Regulating working conditions: a ‘one stop shop’ approach to tackling modern slavery
On 23 March 2017 Arrow Recycling Ltd were fined £160,000 at Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court after one of its workers, 49 year old Parvez Ahmed, was seriously injured by 400kg of falling cardboard. The incident, occurring at the company’s Smethwick site in April last year, resulted in Mr Ahmed being placed in a 10-day induced coma and suffering from a cracked skull and brain haemorrhage.
Following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the waste resource management company was found to have failed to establish a safe method of storing recycled bale stacks. Companies such as Arrow use recycling balers to compact recycling into blocks for easy storage and transportation. However the HSE found that the way Arrow stored its bales resulted in heavy unstable loads which ultimately caused the falling cardboard. The company was convicted and fined for breaching Regulation 10(4) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) and ordered to pay costs of £2,917.
Under Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA), it is an offence to breach any health and safety regulations. This includes the WAHR. Under Regulation 10 of the WAHR, the standards that every employer (like Arrow Recycling Ltd) must meet to avoid injury to any person are set out. These include taking suitable and sufficient steps to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, the fall of any material or object. Subsection 4 to Regulation 10, to which Arrow Recycling pleaded, requires every employer to “ensure that materials and objects are stored in such a way as to prevent risk to any person arising from the collapse, overturning or unintended movement of such materials or objects”. It was this requirement that Arrow failed to meet.
Whilst it did not happen here, where the HSE wants to go further it can seek to prosecute a director or similar officer of the body corporate, for an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions (which includes the WAHR) where it is committed with the consent or connivance of, or attributable to any neglect on the part of that person. This power, contained under Section 37 of the HSWA was used to convict company director Jonathan Marshall in November last year after a self-employed contractor was fatally injured after falling through a roof light.
Despite the Arrow Recycling’s guilty plea, the size of the fine was substantially larger than the company could have expected if the incident had occurred before 12 March 2015. As discussed previously, a change in the law has meant that even those companies whose cases are dealt with in the magistrates’ court can now face an unlimited fine – previously fines were capped at £20,000 per charge. This shift towards higher corporate health and safety fines was merely the start of a sentencing sea change however. From 1 February 2016 the revised Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines came into force which, as previously discussed, allowed for substantially higher fines. The effect, as discussed, has been significant and was undoubtedly a factor in the £5million fine on Merlin Attractions Operations Limited following the incident at Alton Towers – the highest fine imposed for a health and safety offence not involving a fatality.
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