Southern Co-Operative Ltd has been fined £500,000 for breaching health and safety law, after a young woman suffered horrific fractures to her leg.
The charges were brought by Horsham District Council, following an investigation into the accident at the Co-Operative store in Guildford Road, Horsham.
In a hearing at Brighton Crown Court, District Judge Szagun accepted the guilty plea to a Health and Safety at Work offence that resulted in a serious broken leg to a young female employee, and a fine of £500,000 plus costs for the Co-Operative .The fine was reduced by one third, to £333,334, to reflect the appropriate credit for the guilty plea and mitigating factors.
In February 2016, the young staff member attempted to manoeuvre a defective roll cage, which toppled over, falling onto her legs, causing severe multiple fractures. The roll cage trolley was loaded with milk cartoons, and the weight of the load caused painful and traumatic injury. It was an unnecessary incident, and a disturbing experience to witness for the colleagues who came to her aid until the ambulance attended.
The investigation that followed, by Horsham District Council’s Environmental Health team, found the incident was entirely preventable. The roll cage had been identified as broken two days before the accident. The procedures that would have stopped the incident were in place, but were not known or not followed, and the staff had conflicting views on their Health and Safety responsibilities.
One concerning feature was the store’s breakdown in its Health and Safety management, their absence of knowledge, and the validity of the necessary training. The Co-Op acknowledged that the abuse of their e-learning system was a troubling feature of the investigation, but were keen to emphasise that they did not condone such a practice.
The District Judge commented that the Co-Op “should have been pro-active in addressing or redressing the issue before they did” and recognised the Co-Op as a large organisation with mitigating factors.
Councillor Tricia Youtan, Cabinet Member for Community & Wellbeing, said: “This was a long and challenging case for Horsham District Council’s Environmental Health team.
“Retail supermarkets play an important part in being at the forefront of safety on the high street. They are often the employers of young impressionable adults, new to the working environment, and, as employers, they have a legal and moral obligation to do things correctly.
“This incident had a severe impact on the victim, and she will have to live with the injuries she sustained for the rest of her life.”
“Horsham District Council supports both small and large businesses in their health and safety obligations, and often plays an important advisory role in helping them, but it is important to remember this was a totally avoidable incident, and it acts as a stark reminder of what can happen when safety measures fail.
“Hopefully the incident will result in a renewed focus by the Co-Op to ensure standards are maintained in the future.”