My understanding is that the HSE will, following an extensive investigation, almost certainly be prosecuting TDC for breaching safety laws and damaging the health of a large group of its workers to whom it owes a legal duty of care. I am led to believe that the prosecution will take place later this year. Any prosecution which takes place after 1 February 2016 will be conducted under new sentencing guidelines.
The new sentencing guidelines are very tough, and so they should be if employers through their actions or omissions, harm the health of their workers. For the worst breaches of safety laws employers who recklessly and knowingly breach health and safety laws causing the death of staff or members the public now face an unlimited fine. Clearly Thanet does not fall into this category. However, it is likely that evidence may have been discovered which demonstrates that TDC had ignored safety laws and may have even falsified safety monitoring records. These reckless actions, if proved to be true, have led to a large number of staff contracting HAVS. Under the new sentencing guidelines this means that TDC could face a very large fine, perhaps up to £1 million or more. When adding in the legal costs of defending a case as complex as this the final bill could easily reach £1.5 million, bringing the total bill for the HAVs scandal to somewhere in the region of £4 million. That’s an astonishing £29 for every man, women and child living in Thanet. Also bear in mind that Thanet Council’s insurance policies are unlikely to cover a penny of £4 million costs because it’s likely that a court will decide that HAVs were caused by the unlawful actions of TDC and unlawful actions are never covered by insurance policies.
The other issue which interests me is that the HSE can, and often does, prosecute managers (serving or former) where there is evidence of individual culpability in breaking safety laws and causing death or injury to staff. Not that I am aware that such evidence has been uncovered by the HSE in relation to this incident. However working on the hypothetical assumption that managers knowingly and recklessly breached health and safety laws causing 20 plus staff to contract “a progressive, permanent or irreversible condition” then those individual managers could face between 6 months to 2 years imprisonment and/ or an unlimited fine.
Clearly what I have written here is speculation on my part, but what I do know and what I have written about previously, is that the HAVs scandal at Thanet Council is not a small, insignificant incident, but something much more serious and widespread, with significant health implications for the 20 plus staff affected. If there have been any failings, if there has been any wrongdoing then the council and those individuals responsible must be held to account and prosecuted, rather than covered up and protected as is normally the case at Thanet Council.