What happened?

In June 2016 Monavon Construction Limited were fined £550,000 after two men fell to their deaths through a perimeter roadside hoarding in London. The hoarding protected a basement excavation and as the two men had a disagreement, they fell into the hoarding and to their deaths.

Monavon Construction pleaded guilty to two corporate manslaughter offences as well as to an associated failure under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The Company had a turnover of less than £2 million and was sentenced to fines totalling £550,000, and costs of £23,653. The judge knew the fine would put the Company out of business.

Why is the case significant?

This was the first sentencing for corporate manslaughter offences under the new Definitive Guideline, which was introduced in February 2016.

The Guideline focuses on an organisations' turnover. The Guideline suggests that companies with a turnover of over £50 million (i.e. large companies) could be fined up to £20 million for corporate manslaughter, or up to £10 million for health and safety offences. When turnover exceeds the threshold for large organisations, the courts can move outsideof the suggested range.

Whilst it was a relatively large fine for the Company, it is clear from the language of the Guideline and recent case law that a larger organisation could expect to receive a much larger fine in the same circumstances. The sentencing of Tata Steel in July resulted in a fine of £1.985 million following two employees losing fingers. One need only consider the Guideline briefly to realise that had Tata Steel been prosecuted as a result of two deaths, the fine would likely have been measured in the tens of millions of pounds. 

Of additional interest to health and safety lawyers is the introduction in The Guideline of sentencing ranges for individuals who commit health and safety offences. Imprisonment for up to two years has been a possibility for some years now, but does not occur all that much in practice. However, with a Guideline suggesting imprisonment in not just the worst cases, it is only a matter of time before we are writing about individuals falling foul of the new sentencing regime, as well as companies. 

What should you do? 

It is more essential than ever that health and safety is managed properly. If something has already happened and the HSE or Police are investigating, it is vitally important that you are properly advised so that the investigative process can be managed and the damage limited.