Recent case highlights increasing fines and impending effect of new Sentencing Guidelines

We review a recent case where a company has been ordered to pay over £847,000 following a second fatal incident on its site. This latest prosecution further demonstrates the upward trend in fines and may indicate that the new guidelines are being followed pre-emptively.

A Staffordshire animal rendering and food waste recycling company has been fined £660,000 following the death of a self-employed contractor who was scalded whilst fixing an industrial cooker. In 2004, another worker died at the same site when he entered a confined space without proper precautions being taken.

This latest ruling further demonstrates an upward trend in fines and also gives further credence to the transformative effect of the new Sentencing Guidelines.

The case

On Monday 29 June, 2015, John Pointon & Sons Ltd of Bones Lane, Cheddleton, Leek, was fined £660,000 and ordered to pay a further £187,632 in costs at Stafford Crown Court after pleading guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) determined that Mr Bullock was allowed to enter the cooker without the proper precautions having been implemented. Namely, the company had:

  • Not properly considered the risks of entering the cooker.
  • Failed to put in place a safe system of work.
  • Not competently managed the work as it was taking place.

In addition to this, it was heard that in 2004 another employee was killed at the same site when he entered a confined space without proper precautions being taken. While he was inside, steam from elsewhere in the system fed into the area where he was working. He was badly scalded and died in hospital the following day from his injuries.

With the forthcoming introduction of the new Sentencing Guidelines for Health and Safety and Corporate Manslaughter imminent, an examination of this recent prosecution (29 June, 2015) may indicate that the new guidelines are being followed pre-emptively.

New Sentencing Guidelines - already taking effect?

With a turnover of £38 million, the new guidelines would place this company in the ‘Medium Organisation’ category. By examining this set of facts under the new Sentencing Guidelines, it would be anticipated that it would be categorised within the high culpability tariff and within harm category one.  For offences of this nature, a starting point of £950,000 is recommended. As a result, with the credit for the early guilty plea in this instance, it would be reasonable to project that a fine of £625,000 - £675,000 might be handed down under the new guidelines.

This adds to the growing belief that the new Sentencing Guidelines will have a significant impact on fines.  Our understanding is that the guidelines could be published as early as November 2015. Moreover, it reaffirms a significant dearth of recent case law which indicates that starting points for fines is on a relentless movement upwards.

If you have any questions about this article, or would like more information about the new Sentencing Guidelines please contact one of our specialists below.

Author: Simon Tingle

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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Paul Matthews

Partner - Head of Regulatory (Yorkshire and North East)

I am a Partner in the Regulatory team and a corporate defence specialist who provides up-front regulatory compliance advice and representation to businesses and senior managers in relation to investigations and prosecutions by regulatory bodies.

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.