The unfortunate person who suffered this accident was working as a factory operative, employed by Pan Glo (UK) based in Lancashire.
He was walking on top of a large tank of hot water, something he and his colleagues did regularly without any concern or fear of danger.
However, on this occasion, while he was walking on the tank, one of the lids covering the opening was not properly secured, causing him to fall through when he stepped on it. The worker became completely submerged in dangerously hot water, unable to escape.
Upon investigation, it was clear that this incident occurred due to multiple failings on the part of the Employer.
It had been found there had been a lack of risk assessments carried out or having any established systems of work when using or maintaining the tanks.
The tank in question held water at a temperature of 76 Celsius and as the worker was submerged in the almost boiling water, he sustained 37% burns across his body.
A brave co-worker managed to pull the worker from the tank and called an ambulance to the scene.
Unfortunately, despite being taken out of the tank alive and driven to hospital for treatment, the injuries sustained were too severe and he did not survive the ordeal.
The Health and Safety Executive rightly investigated the incident, and this led to the prosecution of the company which entered a guilty plea to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It states “it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”.
On 18 October 2022 at Preston Magistrates Court the company was fined £200,000.00 and ordered to pay legal costs of almost £15,000.00.
The investigation found that due to the lack of risk assessments workers were frequently accessing the restricted areas and were walking across the lids of the tanks without realising the perilous nature of their route.
The company should have had clear health and safety instructions following a risk assessment which should have been trained out to the workforce, warning signs should have been put in place and enforcement of the rules should have been maintained.
Following these easy steps could have avoided the tragic death of this worker.
After the hearing at Preston Magistrates Court, the HSE principal inspector Helen Jones said:
“This was a tragic incident, and our thoughts remain with the family involved. The death of this man could easily have been prevented had the company acted to identify and manage the risks involved, and to put a safe system of work in place.”
Whilst no amount of money can ever compare to the loss of a loved one; this prosecution following the Employer’s admission of a breach of health and safety rules should at the very least assist the family to recover compensation arising out of his death.
They should be entitled to claim amongst other items a sum for bereavement damages and a dependency claim from the Employer’s Liability Insurers to try and alleviate the financial pressures brought about by their negligence and the consequential loss of income from a regular wage.
A fatal accident in the workplace is, thankfully, not a common occurrence as the Health and Safety Executive statistics from RIDDOR reports show that in 2021/22, there were a total of 123 deaths in the workplace in England and Wales.
The number of fatal incidents is split between the following areas of work:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing – 22
- Manufacturing – 22
- Construction – 30
- Transport and storage – 16
- Administration and support services – 12
- Wholesale, retail, motor repair, accommodation and food – 11
- Waste and recycling – 1
- Other – 9
The main types of accidents for workers that have proved fatal in the year 2021/22 are broken down as follows:
- 29 were from a fall from a height
- 23 were workers being struck by a moving vehicle
- 18 were workers being struck by a moving object
- 15 were from contact with moving machinery
- 14 were the worker being trapped by some collapsing over overturning
These failures underline the importance of undertaking risk assessment in the workplace and having written procedures to establish safe working practices and a safe working environment for workers. Unfortunately, it is not until a tragic incident such as this takes place or a very near miss that these failures are highlighted.
It is hoped that other employers reading the outcome of this tragic investigation will take heed and review their own health and safety policy and procedures.