Understanding culpability

Published: 5 Sep 2017

“If you are aware of a hazard, and then have multiple incidents...” says John Southall, ex-enforcement officer turned health and safety advisor “… yet have done all the training and then still have another accident – that is the definition of high culpability”.

Speaking at the Safety and Health Expo 2017, Southall said that if you document numerous incidents, and constantly assess the risk of hazards, but incidents keep occurring, it increases a company’s risk of high culpability – and the subsequent size of a fine a business could receive.

“If you look at the sentencing guidelines, and the issue of culpability, it is about how you document harm”, he says, referring to the levels of culpability in the guidelines ranging from ‘very high’, which involves a deliberate breach or flagrant disregard for the law, to a ‘low’ level of culpability when significant efforts were made to address the risk.

Southall also took the seminar audience through the whole cycle of the investigation journey;

  • Applying first aid and individuals’ wellbeing,
  • Making an area safe,
  • Gathering information – physical, verbal, and documentary,
  • Collecting people’s versions of events.

“You will have to demonstrate in a linear fashion the process that should have been used” said Southall, in relation to how crucial it was to collect information at the earliest possible opportunity. Over time documents may go missing and people’s recollection of the events may change.