• Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd became the 14th company to be convicted and sentenced for corporate manslaughter under the 2007 Act.
• The company received a fine of £700,000 plus £200,000 costs following a 6-week trial at Preston Crown Court.
• 4 directors have had their goods vehicles operators’ licenses revoked for up to 5 years.
Background to Accident
Mr Easton was a crane operator at the company. On the day of the accident he was driving a 16 wheel, 130 tonne crane down an access road to Scout Moor quarry and wind farm in Edenfield, Lancashire. He drove the crane down an access road and unfortunately it crashed and killed Mr Easton in the collision.
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) investigation found that there were serious problems with the braking system of the crane due to the fact that it had not been properly maintained. The crane had four separate auxiliary braking systems and the ordinary footbrake. Three of the auxiliary braking systems had been disconnected altogether and the fourth was damaged. The investigation also identified serious faults with the main braking system. The HSE concluded that all faults were attributed to the company’s failure to properly manage the crane.
Traffic Commissioner’s Investigation
In 2015 the Drivers & Vehicles Standards Agency conducted two investigations into allegations of false records submitted by drivers, who had hidden periods of time working when they should have been resting between jobs. Some drivers under interview alleged that the company and director Wayne Baldwin, had instructed drivers to remove their driver cards whilst on site. Initially, five drivers were convicted of false records offences in the first investigation and a further 17 drivers were referred for prosecution after a follow up investigation.
The traffic commissioner also went on to consider a series of maintenance and inspection failings identified by vehicle examiner Paul Stagnell.
The Commissioner said that the falsification of records to make it appear that drivers had taken appropriate rest went “to the heart of road safety”.
The Commissioner further commented that;
“The failures at Baldwin Crane Hire are so significant so deep-rooted and inspired by the very top of the business that I find it entirely appropriate that this licence be revoked.”
The traffic commissioner for North East England, Kevin Rooney, decided to call a public inquiry into Baldwins’ restricted operators licences. At the inquiry, Rooney decided to revoke these licences and to disqualify directors Richard Baldwin, Wayne Baldwin, Andrew Skelton and Lorraine Baldwin from holding these licences for a set period. The revocation of the company’s licences took effect from 10th September 2016.
Safety Smart Analysis:
Failure to properly maintain equipment, especially heavy machinery as complicated as a crane, can and often does result in serious, occasionally fatal consequences for operators and other users. The company in this instance was found guilty not only of causing the death of their employee, but also of putting other road users at risk.
As if often the case after an accident has happened, the HSE will conduct a thorough investigation of the company to identify whether there are any other risks and failures which need to be rectified. In this instance, the HSE investigation also considered all the company's fleet cranes which were found to have multiple faults with their brakes or other operating systems. This exemplifies the importance of having regular external audits of all areas of a business to ensure that there aren’t any issues which haven’t been picked up or identified internally.
The unfortunate reality in this case is that had the company serviced and maintained the vehicles, this accident would never have happened.
Safety Smart Conclusion:
The consequences of fatal accidents are more serious and far reaching for companies and their directors and mangers than ever before. Not only do they face a possible corporate manslaughter investigation and prosecution, but also getting their operators licenses revoked, which can result in their future business being suspended.
In practical terms, the case highlights the importance of companies regularly inspecting and maintaining all equipment, machinery and vehicles used during the course of employment, in order to demonstrate that employers have regard for the safety of employees and non-employees.
Lastly, this case acts as a reminder to all directors that the Crown Prosecution Service will continue to bring more corporate manslaughter cases, with tougher penalties being handed out in relation to corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences under the new Sentencing Guidelines introduced in February 2016.