A UK building firm, Peter Mason Ltd, has become the eleventh company to be convicted for corporate manslaughter. It was fined £200,000 for the corporate manslaughter offence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, and £20,000 to a charge of failing to ensure the safety of his employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Peter Mason, owner of the company, was also convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years; 200 hours unpaid work; a publicity order to advertise what happened on the company website for a set period of time; to take out a half page spread in the local newspaper, and pay costs of £31,504.77.

The employee had been working on the roof and had fallen through a skylight from a height of 7.6 meters onto a concrete floor.  The investigating inspector at the HSE stated that the company had done nothing to ensure he was safe whilst working on a fragile roof.  He said that the owner of the company, knew the clear panels on the roof were not safe to walk on, but neither he nor his company provided any equipment, such as fitting scaffolding or netting under the fragile panels, or covers over the panels.

Less than a week earlier, a timber company, in Northern Ireland, A. Diamond and Son, had become the tenth company to be convicted for corporate manslaughter. The company was fined £75,000 plus £15,832 in costs. An employee of the company died whilst repairing a large automated saw. The power had not been disconnected and during the work the machine moved, crushing and fatally injuring the employee.

The joint investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the HSE of Northern Ireland concluded that the repair could have been safely and easily carried out whilst the machine was isolated from all sources of power. In addition, the safety guards preventing access to dangerous parts of the machinery had been modified and were regularly bypassed for routine tasks.  It was further found that the electrical safety key for the safety gates had been disabled, and operators did not know how to operate the machine in maintenance mode.

Comment

These cases once again highlight the importance of employers implementing safe systems of work and properly considering the risks associated with maintenance of machinery.  The convictions show the serious consequences of not adhering to health and safety legislation.

There is no Irish equivalent to the UK's Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007. However companies, as well as managers and directors personally, can be prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2005. The maximum fines under the 2005 Act are €3 million and /or 2 years imprisonment per offence.