Health & Safety Problems

Here's what you need to know about Health & Safety issues at your premises

The Law

Picture this scenario: It's a busy Bank Holiday weekend. One of the two glass washers behind your main bar packs in. You have made a few calls to see if someone could come out and fix it but nobody is available. No surprise there as the weather is uncharacteristically good!

As a result of the good weather you are expecting to hit capacity tonight. This will be the first time in a while with trade having taken a down turn as a result of the smoking ban.

One of your bar staff says he is pretty handy with electrical appliances. You either let him have a go or somebody is going to be washing glasses all night which means that there will be queues at the bar. You tell him to give it a go.

Unfortunately, in the course of his investigations your bar man touches a live component and receives a massive electric shock. He is killed instantly. You spend the next few hours dealing with the ambulance and the Police. You are ultimately arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. You are kept in Police custody for 14 hours while they interview you and take statements from members of staff. Ultimately they bail you to return to the Police Station in two months time. The story is all over the local press and now nobody is visiting your premises save those with a penchant for the macabre.

About two weeks later you get a call from the local Environmental Health Officer who wants to know why you did not report the incident under RIDDOR. He tells you this is an offence in its own right.

Shortly afterwards he arrives with the full team and they want to see all your training records, risk assessments and other health & safety paperwork. You are not even sure where everything is after all of the events of the last couple of weeks. Further documents are seized and witness statements taken from your staff.

Do you know what to do?

It is absolutely imperative that you have legal representation in respect of any interview under caution which is to take place. The interview may appear to you to be part of some benign invitation to "give your side of the story" but it is also an early part of the investigative process and what you say may be used as evidence against you in Court proceedings.

Any failures discovered in your training documentation or lack of appropriate risk assessments can lead to prosecution under The Health & Safety at Work Act attracting fines of up to £20,000 in the Magistrates' Court and unlimited fines in the Crown Court.

More worrying still is the new Corporate Manslaughter legislation which, in the event of a death such as this failure in safety systems, can attract a fine of up to 10% of turnover as well as a "publicity order" requiring you to advertise your failings publicly, for example in a national newspaper or by direct mail to your customers.

If an individual can be identified as having been sufficiently negligent in causing someone's death then that individual can be prosecuted for manslaughter through the criminal Courts with the possibility of a lengthy term of imprisonment.

The importance of good quality legal representation cannot therefore be emphasised enough!