Poundstretcher, Whistleblowers and a warning for all employers
High street retailer Poundstretcher has been handed a £1,000.000 fine for health and safety failings recently – but we can all learn something from the case. The firm was found guilty of 24 counts of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in three of their stores.
Among the many issues identified by HSE inspectors were blocked fire exits and stock that had been stored dangerously. Similar failings were discovered across the Swindon, Newbury and Newhaven stores.
Whether your business operates in the retail sector or not, there are several important lessons to be learned from the Poundsaver case.
1. The buck stops with senior management
Although Poundstretcher pleaded guilty to the charges, their lawyers tried to argue that the failings were caused by managers at each of the stores. Concluding, Judge Hetherington stated, “it is part of higher management’s function to see to it that local management is in place and performing to a proper standard.”
Which means that senior management can – and will – be held accountable for avoidable failings by staff onsite.
2. Train your staff properly
HSE inspectors decided that all 24 breaches were more than likely caused by insufficient understanding of health and safety principles in Poundstretcher stores. Without adequate training, the local managers could not be held responsible for failings as senior management tried to claim.
Managers in every industry must have basic health and safety knowledge if they are to keep employees safe.
3. Don’t ignore your own policies
Ironically, Poundstretcher did have a number of policies in place designed to prevent incidents – but they were not applied. Poorly trained store staff did not know about these policies, so important safeguards were neglected.
Again, training and communication between head office and local stores could have prevented problems.
4. Listen to whistleblowers
The initial investigation into health and safety failings was triggered by a report from one of Poundstretcher’s employees. Whether the whistleblower attempted to raise concerns internally first is unknown – but it is highly likely that they were.
Every firm needs to empower employees to report issues internally – and to then investigate claims fully. Whistleblowers are an important reporting mechanism that can help to keep employees safe at work.
5. Courts take health and safety breaches very seriously
Poundstretcher was handed a massive £1 million fine, and a costs the order of £65,767.74 – more than £44,000 for each breach. These huge sums come after the 2016 change in sentencing guidelines which promised stiffer penalties for offenders.
Clearly, courts are using these guidelines to ensure the punishments handed down act as a suitable warning to other businesses engaged in dangerous or negligent working practices.
Lessons for everyone
The Poundstretcher case contains warnings for employees at every level of every business. But it also serves to highlight the inescapable responsibilities of senior management and the potential penalties for placing employees in danger.
For more help and advice about raising the standard in your business (and avoiding court), please get in touch.