The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
An Act intending to:
- protect health and safety welfare of workers
- assess any potential risks in the workplace
- provide a good working environment
Corporate Manslaughter / Homicide
A Criminal offence committed by an organisation as a whole if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death.
Alan Catterall was employed as a senior supervisor for Pyranha Mouldings, a kayak manufacturing company. On one normal working day he entered an industrial oven which was switched off in order to scrape away a bit of dripped molten plastic. His co-worker, Mark Francis, who happened to be his future son-in-law, turned on the oven to ‘warm-up mode’, unaware that Mr Catterall was inside. The oven door was designed to automatically shut down to save energy, and this trapped Mr Catterall inside. The oven heated up, reaching- over 280 degrees Celsius. Desperate to escape, Mr Catterall made vain attempts to use a crowbar in order to break his way out of the oven doors. His calls for help were useless due to the loud machinery. Smoke finally alerted workers to problems with the oven. They opened the door to find Mr Catterall inside – unfortunately having died from severe burns and shock.
Case in Court and Prosecutions
Initially, managing director Graham Mackereth and engineer Paul Keddie were prosecuted for the accident. However, both pleaded that there was no case to answer, seeking acquittal without having to present a defence. They believed their pleaded case and evidence did not meet the minimum threshold to establish liability. They were successful and therefore the defendants were released.
No Case to Answer. This is a submission by a defendant that the opposing party has no evidence, or lacks sufficient legal grounds, to make a case. In a criminal case, a successful submission of no case to answer will result in the end of the proceedings and the release of the defendant.
The case then moved on to hold Peter Mackereth liable for neglect regarding the safe design of the oven.
Peter Mackereth was the managing/technical director and had originally designed the oven to mould the kayaks. The oven had no latch to escape and such device was only fitted after the accident. Ultimately the oven design meant it was easy for someone to be trapped without means of escaping or alarming fellow workers. Mr Mackereth was prosecuted at Liverpool Crown Court on the grounds of two Health and Safety breaches.
Mr Justice MacDuff, the trial judge, was quoted as saying ‘At least [the family] are able to understand that their loss was not caused by a deliberate unlawful act; rather it was a result of oversight, negligence, [and] sins of omission.” Peter Mackereth pleaded not guilty, however he was later found guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison suspended for two years.
In addition to Peter Mackereth’s conviction, the company Pyranha Moulding was fined £200,000. The court found that Pyranha had refused to own up to its failures. Moreover, in September 2013, the company was fined £50,000 plus costs when it pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.This followed the injury of an employee as the result of unsafe systems of work, lack of risk assessments and failure to train employees.
Overall, the case shows the immense importance of following health and safety procedures.
This fatal accident could have easily been avoided if simple logistical steps had been taken. For example, Peter Mackereth could/should have established safer working practices and ensured risk assessments were done. That he was personally responsible for due to his position as a company director. The company has a responsibility to make sure all equipment is safe so that workers operate in a safe and secure environment and the company director owes duties to the company.
Although Paul Keddie and Graham Mackereth were acquitted of criminal charges, they had a shared duty to ensure that all equipment being used was in the right condition, not defective, meaning there were no faults with them whatsoever, bearing in mind the fact that defects had been previously detected in the oven which they claimed to be ‘fixed’. However as said by judge Mr Justice MacDuff, there was an incredible ‘oversight’; indeed, the directors ‘oversaw the design and commissioning of the oven’ which essentially led to an avoidable accident which cost a man his life.