Two directors in a family-run business from North Yorkshire have been given prison sentences (suspended) following convictions for health and safety breaches. The directors were acquitted of gross negligence manslaughter in December after trial, but admitted breaches of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
The 20-year-old son of one of the directors (and the nephew of the other) died after a 20ft fall in 2019. He was assisting in the re-roofing of a barn when wind caught the roofing sheet he was holding, knocking him out of a basket attached to a telehandler.
The directors admitted breaches of section 37 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. The police and the Health and Safety Executive's joint investigation found that necessary safety equipment had not been used and the basket in which the deceased was working was not compliant with regulations.
The company of which both individuals were directors was separately fined following conviction of corporate manslaughter breaches. The company was fined £335,000 to be repaid over 9 years. The directors were given suspended prison sentences – the deceased's father was sentenced to 11 months suspended for 2 years and the deceased's uncle was given a 23-week suspended sentence. They are both required to pay £1,000 each in costs and required to complete unpaid work.
In this tragic case the directors were prosecuted as individuals, separately to their company, and received a suspended prison sentence. Had this case been prosecuted in Scotland (where there is no option to "suspend" a prison sentence) the directors would have been required to serve their prison sentences.
This is a sobering reminder for directors of companies of all sizes. The importance of ensuring you are aware of your legal responsibilities in terms of health and safety cannot be overstated. This case demonstrates how seriously the prosecution and judiciary treat health and safety cases, even in circumstances where the injured party has such close personal ties to the duty holder/employing company.
If you have any questions or wish to discuss how we can assist your business, please contact a member of our health and safety team.