The lessons of the Barrow LD outbreak

Greg Davies
The lessons of Barrow — Greg Davies.
An expert witness in the recent re-trial of Gillian Beckingham, GREG DAVIS, considers the lessons needing to be learnt from this landmark case.Barrow-in-Furness council architect Gillian Beckingham was unanimously acquitted of the manslaughter of seven people after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in 2002. However, both she and the council were found guilty of breaching the Health & Safety at Work Act etc.1974. The council was fined £125 000 and ordered to pay costs of £90 000. Ms Beckingham was fined £15 000. Adding further weight to the penalties imposed, the judge commented that a commercial organisation acting as negligently as the council would have been fined at least £1 000 000. With 20 year’s expertise in management of water systems and legionella control, EMS was recommended as an expert witness by the BIFM (British Institute of Facilities Management). Greg Davies of EMS, a microbiologist with over 17 years’ experience in workplace health safety and environmental issues commented on the verdict. He explains, ‘There are lessons to be learnt from this case which have clear implications not just for middle management, but director and board level too. What comes across strongly is the need for top-level commitment for clear and relevant management systems, coupled with effective training. He explains that here was a combination of events over a number of years that ultimately led to the outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease at Forum 28 in Barrow. The five most significant amongst these were: • the failure to formally nominate an individual whose role should have been to co-ordinate and control the council’s management of risk systems; • the long-term failure to risk assess the water services under the council’s control; • failure to provide and document a comprehensive written scheme for the management of these services; • the lack of formal training provided; • inconsistent performance and management of third-party contractors. Greg Davies comments, ‘The priority given to health and safety by UK organisations varies considerably. Most, including Barrow Borough Council, have formal policies in place. All too often though, these are not backed up by procedures and control. One of the key messages from these events is active commitment and review. This turns the well intentioned words of a policy into effective and demonstrable action. ‘Everyone should consider the corporate and individual liability for manslaughter and the risk to reputation associated with negligence and failures in duty of care. Only those directors, board members and senior managers who actually know and discuss health and safety (as well as their other financial and business risks) on a regular basis, can be sitting comfortably. Indeed that is what the Turnbull report clearly states. Those not doing so should be taking a good hard look at their organisation and the processes they have in place, or more importantly, do not have.’ EMS is at 26 Redkiln Way, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 5QH.
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