Many people will have seen the recent news about the outcome of the Greenfeeds health and safety prosecutions after two workers died in a pig feed tanker. Several different prosecutions were brought against both the organisation and certain individuals (two directors and one employee), resulting in a £2 million fine and a 13-year prison sentence for one of the directors. Whilst the case involved a food waste company, there are number of lessons for other types of organisations – including charities – which are particularly vulnerable to health and safety risks.

  1. Complaints and concerns should be seen as a warning sign, allowing charity leaders to address emerging issues before they turn into a crisis. The corporate manslaughter prosecution in the Greenfeeds case focused on the failings of management to respond to safety concerns raised by staff about dangerous practices on-site. Charity leaders should consider carefully how to maintain an open culture, in which concerns and complaints are encouraged, and keep in mind that beneficiaries, employees and members of the public engaging with the charity can provide a useful insight into the effectiveness of policies and procedures.

  2. Risks to employees (and those who come into contact with the charity) should be reviewed regularly, along with the measures taken to address those risks. Charities are often reliant on volunteers, who may have less experience than a paid employee, receive less training, and be less familiar with the working environment. This means that extra caution should be taken when assessing risks and implementing effective measures to mitigate them. It is important that there are clear and effective policies and procedures that set out measures to address all areas of risk and that leaders regularly review the extent to which those measures are effective and actually implemented on a day-to-day basis.

  3. Charity leaders should work to ensure that there is a positive approach towards health and safety and that health and safety is given the attention and resource required. Charities can sometimes have a culture of budgeting elsewhere to spend on their charitable objects, yet cost-cutting is often an aggravating factor in sentencing decisions, and in any case, reputational damage can seriously affect funding streams. Charity leaders can set the tone at the top and should ensure there is a strategy for regular and effective communication with executives about risk and how the charity is keeping people safe.

For more detail about the case, please see an ebriefing on the case by my colleagues Precious Mealia and Tim Coolican.