On 10th December 2014, Benjamin Edge, a 25-year-old worker, suffered serious head injuries when he fell from the roof of a metal structure he was helping to dismantle. Conditions at the time were windy and both he and a colleague were working without safety harnesses. Several hours later, Mr Edge died in hospital from his injuries.
When the incident happened, he was working for SR and RJ Brown Ltd. The site was run by Marshalls Mono, a hard landscaping company.
An investigation jointly carried out by the Health and Safety Executive and Greater Manchester Police examined what had happened on the day that Mr Edge died.
MA Excavations Ltd, who had originally been given the work, contracted it out to Christopher and Robert Brown, directors at SR and RJ Brown Limited.
MA Excavation’s director Mark Aspin had thought the Browns were ‘competent’ and able to carry out the work safely. However, he had not checked their qualifications and had no evidence to back up his belief in their competency.
The investigation found out that Robert Brown had written a ‘grossly inadequate’ risk assessment before the job started, but had not shown it to anybody.
After the accident had happened and Mr Edge had been taken to hospital, Brown typed up another risk assessment, an action which should have been taken beforehand.
Christopher Brown then asked Peter Heap, who had been working alongside Mr Edge, to go home and collect safety harnesses, bring them to site and pretend that they had been there all along so that the accident could be made to look like Mr Edge’s fault. Brown intended to make it look as if Mr Edge had not worn safety equipment. Heap went along with what he was told to do.
The Browns continued to claim that the harnesses had been there before the incident, even when being questioned by the police. However, they did admit that they had falsified the risk assessment. The whole deception only came to light when Peter Heap confessed his role in the matter.
SR and RJ Brown Limited was fined £300,000 after admitting corporate manslaughter.
Christopher Brown and Robert Brown pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice and two counts of health and safety breaches. They were jailed for 20 months.
Mark Aspin was sentenced to a year in jail after admitting health and safety offences.
MA Excavations Ltd, which contracted out the work – was fined £75,000 after pleading guilty to two health and safety breaches.
Peter Heap was sentenced to four months for perverting the course of justice, suspended for two years.
A very sad story. What should have happened?
Unfortunately, you cannot predict the illegal actions of the company directors of the engaged contractors. However, the following tips may help:
Before engaging any contractors, the employer (in this case MA Excavations Ltd) must carry out checks.
These are basic checks, e.g.
Are the contractors competent?
Do they have the relevant insurance in place?
Are they qualified for their trade/profession e.g. Gas Safe registered?
Can they provide you with their H&S documentation – policy, risk assessments, method statements?
Have they been prosecuted by the HSE for H&S failings?
Are they members of any professional bodies?
Can they provide references from satisfied customers that you can verify?
Have you checked any feedback about the company online?
You cannot eliminate a rogue trader, but you can reduce the likelihood of engaging them.
Remember, you are the employer and it is your duty to ensure the safety of both your employees and others not in your employ e.g. contractors, visitors.
Once you engage a contractor, you should not assume your work is done, then just sit back and wait for them to finish. Instead, you should actively monitor their work:
Are they complying with their risk assessments and method statements?
Do they use/wear all the safety equipment that is stated in their risk assessment/method statements?
Do they understand their obligations regarding your H&S procedures?
Do they leave the site safe and tidy at the end of their shift?
Do they sign in/out when entering/leaving your site?
Have you received any complaints about them?
Don’t leave engaging contractors to chance – it is your responsibility.