Tesco found "highly culpable" after 91-year-old customer breaks hip in fall

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Tesco has been fined £733,333.33 after a 91-year-old customer broke his hip at a Hemel Hempstead store, two months after staff had complained of the risk of slipping on leakage from a refrigeration unit.

On Monday 6 August 2015, a previously fit and active 91-year-old customer, Dennis Satchell, pushed his trolley into one of the aisles of meat and dairy produce at the Tesco ‘Extra’ store in Jarman Way.

The drains at the store had become blocked because of bacteria setting the leakage into a “jelly-like consistency”, which prevented further liquid passing through.

With the drains blocked, leaks could not be drained away and Mr. Satchell slipped on watery liquid which had been pooling and leaking from refrigerator units. He suffered multiple hip fractures survived and has had to undergo surgery and suffers reduced movement in one of his legs.

Dacorum Borough Council’s Environmental Health Officers led the four-year investigation, which ended at sentencing on 24 January, at Luton Magistrates' Court.

Tesco had failed to either cure the underlying blockage or effectively to deal with the pooling leakage from refrigeration units, the court heard.

Tesco has over 3,000 stores in the UK. Photograph: Tesco Glasgow / iStock

When complaints were raised on 5 June 2015, 63 days before the accident, Tesco sent maintenance engineers, using machines to suck up the pool of leakage. But the work was ineffective as the pool returned because the leaks were continuous and the drains blockage still there.

Staff had then resorted to putting down flattened cardboard to try to soak up the leaks – thereby introducing a further trip hazard.

Management had also failed to turn off refrigeration units, closing all or parts of the aisles affected or using barriers to restrict access – all actions that could have mitigated the risk.

Sentencing, district Judge Leigh-Smith found that Tesco had been “highly culpable”, whereas Tesco had pleaded medium culpability. The supermarket tried to argue that the failures had been local to the Jarman Way store, and that there was not a high likelihood of injury from slipping from any of its safety failures.  Tesco has over 3,000 stores in the UK. The Jarman Way ‘Extra’ store is amongst the largest 10 per cent.

Responding, Judge Leigh-Smith said that slips at trips had long been identified, both by Tesco and by regulators such as HSE, as the single greatest cause of injuries being sustained in stores. There was a “high likelihood of people slipping and sustaining a material level of injury.” 

He found that maintenance issues repeatedly reported through Tesco’s call centre in Bangalore “should have been identified and addressed at area management level”.

Tesco was fined £733,333.33 for breaching Section 2 and Section 3 of The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, the duties which required Tesco, so far as reasonably practicable, to operate and manage its stores so as to ensure customers were not exposed to risks to their safety and to ensure the health and safety at work of Tesco staff.

Cllr Julie Banks, speaking for Dacorum Borough Council, said: “We will always take action where we deem it necessary to protect the public.  This case sends out an important message, highlighting the need for businesses to comply with health and safety law and take all appropriate measures to prevent risk of injury to their employees and the public.”

A Tesco spokesperson said in a statement from the company: Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our colleagues and customers and we are deeply sorry for this accident. Since this happened in 2015, we’ve given all staff at this store improved training in health and safety and maintenance escalation procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”


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