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Building firm sentenced after death of employee on farm

by Redmans Solicitors on April 10, 2013

A building firm and one of its directors have been convicted in Liverpool Crown Court over allegations that they failed to uphold health and safety legislation, with the consequence of the death of an employee.

Peter Halligan worked for Galt Civil Engineering Ltd (“Galt”) as a labourer. On 11 August 2008 he was assigned to install brick manhole chambers above a circular tank at Sutton Hall Farm, along with another employee. This involved Mr Halligan and his colleague working over exposed openings in the tank. On 14 August 2008 Mr Halligan and his colleague had been working on the manhole covers when his colleague went to collect a saw. However, when he returned to the work site Mr Halligan had disappeared; his body was later found at the bottom of the storage tank. The incident was reported to the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) and an investigation was undertaken into the manner of the accident and Mr Halligan’s death. This investigation subsequently recommended that a criminal prosecution be undertaken against Galt and its sole director, Mr Peter Stuart.

The case came to the Liverpool Crown Court on 8 April 2013. The Crown Court heard that Mr Halligan and his colleague had been required to work on the site without proper training or information, that no advice was given on how to work safely above a storage tank, and that no risk assessment was undertaken prior to the commencement of the work. The Court also heard that necessary health and safety equipment (such as a harness or a guard rail) hadn’t been installed and that Mr Stuart had visited the site the day before the incident, witnessing the employees working in such a condition, but had taken no action to remedy this. The Crown Court found both Galt and Mr Stuart guilty of a breach of s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 after they both pleaded guilty. Galt was fined £50 and ordered to pay costs of £24,974 whereas Mr Stuart was not obliged to pay costs but was fined £30,000.

Under s.2(1) of the Health and Safety At Work etc. Act 1974 employers must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees.

Chris Hadrill, employment solicitor at Redmans, commented that “this case shows the risks for both employers and employees of a failure to comply with proper health and safety standards in the workplace. Mr Stuart and Galt Civil Engineering Ltd’s failure to provide proper equipment and undertake a risk assessment to identify hazard resulted in an employee’s death, which is a manifest tragedy. Further, Mr Stuart and Galt have paid the price with a criminal record, heavy fines and a hefty costs order”.

The Health and Safety Executive commented that “Peter Halligan sadly lost his life because his employer didn’t give any thought to his safety as he worked above a 15-metre deep tank. There were several ways the work could have been carried out safely, such as using a harness, installing a guardrail around the opening, or providing temporary covers. However, Galt Civil Engineering and Peter Stuart chose none of these.”

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