A judge has branded a care home manager as being “out of her depth” despite having a Health & Safety qualification after a resident died in a fall.

She was handed a nine-month suspended jail sentence and the owners were fined £1.5m with £200,000 costs.

The court heard that the elderly resident, who had severe dementia, would often wander and open fire exits in a confused state. He fell down an unlit internal fire escape after going through a first floor fire escape door.

Only three staff were on duty on the night he fell and none were on the floor he slept on. A prosecution lawyer said if the resident had reached for a handrail he would not have found one. He added when staff went to investigate an alarm “they couldn’t see anything, it was so dark”.

The home had not carried out a risk assessment for stairway safety. It had no controls to stop residents going through an unsecured fire door to an unlit stairwell with no handrail.

Out of Her Depth

Safety failings and poor management exposed vulnerable people to serious Health & Safety risks. The court found the owners had failed to adequately protect residents under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the manager had not taken reasonable care of residents.

The home’s manager had a lifetime of experience in the caring profession and a Health & Safety qualification. However, the judge found “she was out of her depth” when it came to Health & Safety management.

Higher Fines

The huge £1.5m fine could have been even higher.

The care home is part of a larger group, which operates more than 60 homes. Under new sentencing guidelines, fines are based on turnover and courts can increase them if a business is part of a group.

Defence lawyers argued the home was a standalone company. While the judge did not accept this argument he decided against imposing a fine based on the turnover of the whole group.

The £1.5m fine does though reflect the tougher Health & Safety penalties now being given:

Summary

Managing Health & Safety adequately is becoming an increasingly serious business. Organisations are being fined much higher sums. It was felt the old levels of fine were not high enough to make employers take Health & Safety seriously and stop breaking the law.

Contact Ellis Whittam to make sure you are not out of your depth managing Health & Safety.

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