£750,000, £1.4m, £2m! These are just three of the penalties handed down in the past eight weeks, even before new guidelines, predicted to transform the sentencing landscape, came into force in England and Wales.
Last November the Sentencing Council published the guideline for health and safety offences, intended to ensure more transparency and consistency in penalties, and applying to all organisations sentenced from 1 February.
The previous guideline, which applied from 2010, stated that fines for corporate manslaughter would seldom be less than £500,000. In practice, they have usually fallen well below this benchmark even before any discount has been applied for a guilty plea. But last December the largest corporate manslaughter fine to date was imposed when Baldwins Crane Hire had to pay £700,000. The case involved a brake malfunction on a 130-tonne crane, which lost control and crashed, fatally injuring the driver.
For fatality cases brought under the Health and Safety at Work Act, the old guideline stated fines would be seldom less than £100,000. Historically, these figures and the existing case law helped to provide a benchmark for fines, but in recent months we may have already started to see a change in approach by the courts ahead of the new guidelines.
In 2012, Merlin Attractions was fined £350,000 after a member of the public was killed when they fell 4 m into a dry moat at Warwick Castle. The case centred on whether Merlin had an adequate risk assessment and sufficient controls. The Court of Appeal upheld the fine, stating it was appropriate despite being at the top end of the range.
After a trial in 2014, Costain was fined £525,000 after a worker died when a telehandler overturned due to lack of space during construction of a new development. Both the Costain and Merlin penalties were among the highest for fatality cases in which the defendants pleaded not guilty.
By contrast, in December, Hanson Packed Products was fined £750,000 after a worker was fatally crushed when his arm was caught in a powered roller. The guarding was said to have not been in place for a few days only. Hanson pleaded guilty, but the fine was markedly higher than earlier contested cases that went to trial and more than the gross failings identified in the Baldwin's corporate manslaughter case. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector in the Hanson case told IOSH Magazine he believed the penalty was "considerable" for the breach.
Momentum also appears to have gathered towards larger organisations. National Grid, the UK's biggest gas distributor, was fined £2m, again in December, after pleading guilty to one offence for failing to properly protect the public from risk of falls from an exposed pipeline. An 11-year-old boy sustained fatal injuries in this case after climbing onto the pipe and falling into a canal below.
Scotland seems to be adopting a different approach. In December Siemens and RWE Innogy UK were fined £107,000 and £45,000 respectively after pleading guilty in a fatal injury case. Here, an employee came into contact with an unguarded rotating gearbox in a windfarm turbine. The guarding had been inadequate for months.
That said, Total E&P UK also received one of the largest fines in Scotland's history: £1.125m in December, after admitting failings leading to the largest release of gas from an offshore platform.
The definitive guideline will not apply in Scotland, but the courts there may still consider them. The 2015 case of Alexander Sutherland v Her Majesty's Advocate states: "Definitive guidelines from the Sentencing Council of England and Wales often provide useful cross check for sentences in Scotland especially where the offences are regulated...by UK statute."
Before long under the guidelines, fines could reach £10m for the most serious health and safety offences and £20m in corporate manslaughter cases, and could go even higher for very large companies.
But organisations sentenced before 1 February hoping to limit their liability may not have achieved such a desirable outcome.
1t is a truth universally acknowledged that since the first set of Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) was introduced in the UK in 1994, many parties involved in construction work – including the businesses commissioning the work – have struggled with their statutory duties. Last year’s revamp, CDM 2015, doesn’t seem to have improved matters much.
Like many lawyers who have examined the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015, I concluded that most maintenance, cleaning and repair activities would now not only be caught within the spirit of them – and so require construction phase plans, for example – but also that the formal requirements would apply to many jobs.
Science fiction impresses upon us that perfection in the robot world is to replicate a human in every way, from appearance to emotions. But in equal measure it uses those traits to scare us, Blade Runner style, about what happens if the boundaries blur between people and machines. In either case, it sets up the expectation that robots should be the same shape as us and think like we do; which is still far from the reality.
Why is more action needed on occupational health and safety (OH&S)?More action is needed in order to tackle the huge human, societal and economic toll of health and safety failure across the globe. It is estimated that annually, 2.3 million people are killed by work accidents and disease and there are around 317 million non-fatal work accidents worldwide. Around 4% of world GDP is lost to work accidents and diseases [source: ILO].
I am watching two workers assemble small cardboard cartons, take filled triangular sandwich packets (bacon, lettuce and tomato) from a conveyor six at a time, fill the cartons and place them on a lower conveyor over and over. It would be an exaggeration to say their hands are a blur, but they are moving very fast, completing the whole carton assembly and filling process in around five seconds.
Words: Dr Jennifer Lunt, Dr Mike Webster, Malcolm StavesLast month we highlighted some common obstacles that prevent board executives prioritising safety and health, and illustrated them with reference to three high-profile incidents. This time we present potential solutions.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is reminding those responsible for the safety of high-rise residential buildings in England have six months from April to register with the new Building Safety Regulator by law.
Safety interventions should be practicable and cost-effective, but too much of an imbalance towards safety does not make economic sense for employers, argues Geoff Vaughan, who suggests ‘gross disproportion’ provides a practical limit.