Company fined over £2 million after death of worker

A chipboard manufacturer has been fined £2,150,000 for health and safety failings which led to the tragic death of an employee. 

Norbord Europe Limited was found guilty of two charges under health and safety legislation on 1 November 2022 at Perth Sheriff Court. 

The court heard that on 13 July 2016 at the company’s site in Cowie, Stirlingshire, George Laird, along with three colleagues, was involved in maintenance work on a wood drier. During this work, a high-pressure hose was used to remove hot ash from within a hot gas duct above a combustion chamber. 

Mr Laird, 64, who was in the area below the combustion chamber, was enveloped by hot water, steam and ash and sustained burns over 90 percent of his body. He died from his injuries the next day. 

The Health and Safety Executive investigation found evidence of a catalogue of failings by the company. 

The Crown led evidence over the course of the trial which showed the company had failed to provide a safe system of work for employees removing hot ash from the system. Employees were left to devise their own methods of working. 

Employees were exposed to risk of personal injury from falling ash within the combustion chamber since its installation at the site on 1 October 2014. There were several near misses involving other employees working during that time. 

The company was also shown to have failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which their employees were exposed and comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed by the statutory provisions. 

Debbie Carroll, Assistant Procurator Fiscal and Head of the Health and Safety Investigation Unit, said: 

“This was a lengthy and complex case. The detailed evidence led against Norbord Europe Limited over the four-week trial allowed the jury to come to a unanimous verdict.     

“The tragic death of George Laird could have been prevented had suitable and sufficient measures been put in place.     

“The prosecution and the sentence serve to highlight that a failure to fulfil health and safety obligations can have tragic consequences and those responsible will be held to account for their failings.   

 "Our thoughts are with Mr Laird’s family at this difficult time."  

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Garry Miller said:   

“Those in control of work have a responsibility to set up safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers to carry out the safe methods of working.  

“If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the death of Mr Laird could have been prevented.”