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#1 Posted : 09 November 2000 11:03:00(UTC)
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Posted By Huw Williams
Can anyone help clarify an argument I am having on the law in relation to staff committing suicide whilst at work. I am of the opinion that taking steps to prevent staff killing themselves in their workplace, is not normally within the employers duty of care, however you may have information to the contrary.

I don't mean counselling and management support I am specifically referring to fitting physical means to prevent people throwing themselves off stairs. The staircase already complies with legal standards eg. Building Regulations, Workplace HSW Regs, British Standards etc but senior manegement is considering fitting safety netting. This is a staff only staircase in an office building. Staff do experience reasonably high levels of stress but not in my opinion an extraordinary level. I am not aware of any previous suicide attempts........

What do you think??????



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#2 Posted : 09 November 2000 15:32:00(UTC)
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Posted By Paul Craythorne
Huw,

I have some experience of this in one of my former employments. An employee at our Scottish plant went missing for several hours one afternoon. His work colleagues and supervisors went in search of him because they were concerned after not seeing him for a while.

He was found drowned in a hot well tank (used in the system for the cooling of process water). The police and HSE investigated the incident as per norm and the outcome was that he had committed suicide.

There were very serious personal reasons for this which I obviously cannot discuss but the company was cleared of any blame and responsibility under H&S law.

My personal opinion on the matter is that if the company has taken all reasonable measures to ensure that they have removed or reduced the risk of injury (including fatality) arising out of activities connected with their undertaking, then they would not be found guilty under H&S law if someone deliberately took their own life.

However, when looking at H&S risk, serious consideration should be given to the management of work related stress. If the company did not consider this, or if they knew that an employee was in a stressed condition and did nothing about it, then they may be open to a challenge under the management regs for not carrying out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and employing the appropriate corrective action.

It is a little bit grey and would probably require a test case to solve it.

I would guess, judging by your comments, that you are aware of employee stress at work
and therefore you should put in place a management policy to deal with this issue.

I hope that this information is of some use to you.

Regards,

Paul
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#3 Posted : 09 November 2000 16:59:00(UTC)
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Posted By Mark Preston
I too have some experience (on the enforcement side) though I don't think I've any lessons for you from the case I investigated. However, at the time I gave quite a lot of thought to employer liability and employees' suicide and I've a few observations. It looks like you're in local government (like me)- chances are you have a lot of stairwells, car parks, accessible parapets etc. from which people with a mind could throw themselves - will your managers be similarly netting or otherwise protecting these? So what's special about this staircase? Apparently the staff that use it. Do your managers want to send the message to staff that of all the people who use council buildings in Newport, the ones that use this staircase are considered a special suicide risk?
I'd echo some of Paul Craythorne's comments about stress - but it's worth pointing out to your managers that arresting the fall of someone after they have jumped would not be considered an appropriate tertiary stress management strategy (though it may have some merit as an engineering control to prevent injuries to staff at ground level.
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