A Health and Safety Breach Can Destroy a Company
Rigorous health and safety procedures are there to protecting human life. But they are also fundamental to the survival of your business.
Every business has a moral and ethical obligation to look after the individuals it employs and to protect their wellbeing. But when you consider that an organisation’s most important asset is its people, there are also hard-nosed business reasons for getting health and safety right first time, every time.
Time lost through illness and injury can lead to businesses steadily haemorrhaging revenue, but when the company is, in itself, culpable for the absence, penalties and adverse publicity can endanger the viability of the entire operation. Yet often, the problem can be prevented by implementation of simple risk mitigation tools such as carrying out training, displaying the correct construction signs and performing appropriate risk assessments.
Construction firm in Derry goes under following tragedy
The Irish media was recently full of the story of Mid Ulster Contracts, a building firm that has been at the centre of a construction site tragedy back in 2014. An employee was killed when a roof truss that was hanging on a sling swung and struck him on the back of his head. The firm was found guilty of four health and safety breaches, the most fundamental of which was that the worker was not wearing a hard hat. If he had been, it would have prevented the fatal injury.
The business was fined £50,000, which represents twice its annual turnover. When added to the adverse publicity generated by the incident, Mid Ulster Contracts has gone out of business, and the only assets the sole director has left are his 10 year old Transit van and the tools he has in the back of it.
Penalties are getting bigger
The tragic story from Ireland is just one example. New sentencing guidelines show the legal system to be increasingly intolerant of health and safety breaches, so the consequences will only become more draconian.
This is illustrated by the case of Merlin Attractions Operations. In 2012, the leisure company was fined £350,000 when a man fell to his death from a parapet wall at Warwick Castle. Four years later, the same company was held liable for the accident at Alton Towers on the Smiler rollercoaster. This time, there were no fatalities, but 16 injuries. However, the fine went up to £5 million.
The exponential increase is a direct result of the new sentencing guidelines that came into force in November 2015. In the two and a half years that they have been in place, seven figure fines have become commonplace, when once they were only seen in high profile, multiple fatality cases such as Bunceford and Piper Alpha.
Accidents will happen
The point to remember is that health and safety regulations are there to protect businesses as much as workers. All the training, PPE and safety signs in the world will not eliminate accidents. They will, however, reduce the likelihood of someone getting injured, and the severity of the consequences if they do.
That in itself should be reason enough to take health and safety seriously. But there is also the fact that even if disaster strikes, a business needs to show that it did everything expected of it and is not culpable. Fail there, and the consequences can be fatal to the business.