The recent inquest into the death of a teenage apprentice mechanic at Audi who killed himself after colleagues burned his clothes and locked him in a cage amongst other things has been hard to read about and brings into the spotlight the vulnerability of our young apprentices and the importance of strong management in recognising bullying and irresponsible behaviour and in dealing with it swiftly and decisively.
George Cheese who was 18 was “over the moon” when he got the position at the car dealership, his parents said, but soon started coming home covered in bruises with holes burned into his clothes. George had also claimed to have been tied up, and pressure washed by the master technician at which his boss had laughed and walked away.
The coroner found that Georges death clearly “came as a wake-up call and a significant shock to the garage company”, but ruled that ultimately the Audi dealership weren’t to blame finding that a number of factors were involved including Georges mental health. The coroner said; “Senior management at the company did bring serious action against the mentor who was involved in the fire episode with George, further involvement with Mind, and a change in emphasis in further management.”
There are a number of resources available for managers on dealing with issues such as bullying and staff who are experiencing mental health problems. Training on these matters is important for all managers, especially those training young apprentices in an environment where pranks and ‘high japes’ are considered part of the culture. No employer wants to be in the situation this Audi dealership found themselves in, having to attend the inquest into the apparent suicide of their young apprentice and defend the actions of their other employees, which caused considerable distress to a vulnerable eighteen year old and their inadequate responses at the time to it.
What is clear is that as a result they recognised that the boss laughing and walking away was simply not good enough and their recognition of their potential contribution to the tragedy and their subsequent response and commitment to change, despite being found not to blame is welcome.
Are our workplace policies robust and clear enough and are all staff clear about what is expected of them in terms of the treatment of each other? Are all managers trained and clear as to what is expected of them with regards to bullying and mental health? Mind and ACAS have produced guidance, (links attached) and face to face training is available if you think your business might need a bit of a shake in this regard.