Following the death of licensee Paul Lee in 2007, Enterprise Inns was fined £300,000 at Liverpool Crown Court two weeks ago for breaching Section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
The PMA Team spoke to chief operating officer Simon Townsend about the case's impact on Enterprise and its business practices.
Firstly, how did you react to the sentence handed down by Judge Gilmour?
Obviously we were very concerned when this incident occurred back in 2007. It was clearly a tragedy for the family of Mr Lee, and we were disappointed to find that our own processes and controls had fallen short, and that we had therefore failed in our duty of care to Mr Lee.
Right from the outset, we acknowledged where we were at fault, so that we could focus all our efforts on revising our processes to ensure that nothing like this could ever happen again. Having pleaded guilty to the offences at the earliest possible opportunity, we were in no doubt that a severe fine would be warranted, and were therefore not surprised at the outcome.
You'll have seen how some of Mr Lee's relatives have reacted. Have you been in touch with them since the hearing?
Other than a brief word as the hearing concluded, our only contact was prior to the hearing, when we sent a personal letter of apology to Mr Lee's family. We were unable, for legal reasons, to have contact with the family until very recently, but as soon as the original coroner's verdict in 2008 established the cause of Mr Lee's death, we were able to ensure that compensation was quickly received by the family.
Some people have called for Ted [Tuppen], or you, to resign over this. Why haven't you?
We felt, all along, that our primary responsibility was to go through every aspect of our Health and Safety activity with a fine-tooth comb and, working alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), take any necessary actions to ensure that an incident like this could never happen again. It was clearly acknowledged by the court that we have done exactly that.
The court heard that the lack of safety checks — as occurred in this case — was not an isolated incident, and that other properties for which Enterprise was responsible lacked the relevant certification. How could this have happened?
The offence for which we were sentenced was not that there was a lack of a health and safety-management system, nor that the company had been negligent in the provision of health and safety measures, but that the system in place in 2007 was insufficiently robust to prevent human failings and their consequences from arising, as occurred in this case.
The sentencing judge acknowledged that, notwithstanding this incident in 2007 and the warning we received in 2001, the company has a good track record in Health and Safety matters, and that there was no question of health and safety practices being compromised or avoided in the pursuit of profit.
As was made clear in court, in the majority of cases, maintenance and safety checks had either already been carried out, or were imminent, but safety certificates had not yet been issued. The lack of certification is completely unacceptable, and
had our existing rules and procedures been complied with in full, this accident would most likely have been avoided.
What have you done since this tragedy occurred, and can you be sure that nothing like this can ever happen again?
Very soon after the incident, we were quickly able to bring our systems and processes up to the necessary standard, thereby demonstrating that obligations under health and safety regulations were being discharged in full. This enabled us to ensure that it is no longer possible for anyone to occupy or enter into an agreement for one of our pubs without all of the company's Health and Safety responsibilities having been fully complied with.
Furthermore, our activity in this area does not stop where we simply don't have a legal responsibility. In 2008, we launched a major initiative to enable individual licensees to manage the vast majority of health and safety activities that are their responsibility. This service, which is provided by a specialist third party, provides a complete solution for health and safety management in-cluding gas and electrical testing and safety certification, in addition to fire alarm, emergency lighting, lifting equipment and fire extinguisher-testing and maintenance.
Almost half of all Enterprise licensees have signed up to the scheme, which also provides them with access to practical advice and an annual inspection and risk assessment regime that can include food safety, environmental management and even DDA compliance.
What more do you think needs to be done?
My advice to all, licensees and landlords alike, is to take a thorough and professional look at all your health and safety responsibilities. While much day-to-day safety management is a matter of common sense, there are clearly complex responsibilities that require careful understanding and application.
There is the potential for confusion over who is responsible for which elements, and it is critical that companies and individual licensees rely upon expert advice, rather than opinions or perceived wisdom.
As far as Enterprise is concerned, we will use the experience gained since this incident to help and advise anyone who has concerns in this area, and have already been contacted by a number of parties to whom we have offered our assistance. We will continue to work alongside, and at the request of, the HSE to help raise awareness and standards of statutory compliance throughout the industry.