Last reviewed 15 July 2015

Despite legislation designed to protect young people and children in the workplace, there have been many recent prosecutions following injuries to young workers and children across a range of types of employment. Robert Spicer takes a look at some of these cases.

A “young person” is someone who has not reached 18 years old. A “child” is someone who has not reached compulsory school leaving age. Factors known to contribute to the vulnerability of young workers and children are their inexperience, lack of knowledge, training, perception of danger and physical and mental immaturity.

A number of prosecutions in recent months have followed from the failure to protect young workers and children, including the following cases.

Farming accident

In May 2015, four members of a farming family were fined following an incident in which a three-year-old boy was injured.

In September 2013, a three-year-old boy climbed onto the first floor of a barn at a farm in Derbyshire. His foot was drawn into an auger. He suffered deep lacerations which needed plastic surgery. The auger was being used by Christopher Hammersley to move grain around. It was guarded but the guard was not designed for the dimensions of a child.

The following fines were imposed:

  • Ivan Hammersley: £3000 plus £500 for a breach of s.3 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act 1974, for failing to ensure the health and safety of non-employees.

  • Jane Hammersley: A two-years conditional discharge plus £500 costs for the same offence.

  • Christopher Hammersley: £5000 plus £500 costs for the same offence.

  • Daniel Hammersley: £1000 plus £500 costs for the same offence.

An HSE inspector made the following points after the case:

  • Agriculture has one of the highest fatal accident rates of any industry.

  • It is the only high-risk industry which has to deal with the frequent presence of children. Farms are homes as well as workplaces.

  • Children should be kept in a safe place such as a dedicated play area.

  • If they are observing farm work, it should be at a safe distance with a competent adult providing supervision. That adult must not be the person undertaking the work.

Apprentice and machinery

In December 2015, Magellan Aerospace was fined after an apprentice suffered serious arm injuries when his arm was entangled in moving machinery.

In March 2013, Adam Harris, an apprentice machinist employed by the company, was machining a piece of nylon block on an unguarded manual milling machine. His right arm was caught around the machine’s spindle and cutter. He suffered multiple fractures.

It was possible to open the machine’s guards while the machine was running. It had become routine practice to remove guards and the company had failed to put measures in place to stop them being removed. The HSE had issued enforcement notices requiring the company to take action but these had not been complied with.

The company had failed to identify the risks when young and inexperienced workers operated the machines with varying levels of supervision. Magellan Aerospace was fined £24,000 plus £10,000 costs.

Automatic gate fatality

In June 2012, two companies were fined after a five-year-old child was crushed to death by an electric gate.

In July 2010, Karolina Golabek was playing near electric sliding gates outside flats near her home in Bridgend, South Wales. The gates automatically closed after a car passed through. The child’s body was found in the gap between the gates and a post. She suffered fatal crushing injuries.

The closing force of the gate was 220kg and did not meet European and British safety standards. There were dangers with the gate structure which left space for people to get trapped. There were insufficient and incorrectly set safety features to detect a person in the area which would prevent the gate closing automatically.

  • John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd had fitted a new electric motor to the gate, which was put back into use despite the fact that there were obvious trapping points. The company had also failed to properly test that the gate would close when it met an obstruction.

  • Tremorfa Ltd was contracted for the maintenance of the gate. It did not carry out vital safety checks including closing force measurements.

John Glen (Installation Services) Ltd was fined £60,000 plus £40,000 costs for a breach of section s.3 of HSWA, for failing to ensure the health and safety of non-employees, plus £40,000 costs. Tremorfa Ltd was fined £50,000 plus £40,000 costs for the same offence.

A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented after the case that badly installed and maintained gates were a threat to all pedestrians, but young children were particularly vulnerable because they were often completely unaware of the dangers. No-one should install or work on automated gates without knowing the relevant safety standards or without having the right equipment to check that the gate is safe after they have worked on it.

Chemical burns at swimming pool

In December 2013, Leisure Connection Ltd, the operator of Great Dunmow Leisure centre in Essex, was fined after a two-year-old boy suffered severe sodium hydroxide burns.

In February 2012, the boy’s father took him to the leisure centre for his weekly swimming lesson. The boy slipped and fell onto a recently cleaned drain cover.

The drain had been cleaned with sodium hydroxide. This caused full thickness skin burns to his buttocks and the back of his right leg. He was hospitalised for 10 days and received a skin graft.

The company had failed to put a robust system of work in place for cleaning the drain. That system should not only have included clear instructions on how the drains should be cleaned, but also should have established whose responsibility it was to clean them. The company had also failed to properly assess its use of chemicals and to provide proper training on the use of those chemicals.

The leisure centre management team had been unaware of the presence of sodium hydroxide. The company was fined £45,000 plus £20,000 costs under s.3 of HSWA, for failing to ensure the health and safety of non-employees.

Another apprentice injury

Dresser Mouldings (Rochdale) Ltd, a timber mouldings manufacturing company, was fined in May 2015 following an incident in which an apprentice lost two fingers of his right hand.

In July 2014, Liam Hagan, a 16-year-old apprentice, was working at a moulding machine at the company’s site in Rochdale. A piece of wood jammed in the machine, which was opened to try to deal with the problem. Hagan’s right hand was caught on one of the machine’s rotating cutters. He lost the middle finger and part of his thumb on his right hand.

The company had failed to ensure that the machine’s guards were safely positioned and that a safe system of work was in place.

The company was fined £18,000 plus £844.50 costs under s.2 of HSWA, for failing to ensure the health and safety of employees.

Fall at climbing club

In June 2015, Essex County Council was fined following an incident in which a 15-year-old girl suffered injuries when she fell from an indoor rock face at a climbing centre in Harlow, Essex.

In March 2014, a 15-year-old girl was taking part in a climbing club session at the Harlow Centre for Outdoor Learning. She was being belayed by an eight-year-old girl who was using the belay device for the first time.

The climber lost her footing and the eight-year-old was unable to control her fall. She fell 7.5m to the ground. Her injuries included bruising in internal organs and deep muscle tissue damage.

The instructor was not competent to run this type of climbing session. She did not have the required climbing training and site-specific assessment. The instructor had allowed the belaying to take place without the use of an additional back-up belayer and without direct supervision from the instructor. There had been no use of a ground anchor or sand bag to counter the significant weight difference between the climber and the belayer, and no application of safety knots to prevent the climber from falling to the ground.

Essex County Council, the operator of the climbing centre, was fined £10,000 plus £2500 costs for a breach of s.3 of HSWA, for failing to ensure the health and safety of non-employees.

An HSE inspector commented after the case that climbing activity sessions should be an enjoyable and challenging experience for young people, but activity providers must ensure that their activity sessions remain safe as far as is reasonably practicable.