Comment – The scales of justice are imbalanced

The life of a roofer is worth 27 times that of a demolition worker.

That is surely the implication of a pair of recent fatal accident prosecutions: in the case of a roofer, the fine levied against the company involved was £135,000. In the case of the demolition worker, the fine was just £5,000.

I realise that such fines are linked to turnover and that there may well have been extenuating circumstances. But the optics clearly suggest that the life of a roofer is worth way more than that of a demolition worker.

We have previously reported the paltry fine levied against Brown and Mason over the death of a demolition worker at Longannet Power Station. But, just to recap.

Brown and Mason was hit with a £5,000 fine after an employee – Gary Robertson – fell to his death when a rusty pipe bridge platform collapsed.

A joint investigation by the Health & Safety Executive and the Police in Scotland found that the section of metal grating on the pipe bridge on which the deceased had been standing gave way under his weight, because it was so corroded. By failing to record the hazardous condition of the pipe bridge the company had failed to undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.

In particular, the risk assessment – which formed part of the final, revised method statement – did not address the severely corroded nature of the pipe bridge, despite it being previously highlighted and requested by the client, Scottish Power.

There were various machinations at Brown and Mason in the immediate aftermath of the accident, including a company name change. But the upshot was that the company received a fine of just £5,000 for the avoidable death of a worker.

Compare and contrast that with the £135,000 fine handed down to a pair of companies in Northern Ireland over the equally avoidable death of a roofer.

43-year old Raymond Morgan fell five metres through the roof of a disused factory on 28 May 2014. He died from his injuries the following day.

Demolition, site clearance and removal of asbestos materials was contracted to Leslie Wright and H Miskimmin Ltd.

The investigation found that Morgan and several other workers were on the roof stripping asbestos sheeting which, when removed, was lowered to the ground using a scissor lift. At approximately 12.15 pm, Morgan fell through the fragile asbestos roof unto a concrete floor.

Preventative measures were not in place to prevent any worker from either falling from or through the roof structure.
Both companies were sentenced at Belfast Crown Court on 7 July after earlier pleading guilty to breaches of health and safety legislation.

Demolition contractor Leslie Wright was fined a total of £90,000. Wright also received a nine-month custodial sentence, suspended for two years and was disqualified as a director for 10 years. Construction company H Miskimmin was fined £45,000.

The fact that it took more than eight years for this prosecution to be brought and concluded is, perhaps, a story for another day.

But how can a legal system be so skewed and so inconsistent that a site fatality is considered to be worth £135,000 in one instance and a meagre £5,000 in another?