HSE safety warning following Alcon prosecution

Thursday, 4th Sep '08 at 10:17

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned all employers to ensure they protect their workers’ lives after the jailing of a company director for manslaughter.

Sharaz Butt, the director of Alcon Construction Ltd of Norwich, was sentenced to 12 months jail in Norwich Crown Court yesterday after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of Wu Zhu Weng. He also received a five-year disqualification from acting as a company director after pleading guilty to breaching section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc 1974 Act.

Mr Butt was prosecuted by Norfolk police, with assistance from the HSE, over the incident on 31st January 2008. Mr Weng was working for Alcon Construction on the refurbishment of a building on Trowse, Norwich, when he fell 12 feet through a skylight, suffering fatal injuries.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Peter Jacobs said Mr Butt had shown a “cynical disregard” for his workers, including Mr Weng, by employing them illegally and failing to ensure their safety.

HSE Inspector Peter Nickerson said:

"The sentence handed down by the judge reflects the seriousness of the offence committed by Mr Butt.  As company director, he was responsible for the health and safety of all his workers, and he failed to fulfil this responsibility.

"Mr Weng’s tragic death could have been prevented had his employer followed basic health and safety procedures. The skylight Mr Weng was working near had had not been properly covered and was a dangerous place to work.

"Mr Butt had also failed to prepare a method statement and risk assessment for the work he expected his staff to do, did not provide appropriate access and egress, and did not ensure that his staff received the necessary training to carry out the work.

"All employers have a duty to protect the safety of their workers. The construction industry in particular has one of the highest rates of fatalities in Britain, and HSE will not hesitate to prosecute those who put the lives of their employees at risk in this way."

  1. Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “Where an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate or a person who purporting to act in such a capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”
  2. The maximum penalty for a breach of the Act in the higher court is an unlimited fine.
  3. HSE also brought a prosecution against Alcon Construction Ltd under section 2 of the HSWA, which states: It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.” Alcon Construction was given a nominal fine of £10. IN his sentencing remarks the judge made clear the fine would have been tens of thousands of pounds had the company been in a position to pay such an amount.
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