A maximum jail sentence shows just how much company bosses can be personally held to account for safety failings. And as we’ve seen over the course of the last year or so, the courts are more willing than ever to hand down harsh sentences.
In this latest case, a plant hire owner has been jailed for the maximum two years allowed under the law after a worker died in a crane collapse.
The court was told two workers were in the platform’s basket removing netting from a Glasgow office block when the boom buckled and collapsed. The safety rigger plunged 90ft from a raised platform when a cherry-picker buckled. A co-worker suffered serious injuries.
The court heard a similar incident happened the year before on the same platform, but fortunately did not result in any serious harm. However, although the manufacturer recommended a boom section be replaced, it was instead given a much cheaper repair. Health & Safety investigators found a catalogue of other faults. Indeed, the platform’s poor maintenance was described as “an accident waiting to happen”.
The judge described the attitude of Lanarkshire businessman Donald Craig and his company Craig Services & Access Limited as “cavalier”. Craig was said to have been untruthful over the platform’s condition and to have gambled with the lives of those using the cherry-picker. His breach of duty was so serious and had such tragic consequences that the judge said she had no alternative but to impose the maximum custodial sentence of two years’ imprisonment.
Duty of care
The judge underlined the fact the company had a duty to make sure workers were not “so far as reasonably practicable” exposed to the risk of serious injury or death. The company also had an absolute duty to maintain the cherry-picker in good repair. It should have been thoroughly inspected at least every six months. The company’s cavalier attitude to safety broke all three duties.
Craig and his company denied Health & Safety breaches but were found guilty of three charges relating to the platform’s collapse and failures in maintaining and using it. They were fined £61,000 in total.
Another company JM Access Solutions Ltd was fined £30,000 for failing to adequately inspect the platform following an instruction by Craig to repair the damaged boom.
The fines though mean little as Craig’s company is in liquidation with substantial debts while JM Access Solutions has stopped trading with a negative net worth.
Health & Safety officials said the tragedy could have been avoided had Craig and his company followed advice and safely maintained the cherry-picker.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) said the incident was entirely preventable, particularly as Craig ignored advice to replace the damaged boom and that the cheap repair left it in an unsafe condition. The HSE stressed “A mobile work platform is a safety critical piece of equipment and it was highly foreseeable that such a repair would risk the lives of those using the equipment.”
The HSE went on to say the catalogue of defects showed Craig Services “did not have an adequate proactive maintenance and reactive repair system in place”.