On 31 May 2016, a major energy company was fined £1.75 million at Dunfermline Sheriff Court following the serious scalding of an employee.
The incident occurred in 2013 at a central Scotland power station when a plant controller attempted to close a faulty valve that released high-pressure, high-temperature steam. An index plate to limit the rotation of a handwheel used to open and close the valve was missing, causing the unexpected release. As a result, the employee suffered serious burns to his chest and legs.
The HSE investigated the incident and found that there was an awareness of the valve defect but steps were not taken to repair the issue or remove the valve from use. This failure resulted in an employee having their health and safety compromised and a breach of s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 for the exposure of this risk.
This sentence is just one example of a continuing increase in sentences for health and safety breaches in Scotland. This is perhaps not surprising given the new approach being used by the courts in England and Wales under the Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guidelines. The guidelines came into force in England and Wales on 1 February 2016 and although not directly applicable in Scotland, it was suggested by some that these guidelines may be influential in Scottish courts. This is the first case in Scotland where the court has chosen to apply the guidelines.
As has previously been reported, Scotland established a sentencing council on 19 October 2015 however no guidelines have yet been produced for the Scottish courts in respect of health and safety.
A decision on whether this case will be appealed is eagerly awaited. In the meantime, organisations must be aware of the potential for Scottish courts to refer to the guidelines and the significant increase in fines as a result.