THE COST OF A LIFE

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What is the cost of a human life? What is it worth to us?

The cost to create a life? 

In the UK, the NHS lists the average cost of a round of IVF (a treatment for couples or women who are struggling to get pregnant) at £5000, this cost is often tripled by the fact that many women actually require more than one round of IVF before having a successful pregnancy.  So, if we are talking around an £15,000 to become pregnant, what is the monetary value of that life once born?

Does it stay the same?  Does it grow with age as a person touches and engages with more people?

 

The law to protect a life 

Health and Safety law in the UK aims to protect our lives, by forcing us and our employees to adequately reduce the risk of injury or death by poor planning or unsuitable control measures.

The Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974 sets out for employers their duties with regards to protecting their staff from the risk of any type of harm which could occur as a result of going about their everyday roles and responsibilities.  The most powerful sentence in the legislation is Section 2 (1) which states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

The legislation goes onto give some guidance on the type of provisions which should be appropriate for most work tasks, so ensuring that the tasks are adequately controlled and planned to mitigate risks and are performed in an area which is suitable by people that are suitably trained, instructed and prepared.  This is as big or as small as it needs to be.  Whether it is a case of having a desk set up at the right height with the correct equipment, lighting, temperature and placed appropriately, to whether someone has the correct PPE, qualifications and equipment to complete a task safely.  As well as this, businesses need to make provisions to protect the health and safety of contractors, members of the public, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

 

The cost of failing

So, what about when employers fail to do this?  They do, frequently unfortunately, in figures released by the HSE, it was reported that 144 workers died as a result of a work-related task or accident in 2017/18, along with 100 members of the public.  A figure which is much reduced on previous years, judging by the figures shown below, however, is it enough?

HSE Fatalities Chart

Having spent plenty of time reading the reports of accidents at work, often fatal, and recently putting together a court report piece of just one months’ worth of cases which included two fatalities, I found myself wondering who puts the cost on someone’s head?

Now the three cases I had in front of me are below for your reference:

 

roderick maclean

On the 15th of March 2012, Shaun Geddes was running a diving trip for tourists and locals to find scallops, amongst the divers was Roderick MacLean, who dove from the boat on that day. His remains were found 8 months later. A court found that Geddes, of Orkney, had failed to properly plan the trip, with no risk assessments prepared for the trip and no evidence of having communicated a proper plan with the divers for meeting points. He also failed to check that the divers he took out had the correct diving qualifications and medical certificates to allow them to take part safely. Geddes pled guilty to charges relating to a breach of Regulation 4 of the Diving at Work Regulations 1997. His sentence? 200 hours community service.
The family of Roderick MacLean have essentially been told that after 200 Hours work, all wrongs have been set right and Geddes can go ahead as he did before. 200 Hours at the current UK national minimum wage of £7.70 is £1540. Essentially the cost to Geddes is just that, £1540 worth of his time for the 8 months of constant panic and worry that MacLean’s family experienced, followed by the harrowing news that his remains were found.

 

AMY EL-Keria

Amy El-Keria was just 14 when she passed away after Priory Healthcare failed to adequately mitigate the risks associated with her mental health condition.  El-Keria was suffering with mental health difficulties and her care was transferred to a Priory Healthcare Ltd facility in East Sussex after she had attempted to ligature several times at home.

El-Keria was able to ligature again within the facility, despite being a patient in the mental health High Dependency Unit.  She was found with a ligature around her neck and rushed to hospital but the patient had already suffered irreparable brain damage and multiple organ failure by the time she was found and the decision to pull life support the following day led to her untimely and potentially avoidable death.

Despite El-Keria’s previous attempts, the risk had not been removed properly, which led to the London based company being charged with a breach under Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.  This breach cost the company £300,000 in fines and £65,801.38 in costs.

Is £300,000 enough of a penalty for a company described in January 2019 by The Times as ‘the most profitable mental health hospital’ with it receiving £720 million of payments from our NHS and Social Services.  A company that pride themselves of putting safety first, leaving a child in a position where they were to do something they’d already shown a desire to enact, whilst having that child in their care purely to prevent the very thing that happened.  Surely there should be more noise here?

 

Hillsborough 

Now on a slightly different note, Graham Mackrell was fined this week for his part in the Hillsborough Disaster, as the Safety Officer at the time of the tragedy.  Mackrell is the first person to be convicted following the death of 96 Liverpool fans in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace in the match which was now over 30 years ago.

For those not familiar with the Hillsborough Disaster, it was a tragedy which happened before the 3pm kick off of the FA Cup Final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on the 15th of April 1989.  Due to the high likelihood of violence between the two teams supporters, the fans were to be completely segregated.  Despite Liverpool being the bigger club, its fans were allocated the smaller ‘Leppings Lane’ entrance to avoid the Nottingham fans.  The first of the 10,100 fans with standing tickets arrived at midday when they started to filter through the 7 turnstiles to follow a tunnel to the standing area.

Within the standing area were a number of ‘pens’ which were just standing areas with high fencing around and a narrow gate at the back to transfer into the other pens.  The plan was to allow the fans to distribute themselves as required between the pens.

