The Duties of Directors – Comply with Health and Safety Legislation or Risk a Prison Sentence
We report many cases of Directors not complying with their obligations – i.e. the duties of directors – under the Companies Act 2006. This case study, in which a director was jailed for 8 months and his company fined £700,000 for a serious (and tragic) breach of health and safety regulations illustrates the significant extent of the other obligations that come with the badge of ‘Director’!
Background to this Case
A Liverpool based waste and recycling company has been fined, and its Director jailed after the death of a 39 year-old worker in a crushing incident involving a baling machine.
Gaskell’s (North West) Limited (‘the Company’) and Mr Jonathan Gaskell (‘the Director’) were both sentenced for their part in the death of Polish national Mr Zbigniew Galka (‘Mr Galka’), and for continuing to operate the same baling machine in a dangerous manner for up to five years after his death.
The Company operated a machine used to compress recyclable and waste materials into small bales. Mr Galka had entered the baling chamber of the machine to clear a blockage of waste materials that had caused the machine to stop. The machine automatically activated, and Mr Galka suffered haemorrhaging, shock and severe traumatic injury to both legs, and died on his way to hospital.
The Health and Safety Executive Investigated
A joint investigation of the incident (which happened in 2010) by the Health and Safety Executive (‘HSE’) and Merseyside Police found that the baler’s safety interlock system had been defeated two months earlier. Poor maintenance of the machine meant it required frequent operator intervention.
HSE inspectors then re-visited the site on 16 July 2015 having been informed that the Company was continuing to use the same machine. The machine could be operated whilst the guarding was open, meaning it could still run and production could continue with the operator being put at serious risk of injury.
The Consequences to the Director and the Company
In October 2018, the punishments handed down were:
- The Company of Foster Street, Liverpool pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The Company was fined £700,000.00 and ordered to pay costs of £99,886.57.
- The Director of Peckforton Hall Lane, Tarporley, Cheshire pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was sentenced to eight months in prison.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Phil Redman said:
“Firstly, our thoughts as ever, are with the family and friends of Zbigniew Galka. A great deal of time has passed since his tragic passing and we would like to publicly thank Zbigniew’s family for their patience throughout this complex investigation.
This incident was completely avoidable and it is inconceivable that Gaskells continued to operate the same dangerous machine in the way it did for as long as five years after this incident.
Companies should be aware that HSE will not accept the defeating of safety systems in order to maintain production and will not hesitate to take action against those that fall below the required standards.”
Our Solicitors Comment on this Serious Breach of the Duties of Directors Case
Whilst this is an extreme case, Directors can and do go to prison for HSE offences. Had the Director taken the time to consider the safety of his worker, and the implications of the faulty machinery, there would have been no tragic fatality, and the director would have avoided the sanctions imposed on him by the HSE.
The case is a stark reminder of the duties of directors: that compliance with Health and Safety Legislation is a statutory requirement for Directors and that a failure to observe such duties can result in a prison sentence for a defaulting Director. Every worker has the right to work in a safe environment, and this case shows just how seriously the authorities take non-compliance.
It is also a salutary reminder of the criminal law enforcement action the HSE will take against Directors if there is a failure to comply and that Company Directors will be pursued personally in respect of Health and Safety breaches.
Our Solicitors specialise in the area of regulatory compliance (including the duties of directors). We are well used to dealing with the tactics and strategy of defending such cases, to the best advantage of the Company and its Directors. We are also experienced in working with the insurers for the Director and/or the Company in such cases.
Contact us For Help and Advice Regarding the Duties of Directors
If you have any questions regarding your duties as a Company Director under Health and Safety legislation or more generally, and the effect of non-compliance in any case, please contact us or call us today on 0121 200 7040 for a FREE, no obligation initial chat.