Earlier this month a manufacturing company was fined £30,000 after being found guilty of breaching section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (the “Act”). The director of the company was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter. The prosecution followed two fatalities in 2013 as a result of a steel door collapsing and falling on two individuals at an entertainment venue in Guildford.
In a previous Law Now we commented upon prosecutions under section 6 of the Act, noting their comparative rarity: prosecutions in the health and safety sector are typically brought under the general provisions of sections 2 and 3 of the Act.
Reports indicate that a two-tonne steel door had been raised at the venue in order to allow passage and movement of equipment under it. However, the chains linking the motor and gearbox of the door failed, causing it to fall unexpectedly. A vocalist and band promoter suffered fatal crushing injuries as a result. It was found that adequate safeguards to prevent the door from dropping had not been installed and it was on that basis the door’s manufacturer was prosecuted under section 6 of the Act.
Section 6 imposes specific and extensive safety duties on manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and retailers. These duties relate to articles and substances used at work. However, parties must not only ensure that the equipment itself is safe and fit for purpose, but they must also provide information and instructions on its safe use. Failure to do so may lead to an unlimited fine, imprisonment, or both.
A further notable aspect of this case was the charging of the firm’s director under gross negligence manslaughter provisions. Though later cleared of the charges, the decision to take action against the director aligns with a growing trend in recent cases whereby individuals are being held personally liable. Recent enforcement statistics indicate that the number of company directors who were prosecuted for health and safety offences by the HSE trebled from 15 last year to 46 by the end of March 2016.