Firm Fined Over Worker Fall

HSE Prosecuted Dairy Firm Over Life-Changing Injuries


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has prosecuted a County Durham dairy company over an accident that left a member of staff with life-changing injuries after a fall from a vehicle.

Lanchester Dairies was taken to court over the incident at its site in Lanchester in September 2013, when 41-year-old Simon Atkinson was tasked with unloading empty milk bottles from a vehicle into a storage area that was set 1.6 metres below ground level.

This meant that a fall from ground level or the back of the vehicle would involve a 2.6-metre drop. A barrier that had previously been in place to prevent falls had been removed and not replaced, meaning that when Mr Atkinson lost his footing nothing was there to prevent him from being seriously injured.

As a consequence, he spent nine days in hospital, some of them in an induced coma, until surgeons were able to remove a blood clot from inside his skull. In addition to this bleeding, he suffered several fractures to his collar bone, a broken eye socket and a broken rib. Nearly a year on, he is still unable to work and is awaiting further surgery on his damaged spine.

The HSE investigation found that a risk assessment carried out nine months before the incident had established the need for a safe system of work to be put in place, but this was not implemented until after the fall.

Lanchester Dairies pleaded guilty at Peterlee Magistrates' Court to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £10,000 with costs of £1,690.

Commenting on the case, HSE inspector Michael Kingston remarked: "Mr Atkinson suffered major, life-changing injuries and there was a real possibility that the fall could have proved fatal.

"Falls from height are one of the main causes of major injury and death in the workplace. This case reinforces the need to properly assess the risks and to put in place measures to prevent falls occurring."

HSE guidance on working at height notes that the 2005 regulations on the topic require that protection should be in place whenever there is the "risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury".

Expert Opinion
Accidents at work can have a devastating impact on employees involved, particularly those involving a fall from height. In this shocking case Mr Atkinson suffered severe injuries that have changed the way he lives his life as a result of the safety failings of his employer.

“Falls from height are all too common and we have seen numerous incidents where workers have been exposed to unnecessary dangers by the failure of employers to provide the correct equipment, training or conduct the appropriate risk assessments for tasks conducted at height. Hopefully, this successful HSE prosecution will act as a reminder to other employers to take their duty to protect workers seriously and prevent such incidents in the future.”
Jonathan Peacock, Partner