Employee fined £2,000 for health and safety failings

An employee at a potato storage warehouse lifted an apprentice electrician 4 metres above the ground to carry out electrical repairs. The apprentice was lifted in a potato box balanced on the forks of a forklift truck, which then led to the apprentice falling out of the box and breaking their ribs and puncturing their lung.

The Health and Safety Executive found during their investigation, that the employer had carried out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and had supplied suitable equipment to work at height, however the employee that was in charge of the site at the time, did not use the equipment or follow the action points within the risk assessment.

Under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employees have a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and for others who could be affected by their actions or failure to act and it is a criminal offence to not comply with this duty. Prosecutions against employees are not common but they do happen, as we can see here.

The important element to take away from this is that this duty does not provide a safety net for employers, to allow them to put the onus on their employees to be responsible for health and safety within the business. In addition where an investigation finds that an employer is passing their duties on to their employees, this is unlikely to be seen in a favourable light by the investigator and it could result in enforcement action being taken against the business. In this case the employer was found to have discharged their duties, had the investigation found that the employer did not do all that was reasonably practicable, then it is likely they would also have been prosecuted for their failings instead of the employee.