Health and safety gets a bad rap these days. Its critics say the very term epitomises the ‘nanny state’ mentality of this country and point to ridiculous examples of this being taken too far: children being banned from bringing their own inflatable lilos to a Bournemouth swimming pool in case they harboured germs; students being asked not to throw their mortar boards in the air at their graduation ceremony in case someone got hurt by the headgear on the way down again; a pensioner who was asked to wear a fluorescent jacket at put up a roadworks sign when she was tending her garden.
But of course, these are ridiculous examples perpetuated by ‘jobsworths’ who are afraid to deviate from the rules in any way whatsoever. The public hear these tales because everyone likes a good laugh at exaggerated bureaucracy’s expense, and well they might.
However, there aren’t so many jeers whenever health and safety lapses lead to serious injury and even death. The reason these rules exist is to enforce employers’ and public bodies’ responsibilities towards people to whom they owe a duty of care.
Why Health and Safety Isn’t So Stupid
All this week we have been considering cases that have arisen because employers have not taken this duty seriously enough: the air conditioning engineer who was blasted with a fireball because his colleague accidentally jetted oxygen into hot piping, the warehouse worker who was crushed by a reversing lorry because he was trying to adjust a faulty ramp in his docking bay, the engineer who was allowed to saw through a 65kg metal pillar that then fell on his unprotected head and gave him brain damage for life, the young footballer who was sent up to an unsupported roof and then fell straight through it.
Yesterday, we had the case of Polish builder Tomasz Kmiecic, who slipped and fell from his ladder because the building contractor through which he was employed gave him a ladder that was far too short for the job. Furthermore, they weren’t even insured.
Most employers take their health and safety responsibilities seriously. Why wouldn’t they? The penalties for being caught out far outweigh the very slight benefits of not having to bother to look after their staff. But there are always those companies that try to get away with doing as little as possible. While there is never any suggestion of malice, there is always lackadaisicalness and apathy.
The death of Luigi Feola
Today’s news features the sad tale of Luigi Feola, an Italian who worked on the crew of a ferry that was docked in the port of Newhaven in East Sussex.
Mr Feola was carrying a hose along the edge of the quay on January 12, 2005, when he apparently slipped and fell to his death. Witnesses reported hearing a splash near the ferry approximately an hour after it had docked. A post-mortem examination suggested that the 38 year old had suffered a head injury in the fall and then drowned.
Both his employer, Forship s.p.a, and the operator of the dock, Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd, were found guilty on Wednesday of breaching health and safety at work regulations and fined heavily: Forship GBP100,000 and NP&P GBP85,000. They were also ordered to pay almost GBP78,000 in court costs between them.
Health and Safety Executive Paul Vinnicombe said, “It’s absolutely vital that the quaysides at ports are maintained properly, are well lit and are fit for purpose. The lack of proper planning, combined with the appalling state of the quayside at the port, led to the unnecessary death of Mr Feola. On top of that, the risks involved in the job he was asked to do had not been assessed, and he was not give a suitable lifejacket, torch, or radio.
“This highlights why rigorous health and safety procedures are needed at working ports, and it is totally unacceptable that improvements identified following the incident were not made sooner.”
NP&P also admitted to not implementing the recommendations of an Improvement Notice that was issued in the wake of Mr Feola’s death.
Work Accident Claim?
With this prosecution succeeding, the question now remains: will the family of Mr Feola, who was required to more than 100 hours per week, be able to pursue a compensation claim on his behalf? Since the accident occurred in the UK, the case will fall under British jurisdiction and they will be entitled to pursue a work accident claim under the no-win no-fee rules.
UK author Richard Craig specialises in personal injury and work accident claims