A man was jailed for four years this week for manslaughter by gross negligence after a worker was crushed to death in East London.
Following a trial Han Rao, 34, of Naomi Street, Lewisham, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of manslaughter by gross negligence and breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. His company TLW (UK) Ltd was also found to be in breach of the Act.
Worker Marian Iancu, 39, was crushed between a glass and metal panel weighing hundreds of kilos and a forklift truck four years ago. Despite the efforts of colleagues to save him, he suffered internal injuries and died on the scene.
But as Rao was sentenced on Tuesday (4 February), campaigners asked why there haven’t been more cases and convictions of negligent employers, as was predicted when the law was changed over a decade ago in November 2008.
“Sadly manslaughter prosecutions of employers who kill are rare and convictions at trial even rarer,” said a spokesperson for Waltham Forest Trades Council, a Trades Union Council body that covers Leyton, where Mr Iancu lived.
“This is despite the fact that when manslaughter laws were reviewed and a new corporate manslaughter law was put in place in 2008 it was estimated there would be a large increase in cases brought to trial and this has not manifested.
“There is also the anomaly in law which is yet to be corrected where directors on the board, typically of larger companies, escape this type of prosecution if there is no evidence of a direct link from their actions or inaction to the incident at the workplace and where roles and relationships can become complex and easier to hide behind – and all of this despite their obvious connection.
“Mr Rao is going to jail because TLW is a small business and identifying him as responsible was far easier than in much larger businesses. We need a legal system, which acts as a deterrent for all organisations.”
Rao was the sole director and shareholder of TLW, in Renwick Road, Barking, which was a small business providing industrial warehousing services for construction companies.
Waltham Forest Trades Council added: “We also need a fully funded enforcement body, which is able to prevent the deaths of workers like Mr Iancu.
“Mr Iancu’s family and friends must be devastated… and although a prison sentence has been handed down they will probably not feel that justice is served with four years for this preventable death.
“It would be far better if the legal and enforcement systems, which are meant to act as a deterrent and prevent such incidents, were up to the job – and this must change.”
On 16 November 2015 Iancu was asked to break up a number of damaged skyscraper glazing panels at TLW. He and his colleagues were tipping the panels, each weighing several hundred kilos, into a skip before smashing them up by hand. As Iancu manoeuvred one panel into a position with a forklift truck it toppled forward, crushing him against the truck causing internal injuries – broken ribs, bruising and damage to his heart, liver and spleen – that led his death.
A joint investigation by the police and Barking and Dagenham Council found Rao had no health and safety policies in place, had not provided any employee training and left them to carry out the work without supervision.
On the day of the incident an employee of a construction company visited the site and saw Iancu and colleague working, and warned them that what they were doing was not safe. But they told him they had been asked to carry out the work by their boss.
The construction employee then went to the office and told Rao they should not be working alone, without supervision or protective equipment.
Rao then went to speak to the employees but instead of telling them to stop, he told them to be careful and wear gloves.
Detective constable Andy Jose led the investigation, and said: "Rao was woefully unqualified as a manager. Not only did he have no knowledge or experience of his duties, he had not taken any steps to find out what he was required to do in terms of health and safety.
"He had also been made aware that this was a dangerous task but had not done anything to mitigate the risks. In fact, he ignored all of the warning signs put to him, signs which could have prevented Marian’s needless death had he acted upon them.
"He has continually failed to admit any responsibility and in doing so put through put Marian’s distraught family through the pain of a trial. We would like to pay tribute to them for the way they have conducted themselves throughout this difficult period."
Barking and Dagenham Council released the following statement: “This case was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service but jointly investigated by Barking and Dagenham Council’s enforcement Health and Safety team backed by advice from its Legal Practice.
“In Barking and Dagenham there is no place for companies who do not play by the rules and whose actions may place their employees or contractors at risk. We will take action or support other agencies that do in bringing them to justice.”