Last week saw another conviction under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 (‘CMHA’). Despite being in force since April 2008, the Act has struggled to find its feet with only a handful of convictions being achieved.
The conviction is the latest event in a turbulent few years for defendant company Pyranha Mouldings, a Kayak manufacturer. The tragic facts of the case were that industrial oven cleaner, Alan Catterall, was killed when cleaning the inside of the oven after a colleague turned on the power to the oven causing the doors to slam shut, locking from the outside. One of the company’s directors, the designer of the oven, was also found guilty of health and safety breaches under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (‘HSWA’). The sentencing of both defendants has been adjourned to a later date.
The company’s health and safety history is remarkable. In September 2010, the Pyranha site was subject to a health and safety inspection and received prohibition notices in relation to saw guards on machinery, but not in respect of the operation of the ovens. Then, in November 2010, the company received improvement notices, this time in respect of hazardous substances. Again, no notice was received in connection with the ovens. It is now known that there had been no risk assessments and staff had not received suitable training on how to use and clean the ovens.
Only following Mr Catterall’s death in December 2010 were prohibition notices issued in respect of the ovens. These have resulted in escape hatches being fitted to the ovens, preventing a repeat tragedy.
In March 2011, yet another accident took place at the Pyranha premises. This time, a worker loading kayaks into containers was crushed by a fork lift truck, suffering a torn ear, chipped teeth, nerve pain and several stitches. Employees had previously requested that a ramp be built to assist with this task but the company failed to accede to such requests, and again, a risk assessment and proper training was found to have been lacking. Surprisingly however, no notice was received in respect of this breach, concerning the forklift truck, either in 2010 or in the aftermath of Mr Catterall’s death. The company was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £6,562 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the HSWA.
It is striking that such a series of serious accidents occurred at a company which had been subject to numerous, no doubt intensive, health and safety inspections in the preceding weeks and months. Furthermore, that these inspections did not result in improvement notices or prohibition notices relating to the cause of each subsequent accident. In order for a conviction for manslaughter, as occurred last week, the jury must have found that there was the ‘gross breach’ of duty of care concerning employee safety. One might ponder how these indelible and ‘gross’ breaches were missed by the inspectors. Regardless, this conviction will come as a welcome victory for the HSE.
In contrast with Pyranha, we can also note that other recent CMHA convictions often come as a result of a guilty plea, sometimes also in association with the defendant directors seeing their prosecution terminated. Even the recent successful prosecution of Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited only achieved a CMHA conviction against an unrepresented company in administration and so cannot be hailed anything like such a triumph for the HSE.
Perhaps Pyranha signals that the CMHA is finally gaining momentum.