22nd February 2011


 Issue No.  2011/04




Since it came into force in 2007 we have all been waiting to see how enforcement would follow and what the courts would do when the first guilty verdict was arrived at.
Well after much delay we have the first case through to a conclusion. 
The employer was a very small geotechnical consultancy. One of their employees was working alone in a 12.6ft (3.8 metres) deep unsupported trial pit when it caved in at a development site in September 2008.  The employee was unfortunately killed by the collapse.  Prosecution was launched against the Company not the owner director under the Corporate Manslaughter Act and has taken until last week to come to a conclusion. There were a number of reasons for the protracted nature of the case, partly connected with the ill health of the business owner.
Last Tuesday the court announced that it had come to a guilty verdict and on Thursday announced the sentence.
The company was found guilty of the charge relating to the death of its employee and was fined £385,000.
As reported on the IOSH website –
The judge, Mr Justice Field, said the gross breach of the company's duty to Mr Wright was a grave offence.  He also said the company, which was described in court as in a parlous financial state, could pay the money back over 10 years at a rate of £38,500 per annum.
He explained the fine marked the gravity of the offence and the deterrent effect it would have on companies to strongly adhere to health and safety guidance. But he added the company was on a small scale and a larger fine would cause it to be liquidated, and four people presently employed would lose their jobs. "It may well be that the fine in the terms of its payment will put this company into liquidation. If that is the case it's unfortunate but unavoidable. But it's a consequence of the serious breach," he said.
Mr Justice Field's remarks are in keeping with initial Sentencing Guidelines, which suggested that when passing sentence judges should not be too concerned if the outcome was that the company was put out of business where it was seen to have grossly failed its health and safety obligations.
A telling comment from the judge was that the owner director was in substance the company and his approach to trial pitting was "extremely irresponsible and dangerous".  
It is worth remembering that the penalty under the Corporate Manslaughter legislation is an unlimited fine. Whilst the outcome is always tragic when a work place fatality results it goes without saying that we urge all employers to look for learning points when establishing working practices. These must have safety built in to them and should reflect the outcomes of risk assessment. The message for Senior Management Teams in all sectors is clear - "Ignore Health and Safety at your Peril!"
If you have any need for clarification or advice on anything in your organisation that relates to aspects of the above or anything else for that matter – don’t hesitate to contact us. 





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