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Culpability: Neglecting the controls

08/01/2018

Culpability: Neglecting the controls

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Culpability: Neglecting the controls

Too often I see controls in risk assessments which include something like “care and attention” or “individual awareness” or even “common sense” as controls.  The assumption of the manager writing the risk assessment appears to be that if these controls are documented, and if workers sign a piece of paper to agree that they have “read and understood” the risk assessments, then if there is an accident due to a lapse in attention, a lack of awareness or a failure in common sense, well, the manager won’t be to blame.

A previous blog looked at the case of a dumper truck driver who died after he fell out of his vehicle and was buried by spoil when the truck tipped onto its side on rough ground.  The defence might have argued that since a working seat belt was available in the vehicle, it would be common sense to wear it. They were found guilty as they had no evidence they had communicated the need to wear a seat belt. In a more recent case the employer had gone as far as purchasing fork lift trucks with built in alarms, which alerted if drivers were not wearing their seat belts. They might have thought they’d done enough.  However, the drivers worked out how to fit the belts round the back of the seat to stop the alarm sounding. There was no evidence that the company monitored seat belt wearing more directly – for example, by regularly walking around the workplace and taking a look at behaviours. When one of their workers died after his forklift truck overturned they were also found guilty, with a fine of £300,000 and costs of £25,000.

The consequences of failing to define, communicate and monitor safety controls could become even more serious, not just for company budgets, but for individual directors, managers and supervisors.  The February 2016 sentencing guidelines led to increased fines – many over the £1 million mark, even where there were no fatalities. 

The latest draft of sentencing guidelines for gross negligence manslaughter suggests jail sentences for individuals could be significantly increased.  Cases such as the manager of a skip hire firm who received a suspended 2-year prison term for his part in the death of a worker who fell 2.5m from a skip; or the site manager and director of a housing development company, who oversaw the project which led to the death of a worker in a collapsed trench; or the haulage company director jailed for 7 ½ years, for his part in the deaths of four people hit by a 32-tonne lorry after its brakes failed. 

Under the new proposals such sentences could get even longer – up to 18 years for the most serious gross negligence cases, and even for the lowest culpability offence the minimum sentence is expected to be a year in prison, rather than a suspended sentence.

So what should you be doing to make sure you play your part in managing safely?  You could start by reviewing your existing risk assessments, making sure they cover the hazards for all operations – normal, maintenance, emergencies.  In particular, take a look at the controls.  Can you measure or monitor the control?  If not, take it out.  A future blog will give some examples on how to write better controls – and how to make sure they are used.

For more information how Effective can help you with the management of your organisations Risk Assessments why not request a demo from one of our product experts. They will run through our Risk Assessment Software and tailor a solution to your specific needs.

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