Morrisons’ £3.5m Fine Is ‘A Warning To All Employers’

Supermarket chain Morrisons has been found guilty of four health and safety failings following the death of one of its workers.

Matthew Joseph Gunn, 27, died 12 days after falling on the staff staircase at Morrisons’ Ashchurch Road store in Tewkesbury. Matthew had worked for the company for 10 years and had suffered from epilepsy since the age of four.

An inquest into Matthew’s death heard that he was moved to the Morrisons grocery department from the canteen following an epileptic seizure and adjustments had been made by Morrisons to ensure he had a safe working environment. 

However, a week before his fatal fall, Matthew had suffered an epileptic seizure in the warehouse and his mother had been called to take him home. He subsequently suffered what was described as an ‘absence’ while retrieving some of his belongings. 

On the day of his fall, Matthew was discovered unconscious at the foot of the staff stairs by two colleagues and was subsequently taken by air ambulance to Southmead Hospital, Bristol. He was found to have a number of injuries including fractures and neurological injuries. Following surgery, no neurological improvement was detected and Matthew died 12 days later.

The post-mortem report into his death said he had died of a traumatic head injury. The inquest heard that a seizure may have caused the fall, although it was not possible to determine that with any certainty. An accidental death and narrative conclusion were returned by the jury.

However, the inquest jury’s conclusion also said: ‘An absence of a structured process and ownership in relation to managing a person with epilepsy, a lack of communication, no personal risk assessment or the monitoring thereof, and insufficient reporting all led to missed opportunities which may have contributed to Matt’s death.’

Following the inquest, HM Senior Coroner for Gloucestershire, Katy Skerrett, sent a ‘Prevention of Future Death’ regulation 28 reports to Morrisons, highlighting the specific matter of concern: ‘Any observed or reported epileptic event occurring to a Morrison’s employee whilst at work was not recorded’.

Responding to the report, Morrisons said that it had measures in place to record any epileptic episodes in store, either in the employee’s personnel file if the episode required first aid treatment, or in the company’s accident book and/or reported to the local authority or HSE if the epileptic event caused an accident or was RIDDOR reportable.

Writing to the coroner, Morrisons said it would re-emphasise its expected procedures in a bulletin sent to stores and amendments to first aid training, and policy and return to work procedures would be issued and rolled out.

However, it also said: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, this procedure was in place at the time of Matt’s death but Morrisons has reviewed and will re-emphasis [the] key aspects to its employees.’

Following sentencing, the council’s head of community services, Peter Tonge, said: ‘This was a long and difficult investigation, and the successful court outcome is a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of our investigation team. Matthew was extremely vulnerable to health and safety risks in his workplace due to his severe epilepsy.

‘Despite being aware of the risks, Morrisons failed to put in place a number of simple measures which could have kept Matthew safe at work. Furthermore, Morrisons failed to cooperate with elements of our investigation, and we are satisfied that the substantial fine imposed by the court reflects the seriousness of the omissions and failures on the part of the company.

‘We hope this court outcome will send a message to all employers of the importance of complying with basic health and safety duties, and properly assessing risks, especially when it comes to vulnerable employees.’

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Steve Kilburn
Steve Kilburn
I initially trained as an industrial chemist working in a variety of manufacturing environments eventually moving into quality management which grew to encompass environmental and occupational health and safety management systems. I hold a Masters Degree in Health and Safety law and Environmental Law and a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Waste Management and I am a Graduate Level Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). In my spare time I enjoy reading, my favourite author is Stephen King, and listening to music, generally from the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
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