Sentencing guidelines: how accidents assessed ‘crucial’ to understanding culpability
High culpability for accidents can result despite training and risk assessment of hazards, consultant John Southall warned the audience at the Safety and Health Expo (SHE) 2017.
Southall said if you document numerous incidents, and constantly assess the risk of hazards, but incidents keep occurring, it increases a company’s risk of high culpability – and the subsequent size of a fine a business could receive.
“If you look at the sentencing guidelines, and the issue of culpability, it is about how you document harm. If you are aware of a hazard, and then have multiple incidents, and have still done all the training, and then still have another accident – that is the definition of high culpability.” He said.
Ex-enforcement officer turned health and safety advisor, John Southall, was speaking at SHE as part of his seminar talk on accident investigations.
He said it was important for businesses to realise it was ‘less about the individuals involved in the incident, and more about the process’, and it was ‘sad’ that massive fines since the change in sentencing guidelines were having a bigger impact than several decades-worth of legislation.
He said it was ‘really important’ that internal discussions happened and that it was crucial to avoid blame.
“Everyone is talking about behavioural safety, but for some directors that is really hard, yet there needs to be an open conversation.
“Without removing the blame culture you won’t be able to improve as a company.”
Southall then used the infamous Einstein quote to illustrate that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.
During his talk, Southall also said the Health and Safety Executive will come to an incident knowing there has been a negative outcome on an individual, regardless of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ maxim.
He said it was important to use the terminology ‘incident’ rather than accident, as there is ‘always someone to blame’.
He said: “A small child knocking over a cup – that is an accident. But if you look at the terminology the police now use – it is no longer a road traffic accident, it is a road traffic incident.”
He said there were a number of issues that it was worth thinking about following an incident: the ‘knowledge piece’ to the press, suppliers and customers; the root cause, and finding out what happened and why; and communicating with the business in order to avoid such incidents happening again.
He also took the seminar audience through the whole cycle of investigation journey: applying first aid and individuals’ wellbeing; making an area safe; gathering information – physical, verbal and documentary; and collecting people’s versions of events.
He said it was crucial to collect information at the earliest possible opportunity, as over time documents may go missing and people’s recollection of the events may change.
“You will have to demonstrate in a linear fashion the process that should have been used.” He said.
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