Half an hour before the match the crowds were completely backed up with not even half of the fans having made it through to the standing area due to the slow progress on the 7 turnstiles.  Delaying the match was discussed due to the state of the crowd but it was not done.  By 14:45 the fans at the back of the crowd were pushing forward, eager not to miss the match, causing a ‘funnel’ which put such immense pressure on the front of the crowd that people started to get crushed and the amount of people by the turnstiles were preventing the turnstiles operating.

Finally at 14:52, after several comments of concern for the fans, the gates were opened, relieving the pressure on the turnstiles, however, this saw the crowds rushing into the pens unevenly, packing in fans so tightly they were seen climbing the fences to get out and into the safety of the nearby, less-crowded pens.  However, this only relieved the situation for some.  Fans in pen 3 were so packed in, it collapsed onto the pitch, with fans falling on top of each other, between this and the other overcrowding, 96 fans died as a result of the failings that day.

Graham Mackrell as the Safety Officer had failed to recognise the pens written official capacity of less than a quarter of the fans which were expected.  The combined capacity was just 2200, however, this had not been assessed since 1979 and modifications made in the meantime would have required a new assessment.

Mackrell was prosecuted for his failings to recognise the turnstiles were inadequate for the number of expected fans in relation to the expected kick off time.  The court ruled that Mackrell was definitely responsible for at least the issues at the turnstile but he was not responsible for the subsequent failings.  He was fined £6500, just £67.70 per life.

Whether responsible for the deaths or not, had Mackrell properly risk assessed the turnstiles, it is likely that he would have noticed that they needed to plan another route for fans and could have even led to better planning regarding distributing fans evenly around the grounds in a more controlled fashion.

 

Now between our Liverpool fans, Roderick MacLean and Amy El-Keria we have a massive difference, from £67.70 to £1540 to £300,000 and honestly, the people I have spoken to as I have gathered my thoughts for this article have told me that they feel the £300,000 was too little, so who decides how much and why?

New Sentencing Guidelines

In February 2016 the new sentencing guidelines were enforced, the matrix is as below.

sentencing harm likelihood
cost to business

Using the above tables as reference, the cost of a life could be anywhere from £10,000,000 to £50, depending on the turnover and size of the business, so how would you feel if an accident at work lost you someone in your circle, and the cost was £50 to the person who could have prevented the accident by better planning, would you feel justice had been served?

 

The COst of a quality of life

Our health services put a cost on a life all the time.  As new and expensive treatments, health directors are forced to choose between the cost of a drug and time for patients.  Cancer treatment is a good example as often a drug can cost tens of thousands of pounds yet only offer a patient maybe 6 months of a reduced quality life.

 

The COst of what we provide to others

Perhaps the cost of our life is relative to who we are and what we owe?  So the cost of my life as a mother would be the money I will spend on providing for my child until he reaches adulthood, and the contributions to his adult life a parent often likes to make.  What about a breadwinner in a coupling, would their worth be higher, including the outstanding mortgage payments they would have paid, the contributions they would have made to everyday life?

So, does that make a child’s life less valuable?  Because they are not being relied on by anyone or leaving anyone in hardship?  Or more valuable because what they gave was not financial but emotional and invaluable?

 

is your premium indicative of your worth?

Often, when purchasing life insurance, you can actually pick how much your life is worth, we tend to consider the elderly to be valued lower, as they have lived their life, they are nearing the end of their time and as long as their policies prevent hardship by covering the costs for arranging funerals and clearing off any unpaid debts, we consider the death to be an inevitable part of life.  So, should we have a scale for the age of the person and the monetary value attached based on their contributions, assets and debts.

 

corporate RESPONSIBILITY

Or perhaps, money should not be part of it at all, perhaps money does not convert to a life and we have to value a life with another life.  That is where corporate responsibility comes in.  If you, as a company director have been involved in a court case where a fatality has occurred as a failure to comply with health and safety legislation, your life then comes into the court room to use as punishment too.  The costs and fines may well be covered by insurance; however, the court will look at whether one particular individual had the power and responsibility to prevent harm, based on the tables above.

 

SHaring responsibility 

The guidelines vary depending on the type of offence and even the sector in some cases but generally speaking, for the highest culpability, in Harm Category 1, the worst-case scenario is 1-2 years imprisonment.  Now as manslaughter charges outside of employment law, such as drunk or reckless driving, can carry a sentence between 2-10 years.  With that in mind, how is it that within a place someone has a duty to keep us safe, and fails that, can generally be expected to spend only the minimum term.  Perhaps that is because in workplace law there are generally many people involved in a process that could/should whistle blow before an accident occurs.  So the sentence is lower but spread across a department or chain of individuals.

I would like to think the real punishment in cases like this probably comes from the accountability and guilt.  I am fairly certain that if I were the person who could have made a change and saved a life that I would never sleep again, so whether imprisoned, driven in financial hardship or serving the community, I think the implication that something I had done could have prevented a fatality would be the ultimate cost.

 

THE ULTIMATE COST

Perhaps that is the true cost of a life – a life broken and bent by the regret and hindsight.  Perhaps a court realises that in fact, there is not a cost you could put on life and the fines, costs and sentences act as a deterrent, or reason for people to avoid it but the real punishment is the guilt you spend your live carrying around?

Maybe that is why we cannot put a definitive cost on a life, perhaps life is just such a fragile thing that actually, it has no value, each day is a gift not a right and when our time is up, that’s just part of this thing we’re a part of.

What do you think the cost of life should be?

 

Mitigating Risk

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