At a sentence hearing on Friday 2 September 2016 at Chelmsford Crown Court, the presiding Judge decided to fine the company after it pleaded guilty (on 20 June this year) to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. As well as a fine, the company will pay the Council’s Court costs of around £34,000.
Harlow Council environmental health officers inspected G4S’ Harlow site back in October 2013 after it received a report that a Harlow resident had contracted Legionellosis. All potential sources of infection were investigated.
The resident worked at the site and, although it was never confirmed that the disease was contracted from the site, the Council’s environmental health officers started to uncover “a serious lack of compliance” in maintaining water systems at the site.
They found that the monitoring and testing of systems was erratic, that staff had received inadequate training and that there were no up-to-date policies or suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place to safely operate or manage the building’s water systems.
G4S didn’t take the steps required to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from its water systems. This was despite a long-standing duty, extensive guidance, advice from its own consultants and advice from Harlow Council.
Around 200 people are believed to work at G4S’ site in Harlow, with various contractors and drivers visiting the location throughout the course of each day.
The company duly advised the Court that it has since taken a number of measures designed to improve Health and Safety across the G4S business.
Reaching minimum standards
Following the court sentencing, Councillor Danny Purton (portfolio holder for the environment) said: “The Health and Safety of citizens is our Number One priority. The Council will always encourage employers to make improvements that protect their workers. However, there are cases where, if necessary, we will prosecute because you simply cannot play with people’s lives.”
Purton continued: “Although some improvements were made eventually, it had taken G4S almost three years from the date of a risk assessment in 2012 to reach the minimum standards needed to protect its staff and visitors from exposure to Legionella bacteria. The million pound-plus fine should send out a serious and important message to other companies. Legionnaires’ disease is a real risk. Organisations need to take their Health and Safety duties to their employees and others very seriously indeed.”
In conclusion, Purton stated: “I congratulate the Council’s environmental health and legal staff for their commitment and professionalism in seeing this issue through. Environmental health officers up and down the country are working hard, often unnoticed and behind the scenes to enforce Health and Safety laws. I hope cases like this one will give them the recognition they deserve.”
Harlow Council Environmental Health is a regulator for workplace Health and Safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill-health. It does so through advice, inspection, investigation and enforcement.
*The inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella bacteria can causes Legionnaires’ disease, which is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. Both hot and cold water systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella can grow if not properly managed