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Monday, 23 May 2016

Thanet's "Criminal" Council Faces Health and Safety Prosecution


How unlucky can you get? Within a week of  being feted  by the Local Government Association for improving the way its  run, Thanet Council is now on the way to becoming a common criminal!  According to an announcement on its website TDC is now facing  a criminal prosecution for breaking the Health & Safety at Work Act by causing 20 or so of its  staff to contract Vibration White Finger.  The  police have also been handed a report which  alleges  that some former senior TDC officers may have defrauded  the EU of  £165,000 (see my previous post)  and, my sources tell me, a further payment  of several £100,000 is being made to the live animal exporters  in compensation for TDC’s illegal  banning of  their trade, bringing the total compensation bill toover £6million.   Where else in the world of local government is there  a council so incompetently managed and as criminally reckless as TDC?  Forget the previous descriptions of TDC as toxic and dysfunctional -  that was being polite! -  TDC now surely deserves its  new epithet  of Thanet’s “Criminal” Council.

But returning to the news of the Health and Safety White Finger prosecution,   I have  previously posted  several articles on this blog about the background to this - here  http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/thanet-council-white-finger-scandal-to.html
here http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/thanet-council-white-finger-scandal.html
here http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/vibration-white-finger-scandal-thanet.html 
and here http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/thanet-council-two-fingers-to-white.html

To recap. Incidents of Vibration White Finger,  a debilitatingly  painful and potentially career ending, industrial injury began to surface amongst TDCs  grounds maintenance workforce in 2014.  White Finger is a condition which develops following prolonged over-exposure/ use of vibrating equipment such as road breaking drills,  hedge trimmers, lawn mowers, brush cutters, chain saws etc. So dangerous is this condition that the Government introduced the Control of Vibration  at Work
Regulations 2005 which place a legal duty on employers to carry out risk assessments to identify and take all practical steps to minimise any vibration related  risks to staff. The regulations also set vibration exposure levels for staff  which employers are required to monitor. These legal requirements are not one off actions, but an ongoing responsibility of the employer, especially in organisations where the use of vibrating equipment is common, such as TDCs ground maintenance and the cemeteries. If these regulations are followed then no member of staff should ever contract White Finger and face the ruin of their health and the ending of their working life.

So what happened? Well it would appear that TDC may not have properly complied with the 2005 Regulations  and the Health and Safety at Work  Act including the possibilities that it failed to carry out vibration  risk assessments; failed to  monitor staff exposure to vibration; failed to  train staff on the dangers of working with vibrating equipment and how reduce risk; failed to properly maintain, repair or replace vibrating equipment and provide suitable safety equipment. Decisions made by TDC’s Governance and Audit Committee in early 2015 including the upward revision of the Corporate Risk Register’s (CRR) Health and Safety risk factor from low to high  and the decision to remove the control of the CRR from service Directors and hand this responsibility over  to the East Kent Audit Partnership also suggest the possibility that health safety records relating to vibration at work  (and possibly other issues too) might have been falsified by Council officers.

But, speculation aside, its clear that something, possibly many things, have gone badly wrong because why else should somewhere in the region of 20  members of staff contract a serious work related condition which , if  the proper precautions were being  followed, should have been totally avoidable. Well we should get the answers soon enough. The Health and Safety Executive has conducted an 18 month long investigation into this matter and TDC also commissioned an external Health and Safety expert to investigate as well. The findings of these investigations should be  revealed during the forthcoming prosecution of TDC. One interesting point in this respect  is TDCs website  statement about the prosecution which says that  The council is alleged to have contravened the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 between 2005 and 2014”. This is an astonishing statement which suggests that TDC may have been flouting Health and Safety laws and regulations for 9 years!  Why wasn’t this spotted sooner ? What checks and audits were being carried out on those well paid managers (many of whom have now left the employ of TDC)  who were supposed to be implementing the safety checks and protecting the health of their staff.  9 years of  harming the health of your staff paints a picture of an organisation which is corporately negligent  at the highest levels – councillor  and officer.

Which brings me to next point. Health and Safety law allows not  only for the prosecution  of the employer e.g TDC, but any individual managers  who through their acts or omissions have caused death, injury or ill-health of their staff. I sincerely hope that if the HSE finds any individual culpability those responsible are hauled before the court and forced to account for and be punished for, any illegal actions they may have committed.

Last but not least, when setting its budget for 2016-17 Thanet Council was mindful that its serial criminal actions with regard to live animal exports and white finger were likely to cost it dearly. Knowing that these costs would be uninsurable it was decided to re-allocate £1.6 million of its reserves to cover any payments relating to legal action. Not that I’m an expert but I simply don’t believe that  £1.6 million is anywhere near enough to cover the legal fees, fines and compensation related to the white finger scandal, let alone any outstanding live exports compensation. It also worth noting that under new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, which came into this force this year, TDC can, depending  on the severity of the case, face an unlimited fine. By anyone’s standards failing to protect the health of up to 20 staff over  a 9 year period, is pretty serious – so   I doubt that the fine will be of the 50 quid order.

But lets not forget  – Thanet “Criminal” Council’s corporate  incompetence and  mismanagement and the actions of some its officers may be utterly astounding –  but these actions have caused very serious pain and misery for 20 or so members of staff who have been  badly let down. I hope that the prosecution gets  them justice and exposes those who have badly fucked up their health when they should have actually been looking after it.  

3 comments:

  1. Homer has this White FInger Scandal and the Port fraud on her watch. The report doesn't allege fraud Ian it says TDC were fruadulent and produced the TDC memo confirming they'd just cover up the fraud - presumably that was Macgonigal?

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  2. Fines don't work for the public sector: as with TDC they just allocate it to next year's tax (and increase tax) and carry on as before. Jail works.

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  3. So TDC knew back in 2014 there was a health problem? Or before that?

    What has changed since then?

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