A microbrewery has been sentenced for failing to take sufficient action to prevent unsafe work at height and improve manual handling at its Marsh Gibbon production plant. Oxfordshire Ales Limited was warned in May 2010 that it needed to improve after the HSE served an Improvement Notice requiring action to protect workers transferring materials from racking to processing machinery.
A visiting HSE inspector raised concerns about manual handling operations, principally the filling of hoppers with malt and barley, which involved employees lifting heavy sacks, weighing up to 25kg, in awkward circumstances. The notice required the company to carry out a thorough assessment of the handling risks and to take appropriate action.
The case was taken to court where it was heard that the HSE revisited the brewery on 8 November 2010 and again on 3 February 2011, but on both occasions little had changed.
Oxfordshire Ales Limited was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £8,623 in costs. The HSE commented after the case that the response of Oxfordshire Ales to the original Improvement Notice was disappointing to say the least. The improvements were necessary in order to protect workers from injury and yet the company took far too long to take appropriate action.
In this case no one was hurt but it shows that the HSE will take action against breaches in regulations and expect to see a positive response when an Improvement Notice is issued. If this case had occurred this month then the costs would have been far higher; as the HSE time would also have been charged through the Fee for Intervention legislation. The longer it takes a business to take positive action in the future the more the costs will rise.
Are there any areas of your business that you might not have carried out suitable and sufficient risks assessments? This company failed to properly consider its manual handling risks – why not take a look at activities you may have overlooked? In our experience there are always manual handling tasks that get forgotten.