Employers who put their staff at risk by failing to abide by health and safety rules are routinely hit hard in the pocket. Exactly that happened to a discount chain that was fined £1 million after admitting shoddy practices at three of its stores.
The chain pleaded guilty to 24 breaches of health and safety legislation after officers reported that employees were being endangered by overstocked store rooms. Shop managers were unable to cope with the pressure of stock coming into stores and felt obliged to accept deliveries although they did not have enough staff to deal with them. Shortcomings in staff training and failures to protect junior workers, provide protective clothing or perform risk assessments were also identified.
In challenging the amount of the fine as excessive before the Court of Appeal, the chain’s lawyers argued that, in common with many high street retailers, it was encountering tough trading and was in a difficult financial position. In dismissing the appeal, however, the Court noted that the chain has about 400 stores nationwide and had opened 44 new branches in the past 12 months.
The evidence amply demonstrated that the fine, payable over 18 months, would not be difficult for the chain to meet and was not disproportionate. There were breaches in three stores, reflective of systemic failings in senior management, and the chain had previous convictions for health and safety offences. The Court noted that it was not enough to have a system in place for complying with the law. What mattered was whether such a system was implemented in practice.