Business Handed Two Million Pound Financial Sanction

In late March 2023, a leading organization specializing in the provision of commodities along pipes was handed an eye-popping financial sanction in an amount exceeding two-and-a-quarter-million pounds after one pipe the business was responsible for was found to be damaged due to pressure being exerted on it, and allowing petroleum to be discharged into the environment. The case was taken so seriously by the regulatory authority the Health and Safety Executive due to the damage to the pipes for the reason that there was a high chance that members of the workforce were open to substantial bodily harm and even being killed.     

What Happened In The Case? 

At the time the incident occurred the members of the workforce were digging and lifting a section of pipe from under the ground. There was contemporaneous evidence that appeared to suggest that there was a reasonable belief that a section of pipe located in the county of Lincolnshire was found to be in a state of disrepair. The workforce was instructed to act on the piece of pipe which according to the historical records had incurred pre-existing damage to it. There was a pressing danger that the process of lifting and repairing the pipe may cause damage especially if it is left open to the elements. Unbeknown to the business an operation to fix a piece of pipe on a prior occasion that had petrol inside it had a high likelihood of creating a large cloud which has the likelihood of catching fire and can cover an extraordinary area of many feet. The regulatory authorities were seemingly concerned for the reason that there was a high possibility that those persons working near the working environment could be reached by the chemicals exuded from the spread of the cloud filled with substances that are potentially dangerous to persons operating in the workforce. The extent of the harm likely to take place was worrying as colleagues were likely to find themselves showered with petroleum. This was extremely alarming to the investigators from the Health and Safety Executive primarily for the reason that there was a significant risk of flammable liquids catching fire before the business had the opportunity to assist persons in the vicinity of the damaged pipe to escape. This meant that there was an increased probability of such persons being open to being killed or badly hurt.            

Feet to the Fire?

When the regulatory authorities reviewed the independent evidence it had gathered and observed that the business had neglected its regulatory responsibilities to sufficiently reduce the chances of flammable chemicals spreading from the damaged pipe present at the scene and putting persons in the vicinity of it exposed to fire. The Crown Court sitting in Exeter held the business criminally liable for violations of sections two and three of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which place legal obligations on businesses to safeguard the health, safety, and wellbeing of persons emanating from the wider public and those employed in the business’ workforce. To make an example of the business and to make the punishment more meaningful the judge imposed a meaty financial sanction in the amount of just over two-and-a-half million pounds.   

Lessons Learned? 

Similar companies should be taking action today to avoid putting people at risk of exposure to flammable chemicals by considering taking the following action: 

  • implementing mitigation steps counteracting the likelihood of risks becoming pressing dangers
  • introducing safe procedures into the working environment
  • have policies in position to enable predictable dangers to be spotted and
  • mitigated against.   

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