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A number of recent Crown Court judgements again highlight the significant potential consequences for businesses found in breach of Health and Safety legislation – four cases heard in June alone resulted in fines exceeding £2 million in aggregate, which follows a previous blog two Directors being imprisoned for gross negligence manslaughter following the death of an employee.

Summary of cases

  • An employee at a fish processing company suffered fatal injuries when a stack of boxes fell on him whilst he cleared up a previously fallen stack of boxes. The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) found that there had been no safe system of work or clear and adequate instructions given to staff as regards storage, and there was no written procedure for dealing with incidents of fallen boxes – resulting in a fine of £500,000 plus the HSE’s prosecution costs.
  • An 89 year old resident of a care home received significant scalding injuries when he ran a bath and later died from his injuries. The HSE found that the bathroom taps were not adjusted to limit water temperature and identified that the company’s policies and procedures were deficient, fining them £100,000 plus the HSE’s costs of prosecution.
  • A BT engineer who was fixing a telephone fault in roof space fell seven metres from a loft, breaking his back and his ankles. The HSE identified a number of management failures, including inadequate planning of work taking place near fragile surfaces, issuing a fine of £500,000 plus the HSE’s costs of prosecution, being £98,913.51.
  • An operative accidentally closed the tailgate of a dustbin lorry on his colleague, crushing him to death, which the HSE found was due to a fault with the safety limit switch, which allowed closure of the tailgate from inside the cab. As a result, the company and group company were found guilty of a failure to provide a safe system of work and had failed in their inspection regimes, being fined £815,000 plus the costs of the HSE in prosecution.

Who can be prosecuted for breaches of health and safety legislation?

It should again be highlighted that it is not just limited companies that can be prosecuted for a breach of health and safety legislation. All of the following (and more) can also be prosecuted:

  • Company directors – for gross negligence manslaughter.
  • LLPs, traditional partnerships, unincorporated business, associations, individual employers and sole traders.
  • Landlords of property/premises where an incident occurs.
  • Fellow employees.
  • Suppliers of equipment (including designers, manufacturers, importers etc.

Other likely consequences of a breach

As well as substantial fines (which are routinely in the hundreds of thousands of pounds as demonstrated above) and the prosecution of individuals, businesses and business owners should also be aware of the wide variety of other ways in which a conviction for breach of health and safety legislation can impact on them, including in particular:

  • Serious reputational damage.
  • Criminal liability of the company – for corporate manslaughter.
  • Liability to pay the prosecutions legal costs.
  • Refusal of insurance providers to pay out.

What can be done to minimise the risks?

Companies can minimise the risks of (i) an accident taking place and (ii) their liability should an accident take place by ensuring that the following is adhered to at all times:

  1. Avoid high-risk work situations where possible.
  2. Follow best industry practices and ensure all procedures (in particular, those involving high risk) are kept up-to-date, regularly reviewed and kept in line with advice issued by any relevant regulatory bodies, and current health and safety legislation.
  3. Supply workers with the latest in safety equipment and training, whilst also ensuring that regular appraisals and opportunities for employees to provide feedback occur.
  4. Ensure sites are well managed, overseen by experienced and suitably qualified managers and that best practice is followed at all times.
  5. Subscribe to relevant industry regulatory bodies and work to be recognised as meeting industry standards where possible.
  6. Regularly review Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) advice – the HSE offers comprehensive guidance on minimising the risks of working in high-risk environments (such as at height) and regularly publishes an array of guidance, which is constantly kept under review.
  7. Check your company’s existing insurance policy includes legal expenses cover in the event of an investigation and a criminal prosecution being brought against the business for a health and safety-related breach.
  8. Whilst most insurance policies cover legal defence costs, ensure that the prosecution of a member (or members) of staff (particularly senior managers/directors), fines imposed and even potential prosecution legal costs are also covered.
  9. Although some insurance companies will have a panel of preferred lawyers, remember that a business is always entitled to be represented by lawyers of its own choice.

Expert advice on companies and offences committed by companies or directors

Our team of specialist commercial, corporate and criminal lawyers are here for you, and your business, should you require any help or advice in relation to the above. Bray & Bray have three main offices across Leicestershire, feel free to phone or pop in to talk to our solicitors.