A concrete structures firm, Febrey Limited (“Febrey”), pleaded guilty to offences under sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 following a fatal fall from height of a self-employed scaffolder, Russell Samuel, contracted by Febrey during the construction of an apartment development in Cardiff. Mr Samuel had been dismantling a scaffold ladder access platform when he fell approximately 19 metres to the ground below, narrowly missing another worker on site.

Construction giant Carillion Construction Limited (“Carillion”) also pleaded guilty to section 2 and 3 offences, for its role as principal contractor and failing to ensure Febrey sufficiently managed health and safety on site.

The HSE investigation found that Febrey’s health and safety management fell well short of an acceptable standard. It was found that Febrey had inadequate and ineffective health and safety management arrangements in place and there was little or no communication, information and instruction provided to its workforce. Also, the management team on site was not adequately trained in health and safety, despite repeated warnings by its health and safety consultants.

Whilst Carillion were fined £130,000 and ordered to pay £52,500 in costs, Febrey were fined a total of only £85 because the company has gone into liquidation since the accident. The judge did state that he would have fined Febrey £250,000 if it had not been liquidated.

The prosecution is particularly interesting to note because, despite Febrey going into liquidation and therefore there being no prospect of the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) recording a substantial fine against them, the HSE proceeded with the prosecution in any event. This is reflective that the HSE is keen to bring those responsible for serious health and safety failings to justice, even if this does not mean recording a large fine (or recovering costs). This approach should be commended, because in the current economic climate there appears to be too much focus on cost recovery which can result in financially healthy companies sometimes feeling that they are targeted due to their wealth.

Michael Febrey, director of Febrey, was also prosecuted and pleaded guilty to a breach of section 37 of the Act, admitting that the company’s offence was committed with his consent, connivance or due to his neglect.

The case acts as a clear reminder that those who fail to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others cannot hide behind the corporate veil and that, should the circumstances warrant, the HSE will prosecute those responsible irrespective of whether it will be able to record a large fine or recover costs as a result of the prosecution.