Last month saw the third anniversary of one of the key pieces of legislation affecting businesses today. The Corporate Manslaughter Act, which came into force on 6 April 2008,now involves new sentencing guidelines recommending appropriate fines to start from £500,000 in the event of a conviction.
While some smaller companies may make the mistake of thinking such legislation isn’t relevant to them, the recent high profile prosecution of a Gloucester-based SME is a grave reminder that the Act is something which all businesses, regardless of size, must take seriously. This particular case (Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings) followed the death of an engineer and the firm was fined £385,000 (115% of the company’s turnover in 2008) after being found to have seriously failed in its obligations to keep its workforce safe. The company ignored industry advice which prohibited entry to pits over 1.2 metres deep, and at the time of his death, had left the engineer unsupervised and alone.
Three years on from the legislation coming into effect, and in light of this recent prosecution, you would have thought SMEs would be doing all they can to protect their staff, right? Sadly not.
Recent economic cutbacks are just one reason for companies compromising on health and safety, and as more businesses have been forced to make reductions in spend, the rise of lone workers is one of the most significant risksfor SMEs in relation to health and safety legislation.
This new breed ofemployee can include those working alone from home due to office closure, or one person performing a task that two people might have carried out previously. Lone working can bring huge benefits to both businesses, particularly smaller, growing enterprises, and employees, however some organisations are frequently not properly adapting or implementing strategies to protect these staff.
Businesses need to reassess how realistic their health and safety policies are, and ensure they are being followed given the different circumstances many organisations are now operating in. For example if there are safety systems to monitor lone workers,it’s important that employees can raise the alarm when needed. Systems should be checked to make sure they work practically – if lone workers have a safety device, it should be charged and carried at all times. After all, the technology is only useful if it is being used properly.
The key to creating a safe working environment is reviewing policies frequently and ensuring their suitability and workability for the business. Directors or those within the team with HR or a health and safety remit should understand the systems in place across the business.
The importance of a health and safety policy is a key priority in many businesses, but it can be something which slips – or is ignored – within smaller organisations. It is vital that SME owners make themselves aware, taking specialist advice where necessary, and implement the necessary safeguards to protect employees and the business.
The Corporate Manslaughter Act has brought health and safety to the forefront of many organisations minds, however it should only be considered as one of the many guidelines put in place to protect workers. Organisations of all sizes need to executetheir obligations,whether employees are based in the traditional office, or have joined the growing breed of lone workers. Keeping in line with health and safety legislation will not only protect an organisation, but most importantly, keep its workers safe.
Jim Irving is the CEO of security company Guardian24