Why is the Conviction Process so Long for Construction Worker Fatalities?

Why is the Conviction Process so Long for Construction Worker Fatalities?

14th June 2016

The new sentencing guidelines that came into force in February, 2016 have been a welcome development for those working in the construction industry here in the UK.  The guidelines direct the courts to take a step by step approach when considering the sentencing of offending organisations, first of all considering culpability followed by the seriousness of the harm risked and the likelihood of harm.  These guidelines have been designed to offer workers in the UK an extra level of protection when it comes to health and safety in the workplace.  Although our safety at work record in Britain is one of the best in the world, there is always room for improvement.  A fall from height is still the major cause of death in the workplace in the UK, a subject that is relevant to us here at Safety Fabrications as we manufacture safety ladders and access equipment for use by those who work at height.  Today we’re taking a look at the lengthy legal process involved when it comes to prosecution for the death of a construction worker in the UK and you may be rather shocked at some of the findings.

The latest government figures have revealed that it takes 1,267 days for somebody convicted of causing the death of a construction worker to be brought to justice via the British court system.  That’s almost three and a half years! 

With 70% of construction deaths occurring as a result of management failure (according to the Health and Safety Executive), it seems that the vast majority of prosecutions take an inordinate amount of time to process.  This can only add to the stress and heartache being experienced by the families of those who lose their lives in construction accidents. 

According to Brian Rye, Acting General Secretary of UCATT (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians), this is a disgrace.  He says that the conviction process should be quick and transparent, sparing families from the further stress of reliving the horror of losing a loved one.  He goes on to say that management failure needs to come under the spotlight in order to eradicate the problem and avoid further unnecessary fatalities. 

The Health and Safety Executive believes that 60% of all construction deaths should be prosecuted.  Conviction rates have fallen from 51% in 2007/8 to 35% in 2012/13 and a worrying 15% of cases did not reach the prosecution stage for 3 or 4 years after the incident.  ON average it takes 879 days before a prosecution begins – this is an unacceptable situation that needs to be addressed.  However, according to Justin Tomlinson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions the lengthy process is out of the control of the HSE as there are different agencies that get in the way during the discrete stages of any inquiry.

While the tougher sentencing guidelines will result in higher fines for offenders in many cases, they will not address the issue of the length of time it takes to secure a conviction.  Labour MP for Jarrow, Stephen Hepburn believes that this is “a case of British Institutions subjecting their own citizens to untold misery – and it’s just plain wrong”!  He goes on to call for reform in the lengthy process and what he calls the “secretive machinations of the government and the HSE”.