For over 45 minutes the court listened in silence as the barrister for the Health and Safety Executive described the events which led up to this criminal prosecution. Seldom have I heard such a catalogue of incompetence, maladministration and dereliction of duty. Headed by £90,000 a year Director of Operations, Mark Seed, who left TDC on the grounds of ill-health, a few weeks after the HAVs situation became known, the barrister recounted how a chaotic and dysfunctional management team totally ignored the safety and welfare of the staff is was supposed to protect. He listed example after example of shameful and unacceptable actions by management, which a more reminiscent of a 19th century Dickensian workhouse than a, supposedly modern, 21st century council including
- No staff training on the dangers of HAVs and how to reduce risk over an 8 year period.
- No council safety polices on HAVs and risk reduction
- Grounds maintenance managers had little or no training on how to conduct HAVs risk assessments and developing HAVs risk reduction strategies
- HAVs risk assessment documents produced by East Kent Human Resources were totally inadequate and not fit for purpose
- No HAVs risk assessments carried out in 8 years
- No health screening of staff at risk of contracting HAVs
- Health and Safety Audit warnings in 2012, 2013 & 2014 which identified the lack of HAVs risk assessments were ignored and not acted upon by Director Mark Seed and not onward reported to elected councillors on the Council’s Governance and Audit Committee.
- Staff required to use vibrating equipment for up to 7 hours a day 5 days per week over prolonged periods of time without a break or rotation of duties. This resulted in staff being significantly over exposed to dangerous levels of vibration.
- Departmental and Council Health and Safety committees which were chaired by Mark Seed never discussed HAVs even though vibrating equipment was extensively and frequently used by grounds maintenance staff.
- Purchasing of new grounds maintenance failed to identify the need to procure low vibration models.
Considering that the HSE produced extensive and overwhelming evidence of culpability and harm and that the failure of the Council had been a prolonged and deep-seated failure I was disappointed that TDC was only fined £250,000 plus costs of £18,000. TDC managed to avoid a much higher fine, by pleading mitigation on the grounds of having a reduced budget and depleted cash reserves. Which is a bit rich considering that just the day before the court case Council Leader Chris Wells had said on BBC Radio Kent that he was happy with the council’s budget and reserves situation. But whilst the fine is an important part of justice being seen to be done, it’s the damages payments which will be made to the staff that really matter. I sincerely hope that these payments will be fair and proper compensation for the devastating impact that HAVs will have on all aspects of their lives .
Although now over, the court case has raised some important questions. Why did the trade unions appear to have failed to raise the issues of HAVs exposure and the lack of HAVs risk assessments with management through the council’s safety committee structure before the injuries were detected in staff? Why did the council’s internal audit team fail to detect persistent non-compliance with the HAVs risk assessment requirements until it was too late. Why were democratically elected councillors on the governance and Audit Committee persistently mislead by officers (including Mark Seed) about the lack of HAVs safety assessment and training and constantly told that Health and Safety was a low corporate risk, until it was too late?
The biggest question is why the HSE decided not to take out a criminal prosecution against former Director Mark Seed. Comments made in court yesterday, including a statement by TDCs Barrister suggest that his actions and inactions contributed towards this terrible tragedy. Perhaps the HSE felt that that Seeds actions or lack of action were not of a level which would have led to his conviction. Either way Mark Seed has shown no contrition for his role in this sorry state od affairs. His Linkedin page of today (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/mark-seed-803032b6) says that he was responsible for “managing council wide health and safety as chair of council health and safety committee”. Perhaps he should change it to say say that his performance in carrying these safety duties has been criticized by barristers at Canterbury Crown Court and that he may have played a contributory role in the contraction of HAVs by 15 members staff. Perhaps he should also sorry.
What happened to TDCs grounds maintenance staff is, despite an unreserved apology from the council, totally unacceptable and unforgivable. Sadly I fear that the managerial dysfunctionality and incompetence described by the barrister is not confined to the grounds maintenance department who were plain unlucky for being out. Consider the spectacular fiasco that is the Margate Dreamland project, consider the illegal actions of the Council over the live animal exports ban and the incompetent management of the Ramsgate Pleasurama project. All of these issues point to a council which endemically dysfunctional and mis-managed at the hifghest of levels. A shake-up is required along with some long overdue departures
If any of the HAVs victims want to contact me I would very much like to talk to you about your experiences and perhaps publish your stories on this blogsite. This will be done in the strictest of confidence and fully protecting your identities. My contact details are at the top of this page.