The National:

OIL, whisky and construction firms are among those fined a collective £9.4 million in recent years for poor health and safety measures – some of which have resulted in deaths.

The firms faced penalties by the courts following prosecutions ­after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found staff were put at risk of disease, serious injury and death from explosions, hazardous materials and other threats.

Both employees and members of the public – including a child – have been killed as a result of the most ­serious health and safety failings.

The Ferret analysed HSE reports at Scottish sites spanning from 2019 to the beginning of March this year – part of data collated by Violation Tracker, which monitors company misconduct.

Firms which racked up the highest number of violations or paid out the most in fines to regulators included oil and gas multinationals ExxonMobil and Ineos. Whisky producers Ben Nevis Distillery and William Grant also ranked highly for fines and violations.

One workers’ union argued UK Government cuts to the HSE’s ­budget had “decimated” staff levels and that companies would have faced even ­bigger fines if the executive had ­greater resources to investigate.

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The Government said it was ­spending £165m on HSE this year, “making Great Britain one of the ­safest places to work in the world”.

Another union called for the ­devolution of health and safety to Scotland, and for company executives to be personally liable for health and safety failings.

Stats from Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous ­Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) show that 26 workers died in Scotland in 2022-23, while an average of 19 employees died annually over the past five years.

HSE stats show that 54,410 non-fatal injuries to employees were ­reported between 2014-15 and 2022-23, despite the average number of deaths falling in most years.

Largest fines

Manufacturing firm Egger paid out £910,000 in 2021 – the largest fine – after a driver was fatally struck by a loading vehicle operating in its yard at Auchinleck, East Ayrshire. HSE found the company had failed to implement measures to protect pedestrians from vehicles in the busy yard, despite previous near misses.

Glasgow’s RJ McLeod was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay a £60,000 “victim surcharge” after a 10-year-old boy entered a ­Drumchapel construction site through an ­insecure fence, climbed into a ­manhole, slipped, fell and died from the injuries.

Fish-farming multinational Mowi, based in Rosyth, Fife, also faced an £800,000 fine and £60,000 victim ­payment after a worker was crushed and drowned when he fell into the water at Ardintoul during a boat transfer in 2020, as reported by The Ferret.

Mowi also received two HSE ­enforcement notices, one of which was for failing to avoid or ­minimise the risk of leaking liquefied ­natural gas, which can cause fire and ­explosions.

In 2019, HSE found that Hermes Parcelnet – which trades as Evri – did not provide adequate ­training to ensure the safe reversing of ­vehicles. In 2022, Hermes was fined £850,000 after a worker was fatally crushed at a parcel-sorting centre near Motherwell.

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The petrochemical ­multinational ­Ineos paid out £400,000 after a cracked pipe created a huge ­flammable gas cloud in Grangemouth in 2017. Some 97 workers were ­reportedly onsite at the time.

Ineos was again fined £400,000 on March 8 this year after a ­Grangemouth employee’s leg was permanently scarred due to being submerged in a sump of caustic soda in 2019. HSE found Ineos had no safe system of work in place, with ­insecure grating and no barriers to prevent such an accident.

Petroineos Manufacturing Scotland – another Ineos arm – received 11 notices for issues at Grangemouth and Helensburgh. They included ­failures to demonstrate prevention measures to stop the release of a ­flammable spirit, and of a ­“hazardous” substance which leaked from a pipeline.

Ineos did not take sufficient measures to stop “a major accident” and to “limit its consequences for ­human health and the environment”. It also failed to maintain a protective ­system fitted to tanks, “giving rise to ­unacceptable risk of ignition”.

Contractor firm BAM Nuttall was fined £700,000 in 2021 after an ­employee was run over by a dump truck in Keith, Moray, in 2016. HSE said the firm failed to properly assess the risks to employees while repairing and replacing equipment.

Care home chain HC-One was fined £640,000 after a Clackmannanshire resident choked to death on food they were mistakenly given.

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An HC-One spokesperson said: “We reiterate our sincere apologies, and we are clear that this tragedy should never have happened.”

Improvements have since resulted in the Care Inspectorate currently rating the home as “very good”, it added.

Repsol Resources UK (formerly Repsol Sinopec), an oil extraction company, was fined £535,000 after a worker sustained life-changing injuries following the collapse of a crane on a North Sea platform in 2017. HSE found it had failed to carry out proper safety and maintenance assessments and Repsol admitted the breaches in Aberdeen Sheriff Court in 2023.

