There have been a number of recent prosecutions brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that will be of interest to employers, all of which arose from incidents involving well-known and well-publicised risks.

In this article, Stephen Panton, Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement Partner, outlines the causes and consequences of failing to identify and control some of the most common workplace risks. There is also an update on the draft Protect Duty Bill, legislation which is aimed at publicly accessible premises and venues capable of hold 100+ members of the public, the majority of which are also places of work.

The Hampshire Clinic (Circle Health Group) – Employee competency

On 20 June 2023, Circle Health Group, the organisation that runs The Hampshire Clinic was fined £160,000 following an investigation into an incident in March 2021 in which its employee, Anthony Coombes, was exposed to potentially lethal levels of chlorine gas.

At the time, Mr Coombes, had been tasked with reducing pH levels in the clinic’s hydrotherapy pool when he mixed chemicals in error, causing a reaction and release of chlorine gas. HSE’s investigation found that Mr Coombes, who required hospital treatment following the incident, had not been fully trained in the handling of chemicals or the required dosing procedures to use and that Circle Health Group had failed to have suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place.

The case highlights the importance of knowing what, in your business, might cause harm to your employees and others, making sure that you are doing enough to prevent that harm and also ensuring that employees have the necessary training, skills, experience and knowledge needed to perform their work safely.

Safran Seats GB Limited – Falls from Height

Inadequate planning of work at height and a lack of suitable equipment and sufficient training resulted in Safran Seats GB Limited, a manufacturer of aircraft seats, being fined £660,000.

The company was prosecuted after one of its employees suffered serious injuries when he fell seven feet through the roof of a spraying booth that was being dismantled as part of works to vacant the premises.

Falls from height remains the most common cause of serious and fatal workplace accidents, accounting for 30% (40) of all work-related deaths in 2022/23. The common causes are failures to:

  • properly appreciate the serious consequences of a fall from height,
  • give sufficient time and thought to planning tasks that involve work at height, and
  • devising safe methods of working, including the use of appropriate equipment to prevent or arrest falls, where required.

Serco plc – Minimising the risk of work-related violence

On 26 May 2023, security firm Serco was fined £2.25m following the death of one of its employees, custody officer Lorraine Barwell, after being attacked by a prisoner with a known history of violence. HSE’s investigation found evidence that Serco had failed to analyse risk intelligence on prisoners, communicate safety critical information to staff and provide training on safety precautions that they should follow. Reduced staffing levels and a poor safety culture were also found to have contributed to the circumstances leading to Lorraine Barwell’s death.

Whilst this case involved work associated with criminal justice system, there have been a number of prosecutions brought against a range of other organisations for failing to manage the risk of workplace violence and aggression, most notably three healthcare sector companies who received combined fines of nearly a million pounds for failing to protect their staff from aggressive patients and service users.  Statistics have shown that after healthcare, workers in the retail, hospitality and leisure and education sectors are most at risk from violence and harassment.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places a general duty on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of its employees. That duty includes assessing and controlling the risk of work-related violence in the same way as slips, trips and falls.

There are a range of practical control measures that may be required, depending on the type of workplace and the likelihood of serious physical aggression. These range from training on identifying and de-escalating aggressive behaviours, security measures such as CCTV and body-worn cameras, having adequate staffing levels to respond to and manage incidents and providing communication aides/personal alarms to lone workers.

A failure by employers to discharge their general duty not only gives rise to potential criminal liability but can also lead to increased sickness absence, poor staff morale, personal injury claims and, importantly, damage to their reputation.

Publicly Accessible Premises and Events – Update on the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Draft Bill

Those responsible for publicly accessible premises and events capable of holding 100+ members of the public should keep a close eye on the progress of the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Draft Bill.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of public and private sector premises in the UK will be affected, including entertainment and sporting venues, retail, food and drink outlets, places of education and hospitals.

If it comes into force, the legislation will impose a series of security-related requirements on responsible persons aimed at minimising the risk of a successful terror attack. Qualifying premises and events will either be “standard tier” if they can hold between 100-799 members of the public or “enhanced tier” if they can hold 800 or more people.

The cost of achieving and maintaining compliance will not be insignificant. Government estimates that the cost of ensuring publicly owned standard tier sites are compliant will be £2,000 and £80,000 for each enhanced tier site, over a ten year period.  Bringing private sector qualifying premises and events into compliance will conceivably require significantly greater levels of expenditure.

The Bill, which is also referred to as Protect Duty or Martyn’s Law, after Martyn Hett who was one of the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena terror attack, is currently the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The expectation is that the final Bill will be put before Parliament later this year and that, as matters stand, Martyn’s Law could come into force in 2024. For this reason, and given the proposed criminal and civil sanctions for non-compliance, many public and private sector organisations have already started planning what steps and measures they will need to implement to comply with Martyn’s Law.


If you would to discuss or require more information on any health and safety legal updates, please contact our Dispute Resolution team.