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Manslaughter Charges for Health and Safety Failures

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Organisations undertaking dangerous activities in the course of their business must be more aware than ever of the risks of leaving their employees vulnerable to harm.

Some jobs carry an inherent degree of physical risk to employees but strict health and safety guidelines exist in particular industries which seek to mitigate the dangers. Workers using certain types of heavy machinery in the construction industry for example must do so in accordance with relevant health and safety guidelines. Their employers must take a rigorous approach to training, monitoring and inspection to avoid the most serious charges in the event of an accident.

Failure by employers to implement and enforce appropriate health and safety measures can leave employees or the public exposed to preventable harm and employers facing civil and criminal liability.

Farm Worker Killed by Concrete Mixer

A tragic case is currently making its way through the criminal courts in relation to the death of a farm worker killed by a concrete mixer over 10 years ago.

The body of 33 year old Lee Balkwell was found trapped between the chassis and the drum of a concrete mixing lorry at a farm in Essex in 2002. At the time, the police initially concluded that the man had been killed in an industrial accident. However, there was significant controversy over the way the police handled the investigation into the death of Mr Balkwell which was initially treated as suspicious.

Eventually an inquest held that the man’s death was a case of unlawful killing.

Health and Safety and Unlawful Killing Charges

Notwithstanding the extraneous circumstances of this case, the fact remains that very serious charges arose against the employer through apparent health and safety failures.

The owner of the farm, Simon Bromley, had health and safety charges brought against him as the employer for failing to, “discharge his duty in that he failed to ensure the health and safety at work of employee Mr Balkwell , in relation to the risks arising from the gunning out of the inside of a Hyamix concrete mixer”.

Mr Bromley also had charges of unlawful killing through gross negligence brought against him by the Crown Prosecution Service. He is due to appear before Chelmsford Crown Court in April.

Comment

Unlawful killing through gross negligence is a form of manslaughter and carries a maximum life sentence. The test for it is as follows:

a) the existence of a duty of care to the deceased;
b) a breach of that duty of care which;
c) causes (or significantly contributes) to the death of the victim; and
d) the breach should be characterised as gross negligence, and therefore a crime.

Given the serious nature of the potential charges in such cases, it is imperative that employers are aware of their responsibilities and formally mitigate potential health and safety risks. For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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