following a fatal accident
The individuals’ eventual acquittal is to be welcomed, however, it came four years after the accident during which they faced a criminal trial and the very real prospect of a jail sentence.
In 2014 a spectator at a cycle race in Wales was killed when a bike ran into her after it crashed off the track. The local council brought charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) against the British Cycling Foundation (BCF), the self-employed Event Manager and a Volunteer Marshal. The essence of their case was a lack of attention to detail in the planning and a failure to discharge a duty to ensure that spectators were separated from the hazard of cycles coming off the track.
BCF successfully defended themselves on the basis that they were not the sanctioning body but merely set the rules for the sport and that Welsh Cycling had actually supervised the race. The Event Manager’s defence was that he had submitted a risk assessment to Welsh Cycling who issued a permit for the race. There had never been an accident with a bike leaving the track at that point during previous events which is why the area was not taped off. The volunteer marshal escaped prosecution as the judge ordered that the prosecution had submitted insufficient evidence in his case.
Despite the acquittals, the case highlights some interesting issues not least the vulnerability of the event staff to prosecution where they are managing genuine risk to life. Most event managers understand that a company has a duty of care to those not in their employment e.g. visitors and spectators etc under s3(1) of HASAWA but it is less well understood that the duty extends to the self-employed (in place of an employer) under s3(2). All individuals, including unpaid volunteers have duties under s7 of HASAWA to take reasonable care of the health and safety of others. In health and safety a criminal case is not a ‘whodunnit’ with a single culprit caught with a smoking gun. As this case shows, action can be taken against individuals and companies at all levels for the same accident. Hiring a professional event manager does not in itself protect an organisation from prosecution even if that event manager is prosecuted. Whether or not this case involved a civil law suit is not in the public domain but it should be clear that merely requiring event companies and the self-employed to hold insurances is no protection against a criminal prosecution.
Despite its acquittal in this instance, an association such as the BCF is vulnerable to prosecution even though it was not actually running the event. There is a need to ensure that accountability for health and safety at all level is understood especially when the event is the product of a number of different agencies. Event venues, for example, do not normally own the events run in them but they do set the rules for safety in many cases so are not entirely immune to scrutiny from the authorities in the event of a serious accident.
Any event, at the end of the day, is just a concept and after the event there is usually no physical evidence of it having taken place. Proof that suitable arrangements were in place therefore almost always comes down to documentation in the event safety file. This case highlights the need for a risk assessment not only to ensure that the right arrangements are present in the first place but also as proof of safety planning. It appears that the risk assessment in this case literally spared the event manager from a possible jail sentence.
The case does not set any new precedents (and will not do so unless the prosecution appeals which is unlikely) and in some ways is just an example of the level of responsibility taken on by event managers when running events, especially where the public are involved. The individuals’ eventual acquittal is to be welcomed, however, it came four years after the accident during which they faced a criminal trial and the very real prospect of a jail sentence.