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*UPDATE* Potential roof fall drops £160k from metal caster’s bottom line

A metal caster and fabricator has been fined £160,000 for work at height failings after an employee almost fell through a fragile roof. The judge set the penalty based on the potential for serious harm.

FLPA / John Eveson/REX/Shutterstock

M J Allen Holdings, a metalwork casting and machinery company, failed to provide suitable work at height equipment and did not offer to train its employees, an HSE investigation found. 

Canterbury Crown Court heard that on 19 September 2014, three employees of the company’s maintenance team accessed the foundry roof using a mobile elevating working platform, to remove a broken ceiling fan.

The three men were working at a height of 10metres, and were using crawling boards on the non-ferrous foundry building, when one of the employees slipped, his foot making a hole in the asbestos roof sheeting. 

Ashford, Kent-based MJ Allen Holding, who had ultimate responsibility for safety on site, notified the HSE.

In applying the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences that took effect in February, the judge established MJ Allen’s level of culpability as medium, a harm category of 2 (seriousness of harm set at A with potential for death or life-limiting injury, and likelihood said to be (medium)). The company’s turnover (it had sales of £35m in 2015) put it in the medium category, meaning that the starting point of the fine was £240,000, with a range of £100,000 to £600,000.

The company entered an early guilty plea, so judge Adele Williams set the penalty at £160,000.

As well as the £160,000 fine the firm, which specialises in aluminium, iron and bronze castings, fabrications and machining and is part of a family-owned group, [RE1] was ordered to pay costs of £5,767, for breaching Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The regulation requires employees to “take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury.”

Speaking after the hearing HSE Inspector Guy Widdowson said: “This incident had the potential to cause significant, life threatening injuries to the employee who was affected.”[RE2] 

Widdowson added that the right equipment including harnesses or even the mobile elevating work platform, should have been used when accessing the broken ceiling fan.

Speaking to IOSH Magazine about the sentencing, Simon-Joyston Bechal, director at Turnstone Law said: “This case is a very clear demonstration of one of the unintended inflationary consequences of the new sentencing guidelines.  This is that ‘near miss’ incidents now attract a fine based on the injury that was risked, whereas the previous approach to sentencing was more focused on the seriousness of any actual injury. There are justifiable reasons to have switched to focusing on risk more than on outcome; but the additional inflationary effect on fines was not allowed for by the Sentencing Council in formulating the new tables. That’s why this has the feel of being a very steep fine when nobody was injured.  If the company had been bigger, with a turnover above £50m, the same sentencing approach would have led to a £400,000 fine (i.e. £600,000 starting point less a third discount for the guilty plea).  

 

Comments

  • I think I must have missed

    Permalink Submitted by Ken Clark on 13 April 2016 - 01:42 pm

    I think I must have missed something. Why was it necessary to report this 'near miss' under RIDDOR. I can't see how it comes under any category of Dangerous Occurrance.

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    • Asbestos roof was disturbed

      Permalink Submitted by steven on 14 April 2016 - 07:34 am

      Asbestos roof was disturbed ergo riddor applies

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    • Asbestos roof was disturbed

      Permalink Submitted by steven on 14 April 2016 - 07:35 am

      Asbestos roof was disturbed ergo riddor applies

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    • Having looked at the RIDDOR

      Permalink Submitted by Mike Francis on 14 April 2016 - 10:23 am

      Having looked at the RIDDOR categories I must agree not sure what compelled the employer to make the report in the first place. Clearly a serious near miss that required the appropriate level of investigation to establish root causes, but I would have assumed it would be dealt with internally.

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  • This guy won't be reporting

    Permalink Submitted by johnny on 13 April 2016 - 04:52 pm

    This guy won't be reporting many more dangerous occurrences in the future I imagine

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  • I'm glad i'm not the only one

    Permalink Submitted by My Name on 13 April 2016 - 05:17 pm

    I'm glad i'm not the only one Ken. Must be more to the story ?

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  • Fairly dangerous to be able

    Permalink Submitted by Chris jackson on 14 April 2016 - 10:56 am

    Fairly dangerous to be able to penetrate a fragile roof at high level?

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  • Hello all, thanks for the

    Permalink Submitted by Louis_Wustemann on 14 April 2016 - 12:27 pm

    Hello all, thanks for the comments to date. The inspector told us MJ Allen Holdings reported the incident "officially" to the HSE. We assumed it must fall under Schedule 2 of RIDDOR Part  2, 32b "The unintentional collapse or partial collapse of any floor or wall of any place of work arising from, or in connection with, ongoing construction work (including demolition, refurbishment and maintenance), whether above or below ground".

    That seemed a stretch since it wasn't a floor and wasn't much of a partial collapse (through the roof was breached) but then if the company believed it fitted into that category or just that RIDDOR must apply without having checked the DO schedule (as Chris Jackson says, it was certainly dangerous, hence the fine) it still could have reported it mistakenly, triggering the investigation.

    We emailed the inspector yesterday for clarification and will update the story again as soon as he responds.

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  • Not sure how this is a god

    Permalink Submitted by SD on 14 April 2016 - 01:58 pm

    Not sure how this is a god advocate for self reporting events to the HSE, as I am sure this company may think twice next time and run the gauntlet. How many times does things of this nature happen that go none reported. Same old story, companies trying to stay the reasonable side of H&S get hammered, when I believe a more lenient / supportive message to companies who do self report should be used.

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  • We have had a reply from the

    Permalink Submitted by Louis_Wustemann on 15 April 2016 - 01:45 pm

    We have had a reply from the inspector, Guy Widdowson, who says it was definitely reported under RIDDOR but he is not sure as what kind of dangerous occurrence and the report has now been closed and filed. So I'm afraid that's all we know, whether or not it should have been reported looks likely to remain a mystery. Out best guess is that they assumed it was reportable under Schedule 2  as either a partial collapse (as per my last comment) or as an unintentional release of hazardous material because they had disturbed the asbestos in the roof's surface.

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  • I understand the position

    Permalink Submitted by lincslinks on 17 April 2016 - 09:50 am

    I understand the position taken by the courts in this event, however I thin k their is a danger that companies will seriously reconsider their reporting regimes in a no injury event where the action of the courts is so punative

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