Safety Smart reported on this case back in our March Newsletter when both directors were found guilty by a jury at Manchester Crown Court sitting at Crown Square. The case was adjourned until 8th April for the Defendants’ to be sentenced.
Day of Accident
On 21 January 2014, following a near miss at height the previous day, four men started to dismantle the roof of the former Carpet Right building in Heaton Norris, Stockport, made up of steel corrugated sheets.
At 9am, one of the group fell through a skylight to the concrete floor below, fracturing his body in several places including his spine and pelvis. Despite their colleague suffering such horrific life changing injuries, hours later the men were asked to return to the roof. Then at 4pm, Scott Harrower fell through a skylight to the concrete floor and suffered fatal catastrophic head injuries.
C. Smith and Sons won the contract to demolish the buildings in Heaton Norris, Stockport in 2014. Originally, plant machinery was going to remotely bring down the structure which would have minimized the risks associated with working at height to workers. However, after winning the contract, Mr Smith decided that the building should instead be dismantled by operatives on the roof. Smith and Sons subcontracted the dismantling of the roof to Allan Thompson’s company, Building and Dismantling Contractors Ltd, based in Scotland.
Custodial Sentence and Substantial Fine
At the sentencing hearing, Allan Thomson was jailed for six years for gross negligence manslaughter and fined £400,000 after he and his company, Building and Dismantling Contractors Ltd, were found guilty of safety breaches. Michael Smith and his company C. Smith and Sons (Rochdale) Ltd, were also found guilty and Mr Smith was jailed for eight months and fined £90,000. His Honour Judge Turner QC when sentencing Thomson made his view of the Defendant’s responsibility in the death of Scott Harrower clear when he said that a custodial sentence was justified due to the ‘callous and disgraceful’ attempt to wrongly shift the blame on to the dead man by attempting to draw up bogus health and safety documents after the accident.
Safety Smart Comment
The new sentencing regime for health and safety offences that was introduced in February 2015 does not cover the offence of Gross Negligence Manslaughter. However, this case demonstrates that the courts are entering a new era where health and safety breaches, particularly the most serious breaches, are being treated far more seriously and this is reflected in the sentences passed down in this case.
The case is a horrific example of how some employers have an incredibly reckless view of serious risks to their employees or self-employed workers who work at height. It is completely unacceptable that the Directors’ in this case continued to order that the work at height be completed despite a near miss the day before the accident and a very serious fall from height earlier the same day which could very easily have resulted in fatal injuries.
HHJ Turner QC, an experienced and respected High Court Judge and prior to going to the bench, a respected leading barrister in health and safety, was no doubt sending a clear message to the construction industry that ignoring strict requirements for working at height can result in a very lengthy custodial sentence coupled with a huge fine.
The vast majority of contractors working in the construction industry take their responsibilities to operatives very seriously and ensure that they plan all work to ensure that the high risks associated with working at height are controlled to an acceptable and legally compliant level. However, unfortunately, there are still a small number of contractors who consider it acceptable to cut corners and risk the safety of their workers which can result in death.
If duty holders have any concerns about working with contractors on site who appear to have a reckless regard to safety, we would suggest that they should consider reporting such concerns to the principal contractor or client. For professional and confidential advice on site safety please call Safety Smart on 0800 0025 632.