Council Fined £1,000,000

A prime example of the new sentencing guidelines in action

Posted on: 25/04/2017   By: Lee Rance

I came across this story the other day and thought it would make an interesting blog topic and also a good follow up to our previous blog on Sentencing Guidelines. It’s a great example of how the new sentencing guidelines can seriously affect any organisation.

Council employees were working in the County Park collecting branches and transporting them, using a tractor mounted grab attachment, to be burned. At the same time a disabled man was on a guided walk in the park. The worker using the tractor to transport branches through the park could not see the member of public ahead and collided with him.

The 71-year-old man suffered serious bruising and injuries to arms legs and head.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the council failed to implement a safe system of work for this activity in that they failed to segregate vehicle movements from the public.

They also failed to train the workers to the required level to operate the mounted grab and act as banksman. The machine was not suitable for transporting materials long distances.

The council also failed to supervise and adequately plan the work sufficiently in a public place and as a result put their own employees and members of the public at risk.

The council pleaded guilty to charges of breaching Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and have been fined £1million and ordered to pay costs of £10269.85

The story was posted on SHP Online with one of their readers leaving the following post reply:

Wow! A million pound fine for a non-profit making organisation with not even a fatality or life changing injuries. Makes one wonder what level of fine a fatality would have brought?

With the new sentencing guidelines there no longer needs to be an actual fatality or life changing injury in order to receive the maximum penalties. There only needs to be a high risk of death or disability. In this case, the fact that there was not a fatality or life changing injury was irrelevant. The point is there could have been. If a fatality or life changing injury had occurred, it’s possible that the fine would still be the same.

For example, if an object falls from a crane and crushes someone’s feet below then traditionally, that would be prosecuted and sentenced very much more leniently than if the same object had hit someone’s head and caused a fatality.  Under the new risk based approach, the foot injury is seen as having involved a high risk of death or disability and is prosecuted at the level calculated for a fatality.

The majority of non-fatal incidents could have been more serious, under the new guidelines these will be inflated up to the level of fine corresponding to that more serious injury.

Not only does this case show just how much fines have increased for these types of offences but also the criteria for calculating the fine has changed so that the potential for harm is taken into account.

Until next time.

Lee Rance