The sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences which came into force in February 2016 provide, on the face of it, a straightforward basis for calculating fines based upon culpability, harm and the defendant’s turnover. However the Court of Appeal recently reduced a significant fine on the basis that this was excessive.
Whitegoods manufacturer Whirlpool UK had been fined £700,000 in relation to an incident where a contractor fell from height when working in a factory near Bristol. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s.3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £700,000 plus costs of £11,466. It appealed on the basis that the fine was ‘manifestly excessive’.
The Court of Appeal agreed. It stated expressly that ‘the calculation of a fine through the structure of the guideline does not at this stage dictate an arithmetical approach.’ In particular the Court reduced the assessment of the level of fine by reference to the company’s turnover.
After setting a starting point of £500,000, reducing this by £50,000 for mitigating factors and by one third for an early guilty plea, the company’s fine was reduced by the Court to £300,000.
The Court of Appeal’s comments on the lack of an arithmetical approach to the sentencing guidelines is helpful. However, although the fine was reduced here, the likelihood of this in future cases should not be overestimated. The judgment makes it plain that the breach was one of low culpability by a company with a very good health and safety record.