The £385,000 fine for Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd, following the tragic death of geologist Alexander Wright and subsequent corporate manslaughter trial, serves as a clear warning to businesses and senior management that health and safety is critical.
The 27-year-old geologist was employed by the company to take soil samples from inside a pit. The pit had been excavated as part of a site survey near Stroud in Gloucestershire but the sides of the trench collapsed on top of Mr Wright, leaving him unable to breathe. The trial found the company had failed to ensure Mr Wright’s safety, and that his approach to health and safety had been ‘extremely irresponsible and dangerous’ according to Mr Justice Field, presiding over the case. The size of the fine was based on the size of the business and although the repayments will be made over ten years the judge still sounded a warning that the fine in the terms of its payment will put this company into liquidation. If that is the case it’s unfortunate, but unavoidable. It’s a consequence of the serious breach.’
There were 152 deaths in the workplace in 2009/10, a decline in the previous five year figures but even one death is still one too many – especially in cases such as this, when proper health and safety practises may have prevented a tragedy from occurring.
The company’s managing director, Peter Eaton, was too ill to stand trial but that won’t be the same for all cases brought to court. The Corporate Manslaughter Act is there to safeguard against inadequate health and safety by making the buck stop with employers and holding them accountable for how they manage the safety of their workers.
Our own research found that, worryingly, over 15% of businesses have never carried out an assessment to determine risks within the workplace and therefore how to protect staff. Safety must be paramount to prevent accidents from happening and to avoid a prosecution, unlimited fine and reputational damage. But, surely, the biggest burden to carry is none of these, but rather, knowing that a life was lost under your care when it could have been prevented.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Alexander Wright. May their loss not be in vain but instead help ensure no other family suffers the same fate.