Since our last bulletin, there have been four further convictions for Corporate Manslaughter with more cases to follow.
Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited was convicted following an explosion at its recycling plant in Rotherham. Michael Whinfrey, an autoclave operator in the waste management company, sustained fatal head injuries in the explosion which occurred in January 2011. A second employee sustained serious life changing injuries as a result of the explosion.
The autoclave, which was used to process mixed household waste under high heat and pressure, exploded as a result of the failure of a screw connection to the autoclave locking ring which had secured the door to the machine. The subsequent investigation established that Sterecycle was aware of a problem with the door but failed to establish the cause of the problem. Instead, the company replaced the rubber seals around the door, at one stage twice a day, rather than stop production to carry out a maintenance check to find the cause of the problem.
Sterecycle (which is now in administration) was fined £500,000. Charges against two individuals in relation to the incident were withdrawn during the trial, whilst the jury found the maintenance manager not guilty of perverting the course of justice.
The ninth conviction followed a guilty plea which was entered by A Diamond & Son (Timber) Ltd following an incident in 27 September 2012 when their employee, Peter Lennon, sustained fatal crush injuries whilst repairing a machine. The automated machine had not been powered down and the Judge at Antrim Crown Court said he was “staggered” that the family run company which had run for 75 years and had 50 employees had not been told how to operate the machine in safety maintenance mode. After accepting that the gross failures were not as a result of putting profit before safety and were from a combination of human failings, the company was fined £75,000 with costs of £15,832.
The tenth conviction relates to an incident at a Runcorn factory in 2010. Kayak manufacturer, Pyranha Mouldings, was found guilty of corporate manslaughter after its employee Alan Catterall became trapped in an industrial oven and died in 2010. Mr Catterall had gone inside the oven to scrape up dripped plastic when another worker (who was due to marry Mr Catterall’s daughter) turned the oven on without realising that Mr Catterall was inside. When the oven (which could reach temperatures of 280°C) was turned on the doors automatically locked and in light of the noise in the factory, it would not have been possible to hear any calls for help that Mr Catterall may have made.
The subsequent investigation found that there were no risk assessments in relation to the use of the oven and staff had not been properly trained how to use the oven or to clean and maintain it. In addition to the corporate charge, Peter Mackereth, the company’s technical director who had designed the oven, was also convicted of two charges of breaching s.37 HSWA. Two charges against other individuals at the company were withdrawn during the Trial. Sentencing has been adjourned to a later date.
The eleventh conviction involved Cumbrian building firm, Peter Mawson Ltd. The prosecution followed the death of employee Jason Pennington, who fell 24 feet through a skylight whilst working at a factory for the company on 25 October 2011. Mr Pennington had been fixing a leak in the roof and despite the company being aware of the risks of falling through the clear skylights on the roof, they failed to provide their employees with any equipment to prevent falls.
After pleading guilty to Corporate Manslaughter and breach of s2(1) HSWA, the company was fined £220,000 and ordered to pay costs of £31,504.77. The Court also imposed a Publicity Order requiring the company to advertise the incident on their website for a set period and take out a half page spread in a local newspaper.
The owner of the company, Peter Mawson, who denied a charge of manslaughter, admitted a breach of the HSWA and was sentenced to eight months in prison which was suspended for two years and 200 hours of community service.
Two of the new cases where Corporate Manslaughter charges have been reported are:
- Baldwins Crane Hire Limited resulting from the death of employee Lindsay Easton on 15 August 2011. He was driving a heavy crane down a steep road which crashed into an earth bank and fell into the road as a result of the brakes failing. The case also includes charges of breach of s.2 and 3 HSWA
- Huntley Mount Engineering Ltd which followed the death of apprentice Cameron Minshull (who was aged 16 years) who was trapped in a lathe at the company’s factory and sustained fatal injuries on 8 January 2013. Mr Minshull had worked at the company for around four weeks at the time of the incident. The company which placed him at Huntley Mount Engineering, Lime People Training Solutions Ltd, has also been charged for failing to ensure the safety of a person other than an employee. In addition the director, Zaffar Hussain, and supervisor, Akbar Hussain, of Huntley Mount Engineering each face charges of gross negligence manslaughter.
The increase in convictions is likely to embolden the authorities to continue bringing charges of corporate manslaughter in further cases. However, the legislation is yet to be tested against a large corporate defendant.