After completing a talk for Training First Safety Ltd they have asked me to get involved and share my story….
For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Matt Hazelton. I was the Director of a small groundworks company that had a fatal incident resulting in the death of 4 of our workforce. This included both of my brothers and 2 of my very good friends.
I think it goes without saying the incident caused a massive amount of heartache, sadness and was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The experience, however, is something I now try to share to help people, hopefully supporting them to avoid going through the same thing. From a personal perspective, it is impossible to get everything down in one article. It would be really difficult to give even a small insight into the pain that you need to live through following a fatal incident. Having said that, from a business perspective it was ridiculously steep learning curve from start to finish.
With my brother – Dan – and good friend – Goody – we started our business from scratch. We were just 3 lads trying to make our young families lives better and give them the things we didn’t have growing up. The time following the incident saw me dealing, not only, with being told the insurance company won’t cover me but also being arrested as both Hazegood Construction and Matthew Hazelton – thankfully by this point I had great legal representation. This is something I feel is missed by a lot of Directors – they don’t realise that even though you are a Limited Company they are still 2 legal entities: you and the business. There are so many young people out there, trying to start a business like I did and having the fancy title of “Director” does not always mean they are aware of the intricacies of insurance companies, and lawyers – I wasn’t!
When the incident happened, I had no idea what was going to happen legally and to say it was harrowing was an understatement! If I could give any piece of advice to business owners out there it would be to make sure you know exactly where you stand with your roles and responsibilities as Director. I was not prepared to be interviewed by the police and the HSE, or to have all emails checked and verified, or my office to be stripped of the computers, or even having my phone signal used to determine we were on site as often as we said we were! This was all followed by a 3 year inquest which regularly forced me back into the moment of the incident. Evidence such as witness statements would be constantly reviewed to try and stop the back and forth of who was to blame. You are told that the whole process is about fact finding, but from my perspective they are just looking at who is going to take the blame. It is easy to underestimate the time scales of these processes and the effect this has on people involved; legally, emotionally and personally, the strain it puts on people is immense. Our particular court case took 6 years to get to court – my lad was 9 when the incident happened and by the time it got to court he was about to sit his first GCSEs.
I’m not writing this and sharing my story to put people off running their own businesses. I am really pleased to say that I LOVE construction again and am back running my own business again. I’m writing this to warn you of the risk on your site, and the implications of the trauma if something was to go wrong. Now, I have a good culture within my workforce. I try to look after them as much as possible, and I really want them to enjoy what they do. I think this is proven by me not having a high staff turnover. I provide them all with as much training as possible, and I manage risk constantly. Saying that, we can possibly only be a split minute away from an incident and that is the harsh reality of what we do so please stay safe and live life to the max!