Monavon Construction Limited was the first firm to be sentenced under the new sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter, receiving a fine of over half a million pounds for the "wholly preventable" death of two men who fell into a building site that it operated.
In October 2013, Monavon was undertaking renovation works to a site near Euston, London, which involved the construction of a new basement flat. During the works an edge protection perimeter hoarding had been put in place around the site but a light well was yet to have metal railings fixed around it.
In the early hours of 19 October 2013, Gavin Brewer and Stuart Meads were seen by members of the public and local CCTV to be “arguing and scuffling”, when one of the men pushed the other into the hoarding. It gave way causing both of them to topple four metres head-first down the uncovered light well. Both men suffered catastrophic head and neck injuries and died at the scene.
The company was charged with two counts of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (the "2007 Act"). Under the 2007 Act, companies and organisations can be found guilty of the offence if a gross breach of a duty of care has occurred as a result of serious management failures.
The small family-run construction company, which had never before been convicted of health and safety breaches, pleaded guilty to two counts of corporate manslaughter and to an offence under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which places general duties on employers and the self-employed towards people other than their employees.
Monavon became the first company to be sentenced under the new sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter, which came into effect in February 2016.
The most significant feature of the new guidelines is the significant increase in the level of fines. While the previous guidance suggested a baseline of £500,000 for a fatality, with the possibility of fines in the millions, the new guideline makes it clear that fines in the millions are, in fact, just a starting point. The purpose of the increase was that "it should not be cheaper to offend than to take the appropriate precautions". Other features of the new guidelines include changes to the assessment of the seriousness of an offence by reference to the risk posed and the company’s culpability in creating or failing to manage that risk.
In sentencing, the seriousness of the offence was classified as category A due to the court's finding that the risk of serious injury from a poorly guarded light well was highly foreseeable, particularly as it had not been covered for over two months and there was a significant amount of regular footfall in the vicinity of the site. Mitigating factors taken into account by the judge included the company's good safety record and lack of previous prosecutions against it, as well as the "remedial steps" taken after the accident.
Monavon was therefore fined £250,000 each for the two offences of corporate manslaughter and £50,000 for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £23,653. A publicity order was also made requiring the company to publish a notice in a form directed by the court announcing the conviction and sentence.
Under the 2007 Act, a company's duties of care will be identified in accordance with current health and safety legislation, meaning "any statutory provision dealing with health and safety matters". Not only will breaches of those duties be considered by the court, but so too will the extent to which a company has taken account of any appropriate health and safety guidance and the extent to which the evidence shows that there were attitudes, policies, systems or accepted practices within the organisation that were likely to have encouraged any such serious management failure or have produced tolerance of it.
The broad scope of the 2007 Act and the finding in Monavon, therefore, highlight the need for companies to keep their health and safety management systems under review, in particular, the way in which their activities are managed or organised by senior management.