The Duties of Directors – Health and Safety Compliance
4 Deaths on a Construction Site: Director of Company in Default Fined and Sentenced to Imprisonment
The Duties of Directors are many, but none are more important than complying with Health and Safety regulations. In this article, we look at The Health and Safety Executive’s (‘HSE’) investigation into the conduct of two companies and a director in a large civil engineering project that tragically resulted in 4 deaths. Heavy fines for the companies involved and a prison sentence (suspended) for the director was the result.
Background to the Case
The parties involved were: Claxton Engineering Services Ltd and Encompass Project Management Ltd (‘the Companies’) and Mr David Groucott of Diss, Norfolk (‘the Director’) of Encompass Project Management Ltd.
Workers at an excavation site in Norfolk were constructing a large steel structure as part of the foundation for a Pressure Test Facility (‘PTF’) at Claxton Engineering Services in Great Yarmouth. The structure, weighing around 32 tonnes, collapsed on the group of workers who, tragically, were all pronounced dead at the scene.
The group were working for Hazegood Construction Limited, as a contractor for Encompass Project Management Ltd, who was the principal contractor for the services.
An investigation conducted by the HSE found serious flaws in the planning, management and monitoring of the project on the part of the Companies and the Director.
In total the Companies were fined £700,000 and ordered to pay costs of £150,000 as a result of breaches of Regulation 9(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety Act 1974, respectively.
What are a Client’s duties in relation to arrangements for managing projects?
These duties include:
“Every client shall take reasonable steps to ensure that the arrangements made for managing the project (including the allocation of sufficient time and other resources) by persons with a duty under these Regulations (including the client himself) are suitable to ensure that:
(a) the construction work can be carried out so far as is reasonably practicable without risk to the health and safety of any person…”
The General duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees.
“It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
The Director also Failed in His Duties by Breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act
Further to this, the Director pleaded guilty to breaching section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. That section requires:
Offences by bodies corporate
- “Where an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”
Breaching the duties of directors in relation to Health and Safety is a serious offence. The Director was sentenced to a seven and half month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. The Director was also ordered to pay costs of £7,500 and complete 200 hours of unpaid community work within 12 months.
What the Health and Safety Executive Said
HSE Construction Division Head of Operations Annette Hall said:
“Those sentenced today failed the four workers who died. They didn’t carry out their legal duties, leading to the events which caused their deaths.
This was a long term, large scale and complex civil engineering project which needed to be planned, designed, managed and monitored effectively. The tragedy here is that, in the months leading up to the accident, any one of these parties could and should have asked basic questions about building the structure safely. Such an intervention could have avoided the tragic outcome of this entirely preventable accident.”
Comment on this Duties of Directors and Companies Case
Had both of the Companies and the Director complied with their duties, first and foremost the tragic deaths would not have occurred. In addition, the Companies and the Director would have avoided the reputational and financial damage caused by their lack of compliance with the law. The case is a reminder that compliance with Health and Safety legislation is a necessity for directors, and the duties they owe.
It is also a salutary reminder of the criminal enforcement action the HSE will take if there is a failure to comply and that company directors will be pursued personally.
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If you have any questions regarding your duties as a company director under Health and Safety legislation, and the effect of non-compliance, please contact us or call us today on 0121 200 7040 for a FREE, no obligation initial chat.