Do Wilko’s Really Care About Health and Safety at Work?

One easy way in which multi-million pound big businesses increase their profits is by neglecting the wellbeing of their workers. Earlier this week, High Street retailer Wilko faced a potential multimillion-pound fine after an accident in one of its stores left a twenty-year old worker paralysed. Corisande Collins needlessly suffered a spinal fracture and now has to use a wheelchair. Commenting on the case, her solicitor Linda Millband, of Thompsons Solicitors noted:

“My client has been through unimaginable pain and suffering due to a negligent employer. This heart-breaking case shows that health and safety standards aren’t simply red tape and bureaucracy – they protect workers from serious harm. When these laws are ignored, innocent people like Corisande are left with life-changing injuries. We’re pleased with the prosecution by the city council – it’s now up to employers to learn the lessons. We’ve worked hard to secure payments for Corisande’s short term and rehabilitative care. We’ll now fight to make sure she had funds in place to live out the rest of her life as independently as possible.” (December 8, Leicester Mercury)

Wilko Retail pleaded guilty to four offences under the Health and Safety Act at Leicester Crown Court. David Travers QC, defending Wilko, reportedly said that “apart from a fork lift truck collision in 2011, [Wilko] had a good health and safety record with no other prosecutions in the 80 to 90 years it had been in business.” (December 8, Daily Mail)

This so-called collision resulted in the death of a Wilko worker, and shockingly this collision occurred shortly after Wilko “had been cautioned by the council…when a contractor was injured by a fork lift truck.” (“Wilko driver’s death at Worksop depot was ‘accident waiting to happen’”, 16 January 2016, Gainsborough Standard)

But despite the reassuring words of David Travers QC in defence of Wilko’s, Ms Collins’ accident was of course not the first accident that has ever happened involving a Wilko roll cage. For example, Thompsons Solicitors report:

“Kay Holt, 28, from Worksop was forced to give up her job as a warehouse worker for Wilkinsons Hardware Stores’ distribution centre near her home town as a result of the accident at work in November 2007.  Kay was building a roll cage, a type of large trolley with shelves used for moving stock, when the top shelf fell and hit her head…

“Following her accident she contacted her union, the GMB, which instructed its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a claim for accident compensation. Thompsons found there had been previous complaints about the roll cage and similar accidents had happened to two of Kay’s colleagues. Wilkinsons admitted liability and settled the claim out of court.”

At the time, Tim Roache from the GMB said:

“Wilkinson’s failure to take heed of previous accidents with these roll cages was unacceptable and Kay has paid the price for that failure. Thankfully the GMB has been able to get some compensation for our member’s pain and distress, but with a bit of basic health and safety this accident could have been avoided.”

wilko

Wilko are not well-known for treating their workers fairly, and in 2004 a critical article observed how the high-street hardware store was “growing fat on the profits of prison slavery” (“’Whiplash’ Wilko,” September 2004, Red Pepper). More recently Wilko’s was named and shamed on a “list of firms that hoovered up free labour from benefit claimants” (“DWP forced to reveal vast list of firms using benefit claimants for unpaid work after 4-year legal fight,” 29 July 2016, Daily Mirror).

So in the light of this history, it is more than a little sickening to see Wilko attempt to put a positive spin on their systemic abuse of their workers:

“We’re continuously working hard to raise the profile of health and safety across our business. Our ‘I Can Safely Say’ campaign has helped us to increase our health and safety professionals, create better zone demarcation in our distribution centres and helped us to embed updated safe systems of work for everyone.” (“‘We accept full responsibility for this tragic accident’ says Wilko after worked left paralysed,” December 9, Leicester Mercury)

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