Health and safety is not for the bored - it's for the board

The recent successful prosecution of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings in February should send shivers down the spine of any business where there is a risk of death in the workplace. In September 2008, geologist Alex Wright was killed in a mudslide that engulfed the 3.5m deep trench he was investig

The recent successful prosecution of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings in February should send shivers down the spine of any business where there is a risk of death in the workplace.

In September 2008, geologist Alex Wright was killed in a mudslide that engulfed the 3.5m deep trench he was investigating (on his own). Wright's employers had ignored industry guidelines of a maximum trench depth of 1.2 metres for someone to investigate on their own and so were prosecuted for corporate manslaughter.

Following a 2 week trial and 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury found the company guilty and the judge consequently fined the firm £385000. The fine should have been higher - prior sentencing guidelines indicated a minimum of £500000 - but the firms' finances prevented that. Even so, with a turnover of £330000, the fine could destroy the firm or at least cripple it for the next ten years over which it is allowed to pay.

This case has had the health and safety chattering classes electrified for it indicates that (a) health and safety is a board level issue and that (b) the fines will be swingeing if a firm is found guilty. Prosecutions are expected to increase in this area of the law. Those readers operating say, warehousing should pay particular attention.
This was first published in March 2011

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