September 27, 2016

Directors at SME doing time while Alton Towers case reaches conclusion

With Merlin, the owners of Alton Towers, fined £5 million following the Smiler accident in June 2015, the fact that two directors at another business received suspended prison sentences for H&S breaches in the same week may have gone unnoticed.

And so might the prosecution of the scrapyard featured in a BBC documentary series.

In fact, a read of HSE press releases for September lists at least 18 cases where Companies and/or Directors were heavily punished as a result of serious injuries or fatalities resulting from work-related accidents.

Some of the other reports read:

  • Construction firm XXXXXXXXX has been fined £144,000 after a worker was seriously injured when he fell off a roof during demolition work.
  • A Wirral based company has been fined £170,000 after a worker’s arm was injured in machinery.
  • XXXXXXXXXX Limited has been fined £400,000 following a serious accident at its Pembroke Refinery.
  • A School in Canterbury has been fined for safety failings at a summer activity camp.
  • Two scaffolders from St Austell, Cornwall have received suspended prison sentences following a death of a worker who fell 7m to his death.

While accidents at work have generally been on a downward trend, there is still a fatal injury rate of 0.46 deaths per 100,000 workers.

And with the downward trend for non-fatal accidents starting to level off (see Fig. 1 below), business owners need to commit to greater vigilance in H&S processes and policies to avoid the kinds of accidents that ultimately lead to these levels of fines and criminal charges.

Fig 1. Self-reported non-fatal injury amongst people who have worked in the last 12 months, by absence duration


(Source: Labour Force Survey (LFS))

The Alton Towers case and sentencing guidelines

The Alton Towers case directly refers to the Sentencing Guidelines with the judge referencing the severity of the potential incident (which could have been even worse than the horrific injuries sustained), the turnover, and culpability of the company.

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We discussed sentencing guidelines in a recent webinar, and regular cover topics around liability and how to protect your business.

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The case of the Directors receiving suspended prison sentences should remind Directors, Business Owners and Senior Managers that offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act are criminal convictions.

A prison sentence can’t be ruled out should they be found to be personally liable for the offence – just read Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act:

“Where an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of,
any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

It is not enough for a Director or senior officer to claim s/he wasn’t aware of the failings to avoid prosecution.

In the recent prosecution of a Director following an accident in a tyre-fitting business, the prosecutor said:

Quite simply, (The Director) should not have let things get as bad as they were. In allowing things to get this bad he was at the very least negligent in his role as director of the company […] (The Director) should have known about the risible state of Health and Safety at XXXXX Tyres by virtue of his position as director responsible for Health and Safety.

How Directors and Businesses Owners can protect themselves and their business

The HSE recommend a simple four-step approach to managing Health and Safety – Plan Do Check Act.

At Moorepay we help our clients put these steps in place through a combination of:

  • Health and Safety Policies.
  • Health and Safety Procedures.
  • Risk Assessment Guidance and Tools.
  • On-site audits with Interactive ‘prioritized’ Action Plans.
  • 24hr Advice and Guidance.
  • Training and Support for managers and employees.

This allows business owners to work in partnership with Health and Safety Professionals to provide a compliant and, most importantly, safe working environment for their employees and visitors.

If you require any advice and guidance to help you establish if your business is fully legally compliant in providing and maintaining a safe place of work, or to check your risk assessments are suitable and sufficient, contact us or call 0845 184 4615.

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About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.