We’ve already discussed COSHH regulations and why it’s vitally important that employers implement and follow it in our previous article [insert link to previous article]. Now let’s take a look at what happens when employers choose to disregard these laws and have to face the consequences….

1. Highlighting the Importance of Safety Equipment

A Bristol company was heavily fined for exposing its workers to hazardous chemicals over 4 years, resulting in several workers developing a very painful skin condition called allergic contact dermatitis (ACD).

ACD is the result of an allergic response to substances that a person has been in direct contact with – in this particular instance photographic chemicals.

A total of three employees developed ACD. Two of the employees developed swelling, blisters and skin splitting on their hands and fingers. The third, and worst affected employee, Stuart White, suffered four years of severe skin blistering, cracking, splitting and weeping.

The company was fined for breaching The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, for not reporting a case of ACD, for not providing employee ‘health surveillance’, and for breaching COSHH Regulations by not carrying out adequate risk assessments.

Court Costs: £30,000.
Fine: £100,000.

2. Workers exposed to Asbestos AND Legionnaire’s disease

A construction site manager was prosecuted (and found guilty) over numerous safety failings involving the removal of asbestos from a building.

Investigators looking into the site discovered that the company failed in its legal obligations, demonstrated by:

  • Asbestos risks – significant quantities throughout the building.
  • Fall risks – risk of falling through several large openings.
  • Fire risks – failure to provide sufficient fire safety equipment, failure to carry out fire safety risk assessments, and failure to provide clear escape routes.
  • Legionella risks – A worker actually contracted Legionnaire’s disease because of prolonged exposure.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act (Section 3), Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, and COSHH 2002 for failing to prevent or adequately control exposure to legionella.

Court Costs: £16,000.
Fine: £63,000.
Community Service: 200 Hours, Unpaid.
Prison Sentence: 12 months, Suspended.

3. The Tragedy At The Boatyard

The managing director of a Plymouth-based company was convicted of manslaughter and given a 12 month sentence after a young apprentice working for the company was killed.

Ben Pinkham, 21, was working at a boat manufacturers, using a highly flammable solvent to clean a resin storage tank at the boatyard.

However, he hadn’t been warned about the dangers of using the chemical in a confined space resulting in a lethal explosion.

Both the managing director and his company pleaded guilty to 3 breaches of health and safety legislation. The firm and the managing director also admitted failing to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.

According to John Lacey, president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, the case ‘emphasises the need for employers to conduct risk assessments and not allow apprentices to work unsafely or to undertake work for which they are not properly supervised.’

Court Costs: £10,000.
Fine: £90,000.
Prison Sentence: 12 months.

These court cases highlight the importance of companies fully complying with COSHH legislation to ensure safe and hazard-free work environments. Not complying with COSHH not only puts employees at serious risk of harm, it is also against the law, putting both company, and it’s management, at risk of hefty fines and even imprisonment.