Businesses failing to take health and safety procedures seriously risk large fines if their careless attitude results in a person’s death, with an ‘ostrich approach’ or pleading ignorance an attitude the courts will take a very dim view of.
The advice comes as Lionsteel Limited has been fined £480,000 and ordered to pay £84,000 legal costs by Manchester Crown Court. The company pleaded guilty to a charge of corporate manslaughter following the death of employee Stephen Berry, who died in a 40 foot fall at the company’s premises in Hyde. The guilty plea was agreed by all parties, which averted personal charges of manslaughter by gross negligence against three company directors and Health & Safety at Work Act charges against the company.
This is the third time a company has been convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, and the largest fine handed down so far. Yet the fine falls short of the level suggested by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which recommends that a fine for corporate manslaughter should rarely be less than £500,000 and may be very much higher.
All three corporate manslaughter convictions to date have been against small to medium sized businesses and judges have been concerned to balance the aim of punishing the company against jeopardising the jobs of the workforce. In practice the fine will be as high as it can possibly be, without putting the company concerned out of business.
In the first case, where a single director and shareholder were involved, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Limited was fined almost £400,000; while in the second case, pig farming company JMW Farms was fined just under £200,000.
To avoid prosecution under the Act, company directors must ensure that:
•Health and safety must be taken seriously
•Staff must be properly trained especially in dangerous situations
•Training and working practices must be kept under review ensuring relevance at all times
•The management must ensure that there is a safety-conscious culture at all levels and that actual practice is in line with the company’s statements about safety
•Working practices must be constantly monitored and reviewed
•There must be an open culture so that any employee can raise concerns about safety
“The sentences handed down in these cases are less than the guidelines, but should sounds a warning bell to those small companies who think ‘it won’t happen to us’ and do not take health and safety and risk assessment seriously,” said Matthew Burdon of Oxley & Coward Solicitors. “If the worst happens, they can expect huge fines leaving them with a struggle to survive. Factor in the damage to company reputation too and firms can be left facing liquidation.”
“To avoid the worst, every company should be keeping up to date with Health and Safety legislation and ensuring all employees have an up to date signed record of the training they’ve received,” added Matthew. “Ignorance will simply no longer be accepted as an excuse – you have been warned.”
Established in 1791, Oxley & Coward has years of experience in advising companies on corporate matters and anyone concerned about their Health and Safety standards can contact the firm’s experts for the very latest advice.
For further information, contact Oxley & Coward Solicitors on 01709 510999, visit www.oxcow.co.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org