The Action Group has been fined £20,000 for its failure to safeguard a worker subjected to a serious sexual assault
An Edinburgh-based care charity has pledged its commitment to change after being fined £20,000 for its failure to safeguard a worker who became the victim of abduction, assault and rape.
The Action Group, which provides housing and community support to those with additional needs, pleaded guilty this week to health and safety at work breaches committed in 2017 and 2018.
The court heard that on 27 December 2018 Albert Caballero abducted, assaulted, sexually assaulted, and raped a 25-year-old woman during a visit to his Edinburgh home. On 26 June 2019 Caballero, who had no previous convictions and received support from the charity for more than 25 years, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
The Health and Safety Investigation Unit of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPF) subsequently referred the case to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The HSE investigation found that the charity had failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk Caballero posed to female employees. The court deemed they failed to identify and implement measures to mitigate these risks when providing support to Caballero at his home.
The investigation also uncovered a history and recent escalation of inappropriate behaviour from Caballero.
A spokesperson for The Action Group expressed deep sorrow for the incident, and said the organisation is absolutely committed to delivering lasting change to ensure employees are safe.
They said: “No apology can undo the harm inflicted on our valued colleague, but we are truly devastated and deeply sorry for the unimaginable horror she suffered at the hands of someone she supported.
“We are a charity whose sole passion and purpose is to support some of the most vulnerable children and adults in our communities, and we are nothing without the dedicated carers and support workers who go above and beyond to make a difference to peoples’ lives. The safety and security of our staff is always our key priority, and we would never knowingly put any of them in a situation that was unsafe.
“The Action Group has cooperated fully with the Health and Safety Executive’s investigation and overhauled all our operational practices including improving our lone working risk assessment, introducing PeopleSafe safety app, as well as implementing improved risk assessment training for all staff. We are absolutely committed to delivering meaningful and lasting change to ensure our workplace is safe for employees who provide an unwavering service to our community’s most vulnerable.”
Since the attack the company has implemented a new lone-working policy and support workers have been given smartphones to enable communication and track location.
A review of the individual risk assessments for all service users was carried out to identify potential risks to staff and additional control measures put in place where appropriate.
The charity has provided support including training, extra supervision and onsite and offsite trauma counselling for the affected employee and other staff members affected.
The spokesperson added: “The safety and security of our workforce is our key priority at all times, and we would never knowingly put any of them in a situation, which was unsafe or inappropriate. We had supported the perpetrator of this crime, who had no police record, for 28 years. However, as a result of the Health and Safety Executive and independent investigations, enhanced improvements have been made to further strengthen our procedures.”
Alistair Duncan, head of COPFS’s health and safety investigation unit, said it is vital that lone workers receive the necessary support to keep them safe. He said: “A young woman suffered a serious and traumatic assault and rape while acting in the course of her employment.
"The Action Group could have prevented this if they had carried out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk posed to female employees.
“Lone workers are more vulnerable and employers should provide the necessary support to prevent such incidents.
“This prosecution should serve as a reminder to all employers that failure to establish the necessary measures and policies can have serious consequences.”