• Article by
  • Sarah Liddle
  • 20 July 2018

Do you have responsibility for safety?

Welder working in a factoryBe in no doubt that health and safety failures amount to serious criminal offences for which managers and directors can be held personally liable

More and more directors and managers are being convicted of safety offences because they are judged not just upon what they knew but also upon what they ought to have known.

In mid 2017 a site manager/director of a housing developer was jailed for 4 years for gross negligence manslaughter following the death of a worker who had only been on site for a matter of days. He was buried under rubble when the wall of a drainage trench gave way. The sides of the trench had not been properly shored; basic safety measures were ignored. He was also sentenced to one further year plus 2 eight month sentences, all to run concurrently, for breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act and for causing the corporate developer to commit an offence.

In January 2018 a director of a plant hire business was sentenced to two years for deciding not to replace a broken boom on equipment, having been advised to do so by the manufacturers following an earlier incident. Instead a cheaper repair was carried out leaving the boom in an unsafe condition. There was no adequate system of maintenance and repair. The equipment failed resulting in the death of one employee and serious injury to another. This was the maximum penalty and followed a guilty finding under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The business was also found guilty of breaches of the Act and was fined £61,000.

In March a property tycoon was sentenced to two and a half years in prison having been found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter. Lack of safety precautions during the excavation of a trench led to the death of a builder who was working at the businessman’s home. The trench was being excavated as part of a soak away for a swimming pool. The tycoon refused to pay for the protection that would have prevented the side of the trench from collapsing on top of the builder. Despite arguing he was not responsible for the death because the builder was a sub-contractor, it was found the tycoon had a sufficient degree of control to be classed as employer.

In May of this year the director/site manager of a company was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter and jailed for a year after a pedestrian was fatally injured when 3 window frames fell upon her. They had been delivered on site the previous day but could not be fitted immediately. They were stacked up against a wall. The Judge found the manager had shown “reckless disregard” for a potentially life threatening situation. He had failed to comply with his legal responsibilities.

This month the owner and sole director of a construction business has been sentenced to eight months in prison. He had been contracted to refurbish several units in an industrial park. He hired workers and supplied them with highly flammable thinners which they used to remove existing adhesive from carpet tiles. The vapour spread and ignited, 2 of the workers died in the resulting fire. It was held the owner had not given serious thought to the safe use of the substance notwithstanding clear warnings on containers. Initially the owner had been charged with gross negligence manslaughter but these were later dropped and the prosecution proceeded on the basis of breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act alone.

Any accident resulting in serious injury or fatality will result in investigation by the Police and Health and Safety Executive followed in most cases by prosecution. Individuals and companies need immediate advice and assistance on how to respond. We have specialist teams dealing with both regulatory offences and the construction industry generally. We are here to help and offer a dedicated service.

For further information please contact Lesley White on 01785 275367 or lesley.white@orj.co.uk

July 2018