Altin Homes was sentenced recently for safety failings at a building site at Woodlands Road in Altrincham, where residential houses and apartments were being built. The company was in control of all construction works and took on the role of the client and main contractor employing various contractors on site.
In June 2014, following the collapse of building materials across the pavement and cycle lane on Woodlands Road, the HSE investigated and established that there were other poorly stored materials on site which were also at risk of crashing through the hoarding. The company was told to remove them. The HSE inspector served two Prohibition Notices and two Improvement Notices, along with a Notification of Contravention during the first site visits.
Reasons for Prosecution
The HSE brought the prosecution on the basis that only some of the issues had been satisfactorily dealt with by Altin Homes following the HSE’s first intervention as a second visit a fortnight later, they had failed to remove the unsafe materials which had caused the original incident. The HSE’s prosecution was instigated as the company had ignored the recommendations of the inspector and failed to adequately reduce and control the risk that they had created.
Altin Homes Limited pleaded guilty at Trafford Magistrates Court to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £40,000 with £3,000 costs.
HSE inspector Matt Greenly said after the case:
“Altin Homes Limited failed in their duty to protect their workers, subcontractors and members of the public passing by this site from a foreseeable risk of serious harm. “Luckily no one was injured when the blocks fell through the site hoarding but, given the size and weight of the building blocks that fell onto the pavement and highway, there was the potential to cause serious injury or even death to both employees and the general public. It was nothing other than good fortune that no pedestrians were passing along the pavement when the blocks fell.”
Safety Smart comment
This case demonstrates the shift under the new sentencing regime introduced by the Sentencing Guidelines Council in February 2016 from actual harm to risk. This case marks a substantial fine for the risk created by the company alone, a salutary lesson to all of how the new sentencing regime works in practice.
The HSE’s emphasis when making a prosecution decision now focuses on a number of factors including the risk of harm. As stated above by the HSE Inspector, it was perceived by the HSE that the risk of harm was high as the risk could have resulted in serious injury or death. If the HSE Inspector’s report to their legal team identifies such a high risk and the legal team agrees in the high categorisaiton of risk, then it is likely that the case will result in prosecution.
Therefore, as stated in our main article this month which focuses on the importance of a robust internal investigation process, it is essential that all organisations ensure that their internal investigation process is overhauled in light of the change in emphasis under the new sentencing regime to the identification of all risks, not just those which result in actual harm.
Safety Smart anticipate that there may be a delayed response in risk management to this shift in emphasis, as organisations come round to appreciating from cases which are sentenced, that risk is now also a central focus of the court when considering sentencing in conjunction with actual harm caused.