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19th September 2012

Business Sues HSE for £2M after ‘Unjust’ Enforcement Ban

A Norfolk company has accused the HSE of nearly putting it out of business after an inspector imposed a ban on the movement and delivery of its chemical products, in the belief that the firm had breached safety laws. This is a remarkable case which has cost 10 people their jobs and the taxpayer £200,000 in court costs due to a HSE blunder!

AgChemAccess, an international agrochemicals supplier with a workforce of about 65 people, intends to sue the HSE for around £2m in lost business.

The HSE brought the company’s international agrochemical trade to a standstill for two months this summer after it wrongly ordered movement restrictions on the whole of its UK-held stock.

An HSE investigator who inspected third-party warehouses holding stock belonging to AgChemAccess issued the company with a series of enforcement notices on 11 July. He believed the company was breaching safety regulations and enforced a two-month movement ban on its UK-held stock.

However, on 29 August, following successful judicial review proceedings, the inspector accepted that he had no reasonable grounds to issue the enforcement notices and these were quashed.

The company’s legal fees of around £200,000 will now be met by the taxpayer, but AgChemAccess is also seeking damages for contracts lost during the eight weeks of the ban. Furthermore, ten employees also lost their jobs, as a direct result of the HSE imposing a freeze in trading, according to the firm.

An HSE spokesperson confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation into the activities of AgChemAccess Ltd, as well as ongoing legal proceedings being brought by the company against the HSE. The spokesperson added that, on both matters, “it would be inappropriate to comment further” at this time.

As recently mentioned in an earlier edition of Lighthouse businesses are currently preparing for the introduction of the HSE’s Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme, set to come into operation next month, and there remain concerns from employers and lawyers about the approach inspectors will take.


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