The employers of Michael Benn, 37, from Glenrothes, Fife were fined under Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The act states that 'It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees'.
Mr Benn and two other workers were contracted to clean cooling towers at the E.ON-owned plant and were pushing silt and debris from the River Dee into a sump with a hose.
Mr Benn was worried a pump to drain water from the well was not working properly and went to the edge to investigate. In an attempt to check the depth of the water in the sump he entered into an enclosed culvert. It was dark and his fellow colleagues could hear his calls in distress but could not see him. His body was later discovered at the bottom of the sump.
This was a tragedy that was not so far removed from the circumstances for it to have not been foreseeable. That was agreed by a principle inspector at the Health and Safety Executive. Colin Mew noted that "This incident was entirely foreseeable and yet it was still allowed to happen. Epsco Ltd would have known Mr Benn or one of his colleagues would need to approach the sump in the course of their work. The inherent risk of working in this manner should have been obvious to any diligent employer. He went on to say that "The real tragedy here is the human cost that has resulted from the death of Michael Benn and the ease with which his death could have been prevented - I hope that other employers take heed of this message".
This story is a stark reminder of how the avoidance of the simplest of health and safety measures can have a very real human effect. Mr Benn's employers knew this all too well and pleaded guilty. They were fined a total £35,000 and ordered to pay costs of £120,000.
Simon Antrobus, on behalf of Epsco Ltd, explained that the death was a “solitary blemish” on an otherwise exemplary health and safety record.
He held forth the companies otherwise gleaming record in this are as a component of its success.
“It does everything by the book. As a huge company in the industry all health and safety rules have been followed to the letter. He noted this failing to be one totally out of its character.
Even for such a huge company with an exemplary health and safety record, Judge Parry still wished to highlight that whilst “it is accepted that this company has a good health and safety record in an extremely hazardous line of work, risks cannot be taken with people’s lives.” At each possible time therefore, the utmost of care should be taken so that such a foreseeable death is never allowed to occur again.