When safety lapses end in jail sentences

There are some predictions that you hope never come true. One such example took place at our own conference ‘Still in Control’ last year when keynote speaker Gary Aitken, head of health and safety division at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, warned that it was only a matter of time before a health and safety offence would result in a senior management prison sentence in Scotland.

Fast forward eight months and our keynote speaker is quoted in the newspaper following just such an occurrence.  A manager at plant hire company Craig Services has recently been sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment after one of his workers was killed and another seriously injured when a boom lift collapsed.

In his comments at the close of the case, Gary observed that the incident could have been avoided had the company heeded advice and taken measures to maintain the platform in safe condition. 

This recent sentence in Scotland comes hot on the heels of the publication of research findings in November, which revealed a threefold rise in UK senior management prosecutions from 15 in 2014/15 to 46 in the year ending 31 March 2016.  An earlier blog post discusses these findings in more detail.

So what can organisations do in the face of such news? Of paramount importance for leadership teams is an awareness and understanding of their duty of care, particularly with reference to the game-changing Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007. 

It was this Act, which legislated that companies could be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures, that precipitated the introduction of Matrix Risk Control’s unique ‘Day from Hell’ course.

The course was put together to test senior management teams’ and company directors’ abilities to deal with a serious major incident by immersing them in a simulated but realistic operational crisis. It also provides an insight into legal obligations in relation to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 and management liability for consent, connivance or neglect.

This latest case, with its loss of life and subsequent management prosecution, is a stark reminder to companies who feel they don’t have the time or money to commit to such training. In the words of Gary Aitken: “Hopefully this prosecution will remind other employers that failure to fulfil their obligations can have tragic consequences and that they will be held to account for their failings.”