91 bikes and the bike storage areas were overcrowded.
The council told the court that its inspectors were misled by Halfords – the retailer told them that this was an isolated incident, but further enquiries found it had failed to learn lessons from previous similar incidents at its Hemel Hempstead, Letchworth Garden City and Blackburn stores and had failed to implement recommended control measures.
Last week, Halfords – which has more than 460 stores employing about 8,000 staff – was fined £200,000 for breaching s 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. It was also ordered to pay £13,406 costs.
A Halfords spokesman said the safety of staff was "of the utmost importance to us" and apologised. He said that the company had a good health and safety record having never previously been prosecuted for health and safety offences since the company was formed in 1909.
The spokesman added that the retailer had instructed outside experts to conduct a full manual handling risk assessment, that Halfords had employed a new group head of health and safety, launched a new training programme and had reviewed its storage arrangements and lowered the numbers of bikes being stored on site. The court was shown evidence that Halfords had reduced bike stock in all stores by approximately 65,000 units.
In his sentencing remarks, District Judge Clarke said that Halfords had "substantial" health and safety systems in place but they had not been fully adhered to, in that they were shown to be inadequate during the seasonal period. He was concerned by the fact that the company was slow to react to the circumstances. However, he recognised the level of investment by Halfords in risk assessment and the way in which they have tackled the issue by sourcing outside experts and reviewing their stock management procedures.
Speaking on behalf of Preston City Council, Craig Sharp, chief environmental health officer, said the council was pleased that the high fine reflected the seriousness of the case.
"Undertaking risk assessments and implementing robust training measures for staff should be priorities for all businesses," he added. "It is particularly important that retailers carefully control their stock levels during this busy festive period and ensure back-of-house storage areas are not over-stocked and hazardous."