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15/06/2020

H & S offence results in suspended prison sentence for company director

Subject: Health and safety at work

Source: Health and Safety Executive

A construction company has been fined and its sole director given a six month prison sentence, suspended for 24 months, after a worker was seriously injured during the erection of a timber frame chalet bungalow.

In July 2017, a worker was seriously injured when roof trusses toppled over while being moved by crane at a site in East Mersea, Essex. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigators found that scaffolding was not installed around and within the building to enable workers to have a safe area of work. Lifting the roof trusses in packs created risks which were not sufficiently managed. The company and company owner had failed to plan, manage and monitor the work under their control.

JWB (Mersea) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 13(1) of The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and was fined £1,000. Jason Whiting, the company’s sole director and shareholder, pleaded guilty to breaching section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. In addition to the six-month suspended prison sentence, he was ordered to do 240 hours of unpaid work. HSE was awarded full costs of £25,627.32.

 

In another case, A London-based relocation and refurbishment company has been fined after a worker was seriously injured when he fell from height.

On 5 September 2016, an engineer was testing a sprinkler system for leaks at a site in Hemel Hempstead. He climbed onto an internal roof and was inspecting the leak from an extension ladder. The ladder slipped away from him and he fell almost three metres into the gap between the internal roof and the external wall. The worker suffered severe blood loss, amounting to around half of his bloodstream. He required a blood transfusion and needed 14 stiches to his head.  He also sustained a fractured vertebrae and suffered soft tissue damage.

The HSE investigation found that Modus Workplace Limited, the principal contractor, had failed to take reasonably practicable measures to prevent a fall from the internal roof for both the engineer and other contractors working on the roof. After a five week trial, the firm was found to have failed to ensure those not in their employment were not exposed to risks, in particular that of falling from height. It was found guilty after a five-week trial of breaching section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £1.1 million and ordered to pay costs of £68,116.18.

Comment:  companies are no less likely to be prosecuted for Health and Safety at Work offences than individuals because there is usually no requirement on the prosecutor to prove intent and whether the knowledge of the individuals representing the ‘directing mind and will’ of the company can be imputed to the company.

The Sentencing Council formulates sentencing guidelines in relation to both individual and corporate offenders which courts must follow. The guidelines take into account certain factors including the seriousness of the offence, harm caused and the financial position of the offender, previous offences, co-operation with the authorities and other factors. While the guidelines are intended to ensure consistency and transparency in sentencing, there is no doubt that sentences will vary between different courts and different sizes of organisations.

In addition, the Health and Safety legislation as is the case of most statutes regulating economic activity, contains a provision for a director’s criminal liability. A director of a company with a small workforce who is the sole or one of very few directors, such as JWB (Mersea) Ltd, is more likely to be personally prosecuted for the offence than a director of a larger company with more directors on its board, for example Modus Workplace Limited.

Additional sources [accessed: 20/06/2020]

https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/corporate-prosecutions

Coroners and Justice Act 2009

https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/crown-court?s&collection=health-and-safety-offences

 

 

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