New sentencing guidelines are being considered for those convicted of gross negligence manslaughter. Mathew Colley, LONEALERT’s Sales and Marketing manager says it’s about time the safety of staff was put at the forefront of every organisation’s agenda
For those of us working in the world of Health & Safety, the weight of responsibility on our shoulders is - or certainly should be - a constant presence.
But whilst huge strides have been made over recent years to ensure organisations of every size and walk of life adhere to practices that put the safety of their workforce at the forefront of the agenda, we cannot escape the fact that some still sadly believe Health & Safety regulations are more of a hindrance to production than a help.
All too often we read the harrowing tales of workers who have been injured, or even killed, going about their daily jobs, often because of lax Health & Safety practices that have left them ill-prepared or protected in their working situations.
Take for example, the death of Rene Tkacik who was crushed by falling wet concrete whilst working on rail tunnels because of lack of safety systems, or the worker in London who broke both feet after falling more than three metres through scaf-fold boards that were in poor condition. Or the man who was tragically killed by a dumper truck being driven by his brother at Heathrow Airport amid Health & Safety breaches by the company he was working for, Laing O’Rourke. Or the father-of-three working alone in a branch of Ladbrokes who was battered to death by an angry customer.
The list sadly goes on.
For a company that works solely for the protection of workers - particularly lone workers - it has been pleasing to see that over the past few years, the issue of Health & Safety in the workplace (whatever that workplace) has been thrust into the public consciousness. There has been an increase in the number of individuals prosecuted for Health and Safety offences and gross negligence manslaughter, as well as a trend of increasing penalties and custodial sentences for Health & Safety offences.
And now it has been announced that prison sentences could increase for those convicted of manslaughter - including gross negligence manslaughter - in England and Wales.
The timing of these discussions could not come at a more pivotal time for Health & Safety as a whole; with the eyes of the world watching in the wake of The Grenfell Tower tragedy and the charging of numerous people connected with the Hills-borough disaster.
It is the first time comprehensive guidelines have been drafted for the offences, which can include unintended death arising from an assault, or negligence by an employer.
The proposed guidelines - which are open for consultation until October 10th and will come into force, if approved, in December 2018 - are based on an analysis of current sentencing practice. In most areas there are unlikely to be changes to sentence levels. But the Sentencing Council expects that in some gross negligence cases - which covers an extraordinarily wide set of scenarios - sentences will increase, po-tentially up to 18 years.
An example of this could be in a Health and Safety case where a death was caused by an employer's long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees which was motivated by cost-cutting. Current sen-tencing practice in these sorts of cases is lower in the context of overall sentence levels for manslaughter than for other types.
The draft Guideline certainly appears, looked at in the context of its potential impact on gross negligence manslaughter prosecutions in the Health and Safety sphere, to be a continuation of the trend of the last dec-ade or so towards trying to significantly increase the consequences faced by both businesses and employees (of whatever seniority) of getting compliance wrong in this crucially important area of public protection.
The fact remains that whatever industry you work in, you have the right to go about your job and get home safely to your loved ones at the end of every shift. It matters not if you are a nurse working the alcohol-fuelled Saturday night shift at A&E. Or the cleaner working alone on the 12th floor of a high-rise office block. Or the factory worker loading boxes in a warehouse. Employers have a duty of care to provide suitable protec-tion for all of their staff, whatever their work setting.
Some will no doubt cry ‘red tape’ and argue that these latest guidelines do nothing but put yet more hoops in the path of employers to jump through; another set of regulations for them to follow which will ramp up costs.
But I couldn’t disagree more. I, for one, am delighted that these new tougher sentencing guidelines have been unveiled to make more people stand up and face the very great responsibilities they have to keep their workers safe. If it takes the very real fear of a hefty custodial sentence for disregarding their duties for this to happen, then so be it.
The safety of staff should always be at the forefront of the agenda - whatever the monetary cost. The cost of a life is far greater.