Financial penalties imposed for health and safety breaches are meant to hurt. That was certainly demonstrated by one case in which a small trailer repair company was fined £120,000 following a much-loved grandfather’s death in an avoidable workplace accident.
The 67-year-old was replacing signs near the entrance to the company’s premises when the scissor platform on which he was standing tipped over after being struck by a 45-foot trailer. He suffered fatal head injuries in the fall. The company later pleaded guilty to breaches of Sections 2 and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was ordered to pay the fine in monthly instalments of £5000 each, over a two-year period.
In challenging the amount of the fine before the Court of Appeal, the company’s lawyers pointed out that its 2016 accounts showed a profit of just £85,000 on a turnover of around £2.3 million. It had a good history of health and safety compliance and had acted swiftly to remedy the failings that led to the man’s death. The fine was a very significant burden amidst the economic uncertainty arising from the Brexit vote.
In upholding the penalty, the Court noted that clear breaches of the law had resulted in devastating consequences. The sentencing judge’s approach was impeccable and the fine properly reflected all relevant features of the case. The Court did, however, extend the period of time over which the company was allowed to pay the fine to four years.
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