A logistics firm has been fined £250,000 following a fatal fall through a warehouse roof weeks after the Court of Appeal confirms that fines will be based on the seriousness of the offence and the financial circumstances of the offender.
Aramex (UK) Ltd hired Gary Edwards, a roofing contractor, and his employee, Michael Sweet, to fix a leak and to clean out guttering on 12 December 2011. Mr Sweet was cleaning out the guttering when he stepped on a fragile roof panel and fell to the concrete floor below.
Aramex and Mr Edwards were both prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that no safety measures had been put in place. The HSE found that Aramex had also ignored its own health and safety guidelines and that they had failed to supervise the work or assess how it would be carried out, despite knowing that the roof was fragile.
Mr Edwards admitted that the only safety equipment he had provided for cleaning the warehouse roof had been a pair of gloves. Other safety measures could have included placing boards over the fragile roof panels, using harnesses, erecting scaffolding or hiring a cherry picker.
Aramex and Mr Edwards each pleaded guilty to single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Aramex was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £20,000. Mr Edwards received a four-month prison sentence suspended for one year.
This prosecution came just weeks after the Court of Appeal considered the issue of sentencing large organisations for health and safety offences. The Court of Appeal was asked to consider a high fine in circumstances where there was no evidence of specific senior management failures. The failures, although serious and persistent, were at operational level.
The Court noted that the objective of a fine includes “...ensuring that the message is brought home to the directors and members of the company (usually the shareholders)” and that it “...will always be necessary in the case of companies with a turnover in excess of £1 billion to examine with great care and in some detail the structure of the company, its turnover and profitability as well as the remuneration of the directors... there is no ceiling on the amount of a fine that can be imposed.”
Looking forward, it seems that very large organisations (initially defined as those with a turnover in excess of £1 billion) can expect far greater levels of financial punishment if convicted of these types of offences. Certainly, there will now be much greater scrutiny of accounts before and at any sentencing hearing. This is likely to include consideration of director bonuses and the basis for their payment. Smaller organisations, although not specifically considered by the Court of Appeal, are also likely to see fines increase in the future.
The HSE overhauled its guidance on working at height in January. This updated guidance provides clearer and targeted advice for certain sectors on individual or company level obligations as well as combating common health and safety myths. Given the increasing trends we are seeing, it is worth taking the time to make sure that your organisation doesn’t get caught out.