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Are the draft Sentencing Guidelines already beginning to bite?

With a £500,000 fine imposed on TIP Europe Ltd after a serious non-fatal accident, we look at the importance of workplace transport safety and query whether the fine suggests the Draft Sentencing Guidelines are already having an effect. 

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), over five thousand accidents occur every year involving workplace transport – and the human and financial consequences can be dire.

Workplace transport safety has been brought into the limelight by a £500,000 fine imposed on TIP Europe Ltd (TIP) after an employee suffered “severe life-changing injuries” when she was crushed between two lorries.

With such a significant fine being imposed for a non-fatal, yet serious incident, we consider if the draft sentencing guidelines are already beginning to bite, and if so, what this means for Health & Safety professionals.

Background

Mrs Rose, an employee of TIP Europe Ltd, was acting as a banksman for a lorry driver reverse parking on a slope. The driver decoupled his trailer without engaging his parking brake, resulting in the trailer rolling back and trapping Mrs Rose between two vehicles.

Mrs Rose suffered significant injuries (including a punctured lung, severe head injuries and impaired vision) and nearly three years after the accident still suffers from mobility problems.

The HSE found three key issues:

1)      TIP regularly allowed vehicles to park on a slope without chocks;

2)      TIP failed to monitor whether drivers applied their handbrakes properly; and

3)      The slope ended on a public road, raising risks for pedestrians on site as well as passing pedestrians and drivers.

TIP pleaded guilty to breaching s2 and s3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £500,000 with an order for £56,938 in costs.

Possible effect of the Guidelines

Whilst there have been high fines for similar incidents in the past (a company was ordered to pay £200,000 in a similar 2014 case in 2014), a £500,000 fine for a non-fatal accident is almost unheard of. According to the HSE’s prosecution database, only three other non-fatal prosecutions have resulted in fines exceeding £300,000.

In November 2014, the Sentencing Guidelines Council released draft guidelines (the draft Guidelines) for sentencing in health & safety cases. It is widely predicted that when these draft Guidelines come into force, we will see fines on this scale as a matter of course. But could it be the case that we are already seeing the impact of the draft Guidelines before their formal introduction?

TIP has an annual a turnover of nearly £68m, placing it firmly in the “large” offender category under the draft Guidelines. A “large” offender with medium-to -high level of culpability for an accident can expect a fine of up to £1.45m with a starting point of either £300k or £540k depending on the Court’s assessment of culpability. (Find out more about the draft Sentencing Guidelines ›)

Points to note for Health & Safety professionals

There are three key points to note from this case:

  1. Coupling (and de-coupling) of vehicles is hazardous. For those organisations where this activity takes place, a safe system of work for the procedure must be implemented, monitored and enforced. Check out our guide on what can go wrong and how to ensure best practice.
  2. In terms of more general application of this case, the level of fine imposed is in-keeping with the levels of fines that businesses will face when the draft Guidelines officially come into effect.
  3. When the sentencing guidelines come into force (expected later in 2015) fines of this size are predicted to become the norm for large companies following serious incidents. Fines across the board, for businesses large and small, are expected to increase after implementation of the Guidelines and, judging by this recent case, the Courts already may already have one eye on the new tariffs. 

Authors: Joanne Witheford & Patrick Kane

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Joanne Witheford

Senior Solicitor - Deputy Head of Road Haulage & Logistics

I am a regulatory lawyer specialising in health and safety, manslaughter defence and road transport law.

Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.