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Health and Safety Failings Can Lead to Imprisonment

5 September 2016
 September 5, 2016

According to UK laws, severe failings of health and safety within organisations aren’t only punishable by fines as highlighted this week after a company director was jailed for 12 months following the death of an employee.

Company director Kenneth Thelwall, from Enfield, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment following the death of one of his employees resulting from the overturn of a spider lift during loading. This fatality follows the guilty plea from Mr Thelwall over a separate incident in 2010 when employee Bernard Rowson was crushed to death in a metal gate.

His firm, Thorn Warehousing Ltd was charged under the Health and Safety at Work Act and subsequently fined £166,000 plus court costs. Unsurprisingly, the company is currently in administration.

However, those in charge of the welfare of employee safety, including the safeguarding of lone workers regardless if they’re ‘on site’ are liable to face custodial sentences – consequently having severe, life changing impact on personal lives.

Thelwall will now serve a year behind bars as well as personally having to pay a £4,000 fine for the serious nature of the offence. He is also disqualified from being a company director for seven years.

Judge Leeming of Manchester Crown Court said: “Two men have now tragically died in the workplace at a time when you were the sole director of the company. You have shown your intention to never again be a director of a company, but you may change your mind so I disqualify you from being a director of a company for seven years.”

HSE Inspector, Helen Jones added, “Kenneth Thewall failed in his duty as a director to protect his workers. He was involved in the day-to-day running of Thorn Warehousing Ltd and should have ensured the company provided Paul Williamson with the right equipment and training to carry out his job. Had he done so, Mr Williamson would still be alive today.

“This case should act as a stark warning to all company directors of their personal responsibility to protect their workers’ health and safety and the tragic consequences when they fail.”

Though rare, this is not the first case of handing out prison sentences for health and safety offences. Of course, if convicted of manslaughter or culpable homicide, offenders are likely to receive a prison sentence.

It’s notable that the HSE believes current maximum penalties for such offences are too lenient and this view has been backed up by courts on occasion. The Government supports their view and is committed to increasing many of the fines and sentences as seen when Corporate Manslaughter fines increased from a maximum of £500,000 to £20 million. The view is taken that imprisonment should be more widely available for both lower and higher courts as a strong deterrent against serious Duty of Care failures. This asks the question of company directors – are you willing to pay the price with your freedom should you choose not to take appropriate measures when safeguarding your employees?