Morrisons fined £3.5m after death of employee

Morrisons supermarket has been fined £3.5 million following a prosecution by Tewkesbury Borough Council for failing to ensure the health and safety of an epileptic employee who died after falling from a shop stairway.

On 25 September 2014, Matthew Gunn, 27, was using the stairs in the supermarket’s Tewkesbury store when he is believed to have had a seizure. The fall caused severe head injuries and he sadly died in hospital on 7 October 2014.

Morrisons – which was aware of Mr Gunn’s epileptic condition – was deemed to have missed opportunities to ensure his safety. It was charged with three health and safety breaches which it denied:

  • Failure to ensure the health and safety of an employee who had epilepsy.
  • Failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the employee who had epilepsy.
  • Failure to review risks to which an employee with epilepsy might be exposed.

Morrisons admitted a fourth charge of failing to supply the council with requested information relating to the death of the employee.

However, on 2 February 2023, following a three-week trial at Cirencester Courthouse, the jury found Morrisons guilty on all four charges.

Sentencing took place on 17 March. The judge placed the offences in the highest category of culpability and harm, and Morrisons was fined £3.5m.

Tewkesbury Borough 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 Gunn 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 co-operate 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.

“Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to Matthew’s family for their enormous patience and support throughout this investigation and we hope that the sentence imposed on Morrisons today will finally provide them with the justice they deserve after all these years.”

The prosecution was undertaken by One Legal, a legal service shared by Cheltenham Borough Council, Gloucester City Council, Stroud District Council and Tewkesbury Borough Council.

Tewkesbury Borough Council
March 2023

What we think

As a health and safety consultancy, we are deeply concerned by this court case. The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and other applicable regulations require employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees, including those with disabilities or medical conditions such as epilepsy.

Morrisons’ failure to take the necessary steps to protect Mr. Gunn, despite knowing his condition, is a clear breach of their legal duty of care. The fact that the company was charged with multiple health and safety breaches, including failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. In addition, it failed to review the risks to which an employee with epilepsy might be exposed, highlights the seriousness of their negligence.

It is particularly concerning that Morrisons failed to cooperate with the investigation. This is a further indication of their disregard for health and safety regulations and the tragic consequences that can result.

The £3.5m fine imposed by the court is a significant penalty, reflecting the severity of the company’s failures and the harm caused.

As a health and safety consultancy, we urge all employers to review their health and safety policies and procedures, ensuring that they are compliant with the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and other applicable regulations. It is also imperative that employers provide appropriate training and support to employees with medical conditions or disabilities. This is to ensure that they can work safely and without risk.

How we can help

Wiser Safety have a variety of solutions including the following:

  • Provision of Competent Safety Partner Services to ensure compliance with current legislation
  • Review of existing Policies, Procedures and Safe Systems of Work
  • Development of Policies, Procedures and Safe Systems of Work including Suitable and Sufficient Risk Assessments
  • Provision of appropriate Training, including Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults (eLearning)

Contact us now to discuss a workable solution. Please feel free to Call Us on 01732 446503 or Message Us