If You Think Health and Safety Rules are Optional, Read This!

Construction siteBuilding sites can be dangerous places and that makes it all the more important that health and safety rules are religiously followed. In one case where that sadly did not happen, the director of a house building company received a four-year prison sentence following a workman’s death in a collapsed trench.

The company was engaged in a constructing nine new homes and a two-metre-deep trench had been excavated in order to hold drainage pipes. The workman was either standing in the trench, or at its edge, when it collapsed. He was buried beneath earth and rubble and suffered a fractured skull that proved fatal.

The director, who also acted as construction site manager, accepted that he had overall responsibility for health and safety on the site. He was jailed after a jury convicted him of gross negligence manslaughter and three offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge and to contribute £20,000 towards the costs of the prosecution.

The facts of the case emerged as the Court of Appeal rejected his challenge to his convictions, dismissing claims that the trial judge had misdirected the jury. The Court noted that a photograph of the trench demonstrated that its sheer and unsupported sides posed a real and significant risk of causing death. It was a question of when, not if, the trench would collapse and there was evidence that the director was either aware of the risk, or turned a wilful blind eye to it.