Why health & safety risk assessments and mitigation are essential in the case of unauthorised access

Monday 15th November 2021

A company was fined £6.5m, and ordered to pay over £200,000 in costs, following a tragic incident which saw an 11-year-old child fatally electrocuted after gaining access to the company’s rail freight depot to retrieve a football.

An investigation found that the company had failed to assess the risk of unauthorised access to the freight terminal or to establish appropriate controls to prevent access, despite the presence of overhead lines carrying 25,000 volts. The company had also ignored warnings raised by employees and health and safety enforcement.

Companies must assess the risks to the health and safety of visitors (and others not employed by them). Relevant and sufficiently detailed risk assessments are good starting points, but companies must then do what is reasonably practicable to mitigate and reduce those risks. It is worth noting that no actual harm to someone is necessary for a company to break the law; it is simply necessary for there to be a risk of harm.

Even though an individual gaining unauthorised access onto another’s land is likely to constitute the civil offence of trespass, companies must still foresee and mitigate against the risk of such unauthorised access.

The size of the fine reflected the significant failings identified and could be seen as a punitive measure for the directors and shareholders, as well as a timely reminder to all companies of the importance of assessing and mitigating against health and safety risks.

Our Regulatory law specialists can advise your business on all aspects of health and safety law, whether in response to an investigation or pre-emptive advice on compliance issues.