A company has been convicted of corporate manslaughter and the company's director and the employment agency supplying the agency worker tragically killed have also been convicted of offences under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
On 14 July 2015 Huntley Mount Engineering (the Company) was fined £150,000 after pleading guilty to corporate manslaughter following the death of a 16 year old, Cameron Minshull. He was employed as an apprentice, through a government approved scheme, at the Company's site in Bury. Cameron Minshull died having sustained serious head injuries when he became entangled in an industrial metal lathe on 8 January 2013.
The Company's director, Zaffar Hussain, was sentenced to eight months in prison and was disqualified from working as a company director for 10 years after admitting an offence under the health and safety legislation. His son Akbar Hussain, a senior supervisor at the Company, received a four month suspended sentence, 200 hours of unpaid community work and a £3,000 fine. The recruitment agency, Lime People Training Solutions (the Agency), which placed Mr Minshull at the Company was also fined £75,000 for an offence under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (the Act) for failing to conduct its undertaking "in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in [its] employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."
Mr Minshull began working for the company on 3 December 2012, following a 10 minute interview. During his time at the Company, Mr Minshull, who had been given oversized overalls, was required to clean lathes with emery paper while the lathe was still running. This practice was only possible because safety guards had been disabled, which was described as "dangerous in the extreme". It was while carrying out this task that Mr Minshull's sleeve got caught in the lathe. The only warning given to Mr Minshull and his colleagues prior to carrying out this task was an instruction to roll up their sleeves while cleaning the lathes.
This case serves as yet another important reminder to company directors and managers, that a failure to take health and safety seriously may not only have significant consequences for their company (as the Courts are demonstrating their increasing willingness to impose heavy fines even on small companies) but also for them in their personal capacity. Regulatory bodies are showing an increasing appetite for charging individuals with serious health and safety offences, and, on conviction, the Courts will not shy away from imposing severe sentences, including custodial sentences where appropriate.
The case is also a crucial reminder to recruitment agencies, who often place individuals with companies with little knowledge about the environment in which the individual will be working, of their responsibilities under section 3 of the Act.
Section 3 is an important but sometimes over looked general duty designed to ensure the safety of persons not directly in a company's employment, such as contractors working in the company's premises, or members of the public at large. In cases such as this, it is up to the prosecutor to produce some factual material to suggest that there was a failing on the part of the defendant and how that may have affected a person not in the company's employment. If it is to escape conviction, it is then up to the defendant, under section 40 of the Act, to show that it did everything that was 'reasonably practicable' to ensure the health and safety of the person affected.
Recruitment agencies in particular need to take a proactive approach to discharging their duties under the health and safety legislation to ensure the safety of persons they place in employment with other organisations if they are to avoid prosecution in an environment where heavy fines for health and safety offences are increasingly common. Likewise there are, reading the legislation strictly, duties on companies using agency staff not only to do the obvious – properly ensure the safety of the agency worker, whether by way of instruction, training equipment – but also to liaise and communicate with the Agency to ensure that it has the correct information to allow it to discharge its health and safety duties properly.
Our experience is that, in reality, the dealings and communications between companies and agencies supplying workers rarely address the health and safety duties each has, particularly as regards sharing of relevant information. This case is a reminder that this often overlooked area ought to be revisited carefully.