Tesco back in dock over systemic failures

In its second safety prosecution in a month, Tesco has been ordered to pay more than £62,000 in penalties following a series of incidents at a large West Midlands store that endangered members of staff.

One employee suffered an electric shock, a second was trapped inside a produce chiller and another broke her ankle, during an 18-month period at the Tesco branch in Monkspath near Solihull.

Solihull Magistrates’ Court heard that in April 2006 Matthew Lawrence was trapped inside a walk-in refrigerator for up to 10 minutes because there was no emergency release handle or instructions to help him escape.

The following year Stuart Nutting, a general assistant in the Dot Com section, received a ‘deeply unpleasant’ electric shock from a faulty light switch at the supermarket. The 21-year-old was rushed to hospital where he made a full recovery.

The court also heard that 63-year-old worker Patricia Shale broke her ankle when she was walking on uneven ground in a dimly lit area leading to a temporary staff entrance.

An investigation found Tesco had not completed the necessary risk assessments and during a store inspection health and safety officers discovered a live unplugged cable, which added to the charges.
Barry Berlin, for the prosecution, said the safety violations amounted to a catalogue of serious systemic failures.

Tesco admitted three breaches of health and safety laws and Judge Nigel Cadbury ordered it to pay £62,615 in fines and costs. He said it had been a close run decision not to refer the case to the Crown Court, where a higher penalty could have been levied against the company.

This is the fifth time Tesco has been in court for health and safety breaches in little over a year.

Caretaker fell through roof of school

A school in Essex did not report an incident where a caretaker sustained four fractured ribs and a gashed head after falling more than three metres through a fragile glass-fibre roof until a year after it happened. Sitting on 23 June, Basildon magistrates heard how the caretaker had been clearing rubbish from the fragile canopy at Brentwood County High School, on 28 February 2007. As he was carrying out this task, a panel broke beneath him, causing him to fall on to the concrete floor of the playground below. He has suffered recurrent migraines as a result of the fall.

The court heard that the school had not properly planned or assessed the work and assumed the canopy could take the weight of a man. It did not follow previous advice provided by Essex County Council on how to manage work at height.

Brentwood County High School pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 by failing to properly plan and supervise work at height, and reg.3(1)(b)(ii) of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 for failing to notify the incident to the HSE within ten days. It was handed down a single fine of £1500 and told to pay full costs of £2862.

The school said in mitigation that it had purchased the canopy on the strength of an advertisement from the supplier that had showed a car resting on the roof to demonstrate that it could hold a considerable weight. It said the non-reporting of the incident had been a one-off oversight. There had been some confusion as the school’s site manager had been off work sick on several occasions and although it was thought he had submitted a report to the bursar, it was subsequently revealed that he had not.

Matthew Tackling, the HSE inspector who investigated the case and prosecuted it in court, commented: “Falls from height are the biggest killer of people at work. In this case an employee suffered serious injury that has affected his life since and that is only now beginning to improve.

“Proper planning and assessment of work at height is vital to identify the risks involved and safe ways of working. This should include consideration of the strength of the materials anyone may stand on. People might fall through fragile material as well as off the edge.”

Asda pays £267,000 for car park death

Supermarket chain Asda has been fined £225,000 plus costs after admitting safety failures over the death of a customer in a store car park. Kenneth Farr was killed when a security barrier smashed through the windscreen of his car as he drove into the car park of Asda’s Cardiff Bay store. His three-year-old daughter escaped uninjured. In March 2006 an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing.

The accident happened in May 2002 when a sudden gust of wind swung the barrier into Farr’s car. He suffered fatal head injuries.
The inquest heard that the steel barrier should have been padlocked in place but was unsecured that day. Customers recalled seeing it swinging in the wind. An Asda employee said the barrier was difficult to move and had become stuck the day the before the accident. There had been two other incidents involving swing barriers at Asda stores – one in Bloxwich, Walsall, in January 1999, three years before Farr’s death.

There was confusion about who was responsible for checking that the barrier was properly secured. Asda’s divisional environmental health manager said it was the security team’s job, but a guard told the inquest he had not been told to check it. Following the accident, Asda removed all similar barriers from its car parks.

Cardiff Council decided to bring safety charges against the supermarket chain after a Crown Prosecution Service review of the case concluded there was insufficient evidence to justify a manslaughter charge.

On 21 January at Newport Crown Court, Judge Cooke fined Asda £225,000 for two offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act, plus costs of £42,000.

Imposing the fines, he said, “Expressions of intention were all present. The systems were all present. But a potentially fatal danger was left unaddressed.”

After the hearing, Asda’s corporate affairs director, Paul Kelly, apologised to Farr’s family, adding that the accident was due to “human error” at a local level.