Worker falls to his death – Contractor goes to jail

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The first custodial sentence for health and safety offences and gross negligence manslaughter was handed down at the Court of Appeal in Belfast on 18th May 2017.  The building contractor involved was given a 24-month custodial sentence on the charge of gross negligence manslaughter.  He will serve 12 months in prison and 12 months on licence.  In addition the court imposed sentences of 6 months imprisonment on each of the three charges relating to health and safety offences to run concurrently with the twenty four months imposed on the charge of manslaughter.

Lord Justice Gillen said: “Deterrence is necessary to prevent others behaving in this way and to bring to the attention of the construction industry generally the consequences of failure to ensure the safety of workmen.”

The farmer in this case was also prosecuted for breaching his duties under the law as a client.  Both the farming and building industries must take note of this case.  The legal precedence has been set by this judgement and when fatal accidents happen at work, people in control could very easily find themselves facing a jail term.  The way forward must be to ensure all reasonable health and safety measures are put in place.

Ken Logan HSENI spokesperson said: “Falls while carrying out work at heights is a well-known danger and the preventative measures are easily available. This particular incident could have been prevented by installing close hung safety nets and providing all round edge protection at a cost estimated at £1,100.  The outcome would have been very different – the worker would still be alive; the contractor would not be in jail and two families would not be devastated.”

If you are in the process of renovating or extending a farm building or are planning to construct a new farm building (maybe under the DAERA farm business improvement scheme), you need to know the steps to take to prevent accidents and keep the workers safe.

A farmer or anyone else who employs a contractor to do any building work (including demolition) has particular legal duties. You are responsible for making suitable arrangements to manage the project so that people are kept safe.

In this incident the farmer had contracted the building contractor to erect a 3-bay farm shed at his premises. Tragically, no safety precautions were put in place to prevent workers falling off the roof while fitting corrugated roofing sheets.  When it started raining the surface became slippery and both men lost their footing and slid off the roof.  One of the workmen died as a result of this fall and the other suffered minor injuries.

On 3 March 2017 at Craigavon Crown Court the farmer who was the client pleaded guilty to a breach of health and safety legislation and was fined £1,500.  On 10 March the building contractor employed by the farmer pleaded guilty to a charge of gross negligence manslaughter and to three health and safety charges he was sentenced initially to 15 months suspended for 3 years for the manslaughter charge and fined £1,000 for each of the health and safety charges.

The case involving the building contractor was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Director of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, to review the sentencing.  The Court of Appeal subsequently issued its judgement as stated above on 18 May 2017.  The fines previously imposed were removed.  The three charges are set out below: –

  • Article 4(1) by virtue of 4(2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 – sentence 6 months imprisonment.

 

  • Regulation 3(1)(a) Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 – sentence 6 months imprisonment.

 

  • Regulation 6(3) Work at Height Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005 – sentence 6 months imprisonment.

Employers must take ownership of and address the risks their businesses create.

This Court of Appeal decision has brought Northern Ireland into line with the recently introduced sentencing guidelines in England and Wales, alongside the prospect of more custodial sentences, the value of fines imposed for health and safety offences can be expected to increase.

The case brings into clear focus important issues for those who work in the farming and construction industries.  Any farmer who engages the services of a builder must ensure this work is carried out safely. A builder must assess the risks associated with the job and put preventative measures in place.

Guidance material as detailed below is available on www.hse.gov.uk or www.hseni.gov.uk to assist in safely building a farm sheds: –

HSE ‘Managing Health and Safety in Construction – L144’;

HSE guidance ‘Health and Safety in Roof Work HSG33’;

HSE – ‘What you need to know as a busy builder;

HSENI – A simple guide to Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016’.

HSENI guidance: ‘Building a new farm building or renovating an existing farm building?’

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