A major construction company has been fined £400,000 by Westminster Magistrates’ Court after failing to control work at height. The company pleaded guilty to breaching section 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 after a worker fell nearly four metres to the ground below.

The individual had been working on the third floor of a Greater London construction site when he was instructed to fit plywood boards to cover holes in the flooring. The installations were intended to act as a safety cover to prevent others falling through the gap. However, no steps had been taken to prevent the worker himself falling through the opening as he carried out the works. Notably, the company did have a system in place for controlling risks of this type, but this was not implemented on site. The HSE stated that the company had failed to ensure the work was carried out in a safe manner, and reiterated the need for work at height to be properly planned.

The sentence imposed in this case represents yet another high fine being handed down by Magistrates’ Courts. As of March 2015, the Magistrates’ Courts are no longer restricted to specified upper limits when determining fines: unlimited fines are now possible. The potential effects of this unfettering have been amplified by the introduction of the Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guideline introduced in England and Wales in February last year. Recent cases have demonstrated that the Magistrates’ Courts are willing to exercise their extensive sentencing powers and will engage fully with the new Guideline.