On 2 March 2015, section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force. This effectively enabled Magistrates to impose unlimited fines where previously their health and safety sentencing powers were limited to £20,000 per offence. Despite this development, most serious cases where significant fines are anticipated have continued to be committed to the Crown Court rather than retained in the Magistrates’ Courts. However, two recent cases indicate a move towards more significant fines being imposed by Magistrates.
Parker Hannifin Manufacturing Ltd was fined £1m in Lincoln Magistrates’ Court following a fatality caused by falling machinery in April 2015. Colin Reddish had been moving a large CNC milling machine which had been placed on jacks to allow him to use an angle grinder to cut the bolts that secured it to the floor. However, the work was not properly risk assessed and the workers tasked with lifting the machine did not have sufficient experience or training to complete the dangerous activity. The centre of gravity had not been properly assessed and resulted in the machine overturning and crushing Mr Reddish.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and section 2(1) of the HSWA and were fined £1m with full costs of £6,311 together with a victim surcharge of £120.
In a second case, a Bulgarian-based construction firm, Walltopia, with global offices, including one in Nottingham, was fined following a report by a member of the public of unsafe working practices during the construction of an adventure course in Markeaton Park, Derby.
The member of the public noticed work at height being carried out from a pallet on the forks of a telehandler. He firstly reported this to the company who assured him that the matter would be dealt with. However, unsafe work at height continued and the matter was reported to the HSE.
The HSE discovered that work was taking place on a section of roof 11 metres off the ground, without the use of any means to prevent two workers falling from the open edges. In addition, these workers were accessing the roof by climbing from the basket of a cherry picker.
Despite no one being injured, Derby Magistrates’ Court fined Walltopia £500,000 and ordered them to pay costs of £8,013.25 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
These two cases illustrate Magistrates being willing to retain such cases within their jurisdiction and not to shy away from imposing heavy fines rather than committing the cases to the Crown Court.