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Court of Appeal Considers Sentencing Guidelines in Health and Safety Cases

In a guideline ruling that will be required reading for health and safety professionals, the Court of Appeal has more than halved the £450,000 fine imposed on a truck sales company on whose premises a scrap dealer was crushed to death.

The man, aged in his 60s, had dealt as an independent contractor with the company for many years and part of the company’s premises were set aside for his use. The roof of a curtain-sided trailer that he was dismantling fell on top of him, causing fatal head injuries. A Health and Safety Executive investigation later concluded that his method of work was unsafe.

The company had no expertise in the man’s field of activity and believed that it had no responsibility for him. Even had a formal risk assessment been in place, it was argued that he would have been extremely unlikely to pay any attention to it.

The company nevertheless pleaded guilty to failing to provide a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, contrary to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The £450,000 fine was imposed after a judge found that the risk posed to the deceased was obvious and that it was a case of high culpability.

In allowing the company’s appeal, the Court found that its culpability was low. The company, which held over 8,000 vehicles in stock and exported globally, had a good safety record, had cooperated fully with the investigation and had spent heavily on health and safety improvements. The Court expressed sympathy for the family of the deceased but, after conducting a detailed review of sentencing guidelines in health and safety at work cases, reduced the company’s fine to £200,000.

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