A normal day on a construction site, sun shining and busy workers. All workers collectively (to save time) received their normal morning work and safety briefing; they then proceeded on to their daily tasks.
Just before lunch, one worker, let’s call him Dave, lent an extendable ladder up against a high-level conveyor belt in order to complete the final electrical connections before lunch time (10 minute job), screwdriver and cutters in hand, he proceeded to climb the ladder with his eye on the motor connection box, three quarters of the way up the ladder, the ladder slipped away (no tie or footing) and Dave fell like a stone hitting the ladder edge and concrete floor with a thud.
A nearby worker James heard the crash, threw down his tools and rushed to help his colleague, James saw Dave laying on his stomach and on approach shouted “Dave are you ok”, Dave groaned in pain, James was relieved to hear Dave groan as he was thinking the worst.
James then rolled Dave onto his side in order to check he was ok. Rolling Dave over, James saw blood and then noticed the handle of his screwdriver sticking out of his stomach. James didn’t know what to do, had the screwdriver punctured a lung?, he wasn’t First Aid trained, and so he shouted desperately for help, a few minutes later, help arrived but Dave was losing blood fast. First Aider arrives and then an ambulance, shortly after Dave was taken away to the hospital.
Senior management was called along with Brian, the Managing Director (MD); a phone call Brian thought he would never receive. The Site manager spoke with Brian the MD*.
“Brian, there’s been an accident** (an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury) on-site, how quick can you get down here? ”
“I’m packing up now and will call you from the car”
Brian’s mind was racing, how can this happen, we’re affiliated by numerous accreditations and have yearly audits, I know we have all the necessary documents and procedures in place, I’m told by my managers in the monthly management meetings everything’s fine.
Brian, while driving to the site called the client to let them him they what happened and that they were doing everything possible to get to the bottom of this accident. The client was worried as they are responsible under the health and safety at work act, but Brian seemed to pacify the client, the client then asked Brian to make sure he records everything and follows procedures in full and said he would contact the HSE (health and safety executive) immediately to report the accident.
Immediately, all site works were suspended, all plant and operations were stopped to allow the management team to investigate. Each team member and contractor working on-site at the time of the accident was questioned about what happened and what they saw or heard. Brian’s anxiety grew as he was now also worrying about escalating costs of the downtime.
The HSE arrived the next morning and made clear to the management team as this accident is a serious injury*** the investigation should proceed in accordance with ‘The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013’, the team replied,
“yes, of course, our health and safety policy details how we investigate an accident.”
All site files and records were secured so nothing could be altered, moved and disposed of.
Throughout the second and third day, still with all site works suspended, the investigating team reviewed all safety documents including the risk assessment, the investigators questioned why the risk assessment was site based and not work specific (electrical and working at heights), the site permit to work was issued weekly (copy and pasted from the previous weeks just dates changed), no reference to work zones, site hazards and emergency procedures, again not specific enough for the job.
Furthermore, no clear safe system of work could be proven to be in operation, understood and adhered too; the construction phase plan was still as original and out of date for the current work process. Lastly, many workers stated the morning safety briefings was a simple flip chart readout with no conviction or engagement, workers explained to the inspectors that briefings were simply another chance for a coffee and time for them to check social media messages before the morning break.
Fast forwarding: During the prosecution: Brian and his team argued that Dave was a negligent worker and there was a clear understanding of how workers should operate safely, they argued they had intended to erect some form of access platform for employees and contractors, but Dave rushed the works and did not wait until the correct access was installed and tagged for use.
The court prosecution rejected the claims and revealed there were no clear evidence company standards and procedures were adhered to. The risk assessment although including mitigation for training, the investigating officer could not be shown evidence that adequate training for employees was given.
As this accident happened in 2017, the newly introduced 2016 Sentencing guidelines were used and the company was fined £1.1 million.
Application of the sentencing guidelines:
• Culpability: Medium
• Seriousness of Harm Risked: Level B
• Likelihood of Harm: High
• Harm Category: 2
• Significant Cause of Actual Harm: Yes
• Size of Organisation: Large £50million and over
• Starting point for fine: £1.3m
• Mitigation: Full co-operation with the prosecution, remedial measures taken to prevent occurrence
• Penalty: £1.1m. Plus costs of £12,665.00
- Brian (the MD*1) failed to understand he was responsible and that responsibility cannot be handed over, the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something!
- Standards and procedures are pointless if they’re not: fluid, in use, checked, audited and adhered too!
- Affiliations and accreditations are not a replacement for compliance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
- Every accident is preventable; the HSE provides a plethora of free documents needed to safely manage all sites and workplaces.
- Dave suffered a serious injury and returned to work (for another company) 8 months later.
How would Safety PAL have prevented Brian’s company having to pay £1.1m fine?
• Safety PALs holistic Job Management is unique in ensuring your Risk Assessment and Method Statement are approved by the job team (clients and management) before the permit to work can be released (no copy and paste are possible).
• As Dave wasn’t fully trained, Safety PAL wouldn’t have allowed him to sign in to that his job that morning, preventing the works and protecting the business.
• Being cloud-based and easily accessible, our efficient work audit tool allows site managers to complete more frequent inspections, on-site safety training/inductions creating a robust business and company audit trail. Prevention is better than cure!
Further to our holistic Job Management tool, Safety PALs unique Safety Alerting tool would have provided Brian and his team with the evidence they needed to prove Dave failed to comply with the company standards and procedures and importantly, that Brian’s company had done everything practicably possible (what the HSE requires) to prevent harm.
Safety PALs development has been from an in-depth understanding of the health and safety at work act. Safety PAL helps provide security in your ability to get company compliance with health and safety regulations. Together, we can provide every Managing Director with the evidence needed to prove they have done due-diligence and nothing more could have been done.
* As the managing director of a company, you’re the lead. You’re the one that’s in charge of the whole company, from the day-to-day stuff to the really big picture problems. You’ll be held accountable when things go right – but also when they go wrong. You are responsible; responsibility cannot be handed over, the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
**Accident – an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
*** Serious injury/ill health – where the person affected is unfit to carry out his or her normal work for more than three consecutive days.
This is semi-fictional account. It is based on real events, the HSE’s standards and procedures along with the Sentencing Council’s actual guidelines. Names, locations, businesses etc have been changed to protect identities and out of respect for the families of injured parties. Some similar real-life examples can be found here: