Joinery company fined £300,000 after worker knocked unconscious while unloading heavy glazed doors

21 April 2017

A Warwick joinery business has been heavily fined after one of its workers was struck by a triple-glazed double door during unloading at a construction site.

Oxford Crown Court heard that in October 2013 the worker, was part of a team working at a large house building site in Cholsey Meadow, Fairmile, Oxfordshire to deliver and install doors and windows. During unloading he was struck on the head by a set of double doors, knocking him unconscious and leaving him with whiplash and headaches. He required physiotherapy for some time afterwards.

'Several previous injuries'

An investigation by HSE found there had been several previous injuries to site workers from the company, during unloading and handling of heavy glazing units. The company, who are not BWF members, had previously been warned by both HSE and their own safety consultant that they needed to implement a safe system of work for transporting, unloading and handling their products. However, the company consistently failed to properly investigate these incidents, didn’t ensure loads were secured safely, hadn’t clearly identified or marked the different weights of the glazing units and hadn’t monitored the availability of necessary equipment at delivery sites.

The company of Wellesbourne, Warwick pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,424.98.

His Honour Judge Peter Ross commented that “the culture of the business was at the route of the problem” and that “systemic management failings” were the cause of the breaches of the law and resulting injuries.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Dominic Goacher said: “Our investigation found that workers were unable to follow a safe system of work. There is no excuse for this level of negligence when workers are required to handle heavy products regularly.

'Sending out a strong message'

“This case and the penalty awarded sends out a very strong message. The aim should be to move heavy objects mechanically wherever possible and to reduce the risk of injuries by other means where some manual handling is still required. Too many workers experience long term suffering because of unsafe manual handling.”

Sentencing guidelines brought in last year and an occupational ill health clampdown are proving to be extremely costly for neglectful joinery businesses with HSE's inspection invoices for breaches of Health & Safety law rising almost 50% and new guidance setting severe punishments for H&S offenders.

The safest approach for woodworking companies is to follow BWF and HSE’s advice and comply with the law. Not only does a robust health and safety regime mean you avoid prosecution and FFI, you also benefit from a safer and more productive workplace. All joinery companies need to ensure they have the legally required Health & Safety precautions in place, including effective PPE, regular LEV testing (including spray booths & Portable systems for use on power hand tools), appropriate first aid provisions, full risk assessments and regular health surveillance including hearing and lung function testing if necessary. Here you can view the latest BWF Health & Safety Hero Campaign video and resources on Manual Handling.

The FFI Scheme means that companies are liable for recovery of the HSE’s costs when the HSE issues a notification of contravention, an improvement or prohibition notice, or a prosecution.

HSE charge £129 per hour and here are some example costs provided by the HSE:

-    Inspection resulting in an email or letter: £750

-    Inspection resulting in a notice being issued: £1,500

-    Investigation taking 4 days: £4,000

-    Full investigation: could be tens of thousands

Those who are concerned that they are unprepared for an inspection visit are reminded that they can access comprehensive support from the BWF ‘Toolkit’, there is also free-to-members guidance on Health & Safety in the woodworking industry and documents such as Machine Safety Cards, sample inspection forms, and sample risk assessments.

Please pledge your support to the BWF Health & Safety Hero Campaign, where we have put together some excellent resources to help your business tackle problem areas such as wood dust, machine training, noise, manual and handling. All of which may help in avoiding potential costs of FFI and perhaps more importantly ensure the health and welfare of all employed in your joinery business!

Additionally you may wish to undertake a Health & Safety Audit that will not only suggest where your health and safety needs to be improved, but also how to achieve it. The BWF has negotiated exclusive rates with experienced Health & Safety advisors for a simple value for money package.

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