A Shetland fish processing and sales company has been fined £80,000 for serious health and safety failings that led to the death of a 61-year old employee who was run over by a forklift.
At Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday, the Scalloway-based QA Fish Ltd accepted full responsibility for the accident, which happened on January 31 2018.
In his submission to the court, fiscal depute Roderick Urquhart of the Crown’s health and safety investigation unit said the tragic accident “may have been avoided” had the company followed health and safety regulations.
Karen Allan was severely injured when a company forklift reversed into her while she was attending to the litter bins which were located in a busy and cramped outside area between two fish processing units.
The court heard that the forklift driver only became aware of her presence when she screamed after being hit by the vehicle.
Case ‘reinforces message companies need to comply with legislation’
She sustained severe and multiple injuries to her left leg from the groin to the ankle with bone exposed and skin and muscles having become detached.
She was initially conscious and her husband, who also worked for the company, was able to comfort her. He has since left the company, has moved away from Shetland and has been unable to work since.
She was flown to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for emergency operations but never recovered and died of organ failure three weeks later on February 22 2018.
The forklift driver was breathalysed and found to have no alcohol in his system. The plant he was driving was found to have no mechanical fault.
A joint investigation by police and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) quickly established significant failings in implementing a health and safety management system and a safety culture.
There was no risk assessment in place for pedestrians using the same area the forklift was operating in, no visible barriers to separate these areas and no requirements for employees to wear hi-vis when working out on the premises.
People were expected to use their common sense when working on the premises, the court heard. Employees received an introduction to the workplace with on-the-job training but there was no formal induction to processes and in particular to health and safety.
The company, which employs between 25 and 28 people, admitted failing to assess the risks to the health and safety of its employees caused by the operation of vehicles and plants over a four year period from January 6 2014 to January 31 2018, the date of the accident.
For a number of years, QA Fish had contracted an insurance broker to advise them on health and safety management issues, but the directors have never taken heed of the advice received.
‘High degree of corporate culpability’
Defence solicitor Clare Bone, of BTO Solicitors, said no one in the management of the company had taken ownership of health & safety and the issue had fallen “between the cracks”.
She suggested that this was due to a lack of awareness of their own responsibilities. However, following the accident, a robust health a safety management system has been put in place.
Three of the company’s directors were present in court on Wednesday.
The solicitor said her clients wanted to again express their sympathy to Karen Allan’s family.
Fining the company, Sheriff Ian Cruickshank described the offence as “very serious” with a high degree of corporate culpability.
He noted that QA Fish promptly implemented a responsible attitude and added that this “reinforces the message that companies need to comply with health and safety legislation”.
The company has 12 months to pay the £80,000 fine.