It also received 12 HSE notices for failures on the platform and its ­terminal in Orkney. Repsol did not maintain gas valves, which failed to close during emergency shutdown testing, and ignored recommendations to repair an exhaust system, which led to a “dangerous” gas leak.

In addition, it failed to assess ­ageing pipeline infrastructure risks, remove over 50 “redundant” gas alarms, take measures to protect staff from fire and explosions and prevent the ­unsafe lifting of turbine parts, which could have resulted in death.

A Repsol spokesperson said of the crane’s collapse: “We deeply ­regret the incident that occurred and the distress it caused the ­injured ­workers and their families. We ­accepted ­responsibility at the ­earliest ­opportunity and co-operated fully with HSE’s investigation.”

They added: “We welcome feedback from regulatory inspections and the opportunity to enhance our systems and processes. We take the findings of HSE’s inspections very seriously and investigate fully each item highlighted.”

Apache Beryl, another oil and gas firm, was fined £400,000 in 2021 for a gas leak on a rig off the ­Aberdeen coast where 134 people were ­reportedly on board.

Large number of enforcement notices

DUNDEE plastic-manufacturing firm Sappi Rockwell Solutions received 20 enforcement notices from HSE – the highest number of any company. In 2021, HSE found failures to eliminate or reduce the risk of a fire or explosion.

Ben Nevis Distillery was served 15 notices. It failed to prevent ­employees from being exposed to fire and ­explosions, CO2 gas – which “can ­result in asphyxiation and death” – and malt dust, which can cause ­diseases including occupational ­asthma and chronic bronchitis.

It also did not keep out pigeons and other birds, which can spread ­diseases including salmonella.

Oil and gas giant ExxonMobil’s 14 notices at its Mossmorran site in Fife included failing to take ­sufficient measures to prevent “major ­accidents” when a “nitrogen purge system” – used to remove ­undesirable or hazardous substances – was ­leaking due to corrosion.

It also failed to develop an adequate system to inspect pipework containing hazardous substances, to reduce the risk of explosion in furnaces and to check damaged areas on a gas line following a leak. HSE accused ExxonMobil of not taking necessary steps to prevent “a major accident”.

Others with the highest numbers of notices included William Grant and Sons Distillers, which operates in Dufftown, Bellshill and Girvan.

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It lacked safeguarding measures against fire and explosions, and ­proper assessments of the risks posed to staff by “dangerous substances”, entanglement in rotating blades and from falling off the edge of a high loading bay.

HSE staff numbers ‘decimated’

Unite the Union said the fines ­capture only “a fragment of the true costs associated with employers ­cutting corners in relation to health and safety in the workplace”.

Scotland “continues to have a ­disproportionately high workplace fatality rate” while HSE funding has been cut and staff levels have been “decimated”, claimed Derek ­Thomson, Unite’s Scottish secretary.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, HSE had its budget cut by 43% from 2009 to 2021, and saw a 35% staff reduction since 2010.

“This in itself sends signals to ­employers that the health and safety of workers is secondary to chasing profits,” argued Thomson.

“The true cost in fines for employers would be so many times larger than the £9.4m if the HSE was fully funded and given the resources to ­inspect and prosecute employers.”

A spokesperson for the UK ­Government’s Department for Work and Pensions said: “We are spending around £165m this year supporting the Health and Safety Executive to safeguard workplaces with integrity, professionalism and rigour – making Great Britain one of the safest places to work in the world – and we will continue to ensure it has the ­resources it needs.”

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GMB Scotland is campaigning for companies to be sanctioned if they do not set up health and safety ­committees when asked by workers. The union said The Ferret’s study demonstrated the need for a new Scottish health and safety agency ­accountable to Holyrood.

“The sheer scale of the loss and ­damage inflicted by companies ­willing to cut corners and take risks in pursuit of profits is a disgrace and a stark reminder that trade unions fighting for safe workplaces ­protect far more than their members,” claimed Gary Cook, GMB’s senior organiser in manufacturing and ­engineering.

“Companies and individual executives should face every possible legal sanction, up to and including prison, if found to be putting lives at risk through ignorance, recklessness or negligence.”

An HSE spokesperson said: “While every case is tragic, workplace deaths in Scotland over a five-year period account for less than 15% of those in Great Britain. We have well-established frameworks that are specific to the unique needs of ­Scotland, a nation that features some of the most unique and complex sites we regulate.”

The Ferret contacted every ­company named in this article for comment.