Recent cases have seen health and safety enforcement action focus heavily on the care sector.
On 28 September, a care home in York was fined £1.6 million following the death of an elderly woman from hypothermia. Owing to the inappropriately low temperature in the resident’s room, an inquest in November 2015 found that there had been a failure to provide basic care. The care home company pled guilty to breaching health and safety law in a prosecution that followed. When sentencing, it is reported that the court found systemic failings in the care home, indicating this was not an isolated incident.
Earlier last month, a Nottinghamshire care home was fined £1.5 million for failing to ensure safety, following the death of a resident as a result of a fall in an unlit fire escape stairwell. It is reported that the court again considered this not to be a case of an isolated failing but a failure to put in place measures that are standard in the industry and allowed breaches to persist over a long period of time.
In June of this year, a Middlesex care home provider was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 in costs, following the death of an elderly resident who sustained severe scalding injuries. Although on the face of it a lower fine, in fact it has been reported that it reflected a figure greater than one fifth of the company’s pre-tax profit for 2015.
Amongst these recent high fines levied at organisations in the care sector, have been a number of prosecutions of individuals, also being held criminally liable. In the second of the above three cases, the manager of the care home was also sentenced after admitting to a failure to take reasonable care. She received a nine month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a £20,000 fine. A further care sector prosecution last month saw another care worker prosecuted after admitting to failing to provide safe care, following the death of a vulnerable service user at a Shrewsbury care home. Similarly, at the end of last year, a national care home provider and one of its employees was prosecuted in Scotland; both pleading guilty to safety breaches. The individual received a community payback order to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work over a ten month period.
These recent cases act as another reminder to those within the care sector of the importance of effective health and safety management. Significant emphasis by the courts is being placed on ensuring that sentences for health and safety breaches have a real impact upon the charged party. This is particularly true following the increase in fines brought about by the “Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guidelines” which we have previously reported on. Since the introduction of the guidelines, numerous fines have been levied against companies in excess of £1 million. Further, reports indicate that there has been a significant increase in the number of custodial sentences and suspended sentences received by individuals.