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RECENT HIGH FINE CASES

Court fines reflect disquiet over workplace deaths

Robin Cooper, Director with Solicitors HRJ highlights some recent high fine cases and asks… Can you afford to gamble with lives?

“Fines recently imposed on employers responsible for the deaths of employees or members of the public demonstrate that the criminal courts continue to follow the advice of the Court of Appeal, given in 1998, that the fine needs to bring home to company managers and shareholders the message that the objective of health and safety prosecutions is to achieve a safe environment for the workforce and other members of the public who may be affected.

At Swansea Crown Court in December 2008 the operator of a theme park was fined £250,000 after a 16 year old girl fell to her death from one of the rides.

Also in December 2008, at Dundee Sheriff’s Court, an engineering company was fined £300,000 after one of its electricians was electrocuted when he touched a live cable which was labelled “Not in Use”.

The death of a member of the public who came into contact with a fallen power cable while walking across a field cost the power distribution company a fine of £200,000 imposed at Plymouth Crown Court in January 2009.

Recently the Court of Appeal considered the appeal against sentence of a large distribution and warehousing organisation which had earlier been fined a total of £325,000 after an employee received fatal injuries by being crushed between two trailers. The Court of Appeal actually reduced the fines – but only to £275,000.

In these four cases the fines averaged £256,250 but in addition there were orders for substantial prosecution costs, £80,000 in one case alone, and it needs to be emphasised that these fines and costs are not an insurable risk. There are also to be considered the “hidden” costs, notably the cost of the preventative measures needed to be introduced to ensure that there is no repetition (powerful mitigation when being sentenced) and the loss of the competitive edge in tendering when a previous conviction for a health and safety offence is required to be disclosed.

And, of course, the most significant cost is the tragic loss of a human life. As the Court of Appeal said in 1998 “the penalty should reflect public disquiet at the unnecessary loss of life”.

© Robin Cooper , Director , HRJ Law LLP , Direct Dial: 01707 690957, Mobile: 07740029679, Fax: 01707 887701

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