Friday Law report: Fines for health and safety breaches

13 November 1998

Regina v F. Howe & Son (Engineers) Ltd

Court of Appeal, Criminal Division (Lord Justice Rose, Vice-President, Mr Justice Scott Baker and Mr Justice Hughes) 6 November 1998

FOLLOWING THE expression of disquiet in several quarters that the level of fines currently being imposed for offences contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was too low, and in view of the increasing recognition in recent years of the seriousness of such offences, the court outlined some of the factors which should be taken into account by judges and magistrates when imposing such penalties.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of F. Howe & Son (Engineers) Ltd against a total fine of pounds 48,000 imposed in respect of four offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related regulations, and substituted a fine of pounds 15,000.

Ian Dixey (Cartwrights, Bristol) for the appellant; Hugh Carlisle QC and Oba Nsugbe (Health and Safety Executive) for the Crown.

Mr Justice Scott Baker said that in assessing the gravity of the breach of duty imposed on employers by the Act, it was often helpful to look at how far short of the appropriate standard the defendant had fallen in failing to meet the test of what was reasonably practicable. It was often a matter of chance whether death or serious injury resulted from even a serious breach. Generally where death was the consequence of a criminal act it was regarded as an aggravating feature of the offence, and the penalty should reflect public disquiet at the unnecessary loss of life.

A deliberate breach of the health and safety regulations with a view to profit aggravated the offence. The standard of care imposed by the legislation was the same regardless of the size of the company or its financial strength. Smaller organisations which did not have their own in-house expertise in health and safety matters could obtain it, if necessary by seeking assistance from the Health and Safety Executive.

Other matters that might be relevant to sentence were the degree of risk and extent of the danger created by the offence; the extent of the breach or breaches; and, importantly, the defendant's resources and the effect of the fine on its business.

Particular aggravating features would include a failure to heed warnings, and deliberate financial profit from a failure to take necessary health and safety steps or a risk run specifically to save money. Particular mitigating features would include prompt admission of responsibility and a timely plea of guilty; steps to remedy deficiencies after they had been drawn to the defendant's attention; and a good safety record.

If a defendant company wished to make any submission to the court about its ability to pay a fine it should supply copies of its accounts and any other financial information on which it intended to rely in good time before the hearing, both to the court and to the prosecution. Where such accounts or information were deliberately not supplied, the court would be entitled to conclude that the company was in a position to pay any financial penalty it was minded to impose, and where the relevant information was supplied late it might be desirable for sentence to be adjourned, if necessary at the defendant's expense.

The objective of prosecutions for health and safety offences in the work place was to achieve a safe environment for those who worked there and for other members of the public who might be affected. A fine needed to be large enough to bring that message home not only to those who managed the company but also to its shareholders. Whilst in general a fine should not be so large as to imperil the earnings of employees or create a risk of bankruptcy, there might be cases where the offences were so serious that the defendant ought not to be in business.

With regard to costs, where a defendant was in a position to pay the whole of the prosecution costs in addition to the fine, there was no reason in principle for the court not to make an order accordingly.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor