A Hampshire businessman, who was disqualified from being a company director, was jailed for serious fraud and safety offences. A second businessman was given a suspended prison sentence for similar offences. The two were sentenced at Winchester Crown Court following joint proceedings brought by BIS (the Department for Business Innovation and Skills) and the HSE. The safety offence related to the tragic death of a 40 year-old Southampton worker in September 2010.
Paul O’Boyle, 56, of Andover, was jailed for a total of 26 months; 16 months for a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; ten months for a breach of the Fraud Act 2006; and a total of eight months concurrent for four breaches of Section 13 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. He was also disqualified from being a company director for the maximum of 15 years.
Russell Lee, 67, of Southampton, was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years after admitting the same breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and a concurrent six months, also suspended, after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting O’Boyle in his disqualification. Lee was also disqualified as a director, for seven years, ordered to pay £8,000 toward prosecution costs and given 150 hours’ community service.
The safety offences related to their running of Alton-based Aztech BA Ltd and the death of a worker who was crushed and killed by a two-tonne metal sand-moulding box that fell from the lifting chains of a crane he was using to manoeuvre it.
The court was told Paul O’Boyle had been disqualified from acting as a company director for 12 years in 2006 but continued to act in that capacity at a number of foundry companies, including Aztech(BA) Ltd, which operated from premises at Lasham, Hampshire.
The offences came to light following the fatal incident at the now-insolvent company, Aztech, when a worker was crushed beneath a heavy sandbox; colleagues scrambled to free him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
HSE investigated the death and identified serious concerns with the systems of work in place at the time, and with the lifting equipment. HSE found that the crane at the centre of the incident had not been checked and tested as the law requires, and there were inadequate provisions in place covering competency, supervision or training. The court heard the incident could have been prevented had the system of work been reviewed and properly assessed.
HSE inspectors also identified problems with lead exposure at the company. Substances containing lead were used elsewhere at the site as part of a separate bronze moulding process, but the control and health surveillance measures were insufficient – meaning workers were being exposed to potentially harmful levels of lead without realising it.
Aztech BA Ltd was also sentenced for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, after a guilty plea was submitted on behalf of the insolvent firm by its administrators. The court imposed a fine of £100,000 and the Judge said that Paul O’Boyle had behaved in a ‘disgraceful’ way and had been culpable of ‘extremely shoddy business practice’.
The HSE have commented that the safety standards at Aztech BA Ltd fell well short of those required, as Paul O’Boyle and Russell Lee were only too aware. They knew improvements were needed to protect workers and they had clear responsibilities as senior management to ensure the necessary changes were implemented.
Deputy Chief Investigation Officer Liam Mannall, from BIS, said: “Individuals are disqualified from being company directors for good reason, usually because of conduct which shows them to be unfit to operate a business. This case shows the tragic consequences of Mr O’Boyle ignoring his disqualification.”