If you’re a business owner or employer, ignore your duty of care at your peril!
It may seem that I’m taking to my pulpit again, but the importance of health and safety – especially with regard to violence at work – cannot be underestimated. Two recent cases illustrate this all too well (one of which is directly related to the issue of work-related violence.)
The first case involved a claim by a former Ladbrokes employee against his former employers at an employment tribunal, on the grounds that he had been unfairly dismissed due to ‘whistle-blowing’ over the company’s practice known as ‘single-manning.’ This practice consisted of asking staff to work by themselves in betting shops, something more commonly known as ‘lone-working’. It transpired that this policy has put staff at considerable risk and has been previously criticised by employees, trade unions and even MPs. The claimant, Mr Bill Bennett, alleged that Ladbrokes used this practise as they wanted to place profit above safety.
(You can read more about this in this Daily Mail article here.)
It’s important to point out here that his claim against the company has been rejected by the tribunal judge. However, it transpired that Ladbrokes chief executive did admit that there were ‘serious systemic failures’ in the company’s systems covering health and safety (although he rejected the ‘profit’ argument.) They are now in the process of changing the policy.
It goes without saying that any member of staff working alone in an environment such as a betting shop is being exposed to a very high risk in terms of violence at work. Indeed, the article states that one member of staff had been raped in a shop when working on their own, whilst another had been tragically murdered. The likelihood of violent incidents against staff occurring in these environments is therefore extremely high.
Again, this certainly illustrates the duty of care employers have with regards to their employees. They need to have suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place and also appropriate policies and procedures that are compliant with health and safety legislation. Failure to do so will lead to serious consequences if there is a proven failure to comply with the employer’s duty of care obligation. This is especially so if that failure can be attributed to a deliberate act (or omission) with regards to not implementing control measures that would reduce any risks to an acceptable level on the grounds of cost. Anybody, therefore, who does put profit before safety when it comes to employees or others is therefore risking gross negligence in their actions.
This is certainly illustrated by the second recent case where it was proven that profit had been put before safety (and which you may well have heard of.) Although not related to violence at work, it certainly important to take notice of its implications from the point of view of health and safety. This is the tragic fatality caused by ‘peanut curry’, where a restaurant owner was convicted of manslaughter for supplying a curry made with peanut oil to a customer who suffered from a peanut allergy. During the case, it was put to the jury that the owner, Mr Zaman, has been reckless in his actions by sacrificing safety for the sake of profit. Apparently, Mr Zaman was is debt and used cheaper ingredients in the curry to cut costs, which included peanuts. The food was then supplied on the basis of being ‘nut-free.’
Mr Zaman was convicted by the jury of manslaughter by gross negligence and received a six-year custodial sentence (this case is actually seen as being one of the first of its type with regards to the food industry – you can read more about this case on the BBC website here.)
Although this relates to a different industry sector, the implications are clear. Employers cannot put profit above safety – and this includes having suitable and sufficient control measures to protect staff who may be at risk from work-related violence whatever the cost, especially if they are lone-workers. To do otherwise risks incurring a heavy, possibly custodial, sentence for business owners and managers alike.
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Are you a training or service provider in an industry where there is a risk of work-related violence occuring and where staff may have to use reasonable force as part of their front-line role? If so, then you may want to attend the forthcoming NFPS Use of Force Conference. You can find out more by clicking the banner below: