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Helath & Safety Matters: Daniel makes legal history

Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the HVCA, reports on how a piece of legal history should make building services employers sit up and take notice
LEGAL experts are likely to remember the name Daniel Dennis for many years to come. The sad story of how this 17-year-old lost his life on a building site in 2003 has become the subject of an unprecedented legal challenge and led to the High Court ordering the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to review its approach to investigating workplace deaths.

Although the jury at the original inquest took only 10 minutes to return a verdict of unlawful killing, the CPS told the bereaved family that no negligence or manslaughter charges could be brought against Daniel's employer. This was despite the fact that Daniel had been in his job for less than a week when he fell through a skylight, had been given no training and should not have been working at height.

The GMB union helped the family to challenge the original decision through a judicial review and it is only the second time in history that the CPS has been taken to court over a workplace death case. The High Court ruled the CPS should look again at the evidence and review its understanding of health and safety law.

'It is seriously arguable that a different decision might be made once a full account is taken of these matters,' said Lord Justice Waller.

Daniel's family is understandably jubilant that the CPS has been ordered to reconsider its first verdict, especially as it initially referred to the jury's unlawful killing verdict as 'perverse'.

The legalities might seem complex and the judicial system tortuous and protracted but the implications for workers and employers in our sector are straightforward. Every possible care must be taken to ensure site workers are trained and competent before they are assigned to any potentially hazardous task. They must be made fully aware of the task to be carried out and have all the necessary safety equipment. This subject becomes even more important when trainees or inexperienced recruits are concerned.

The proposed corporate manslaughter laws remain embroiled in the Parliamentary process but they will be with us soon enough, putting further pressure on employers to ensure they are complying when it comes to worker health and safety.

This case and its legal precedent should serve to remind workers and employers of their responsibilities with regard to health and safety and the fact that an ever more robust legal system exists to keep them on their toes.


For more information contact Bob Towse on 020 7313 4928 (btowse@hvca.org.uk)
1 February 2007

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