Money spent on ensuring that health and safety rules are religiously met is money well spent. The point was resoundingly proved by a case in which a car parts manufacturer’s failings led to outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease.
The company’s plant had an extensive water system comprising four cooling towers and 22,000 metres of pipework. The Legionella bacteria had thrived unchecked in disused and capped off pipes. Dosing the pipes with biocide would have neutralised the hazard, but that had not been done effectively by contractors.
Over a period of about eight months, four of the company’s staff, and a member of the public who lived near the plant, contracted the disease after inhaling infected water droplets. One of the victims had to be treated in an intensive care unit and remained in an induced coma for 10 days.
After the company admitted two offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, it was fined £800,000. It received a further identical fine in respect of another incident in which an explosion in a flocking machine had left an apprentice traumatised and seriously burned.
In upholding the company’s challenge to the amount of the fine in respect of the disease outbreaks, the Court of Appeal noted evidence that only 0.04 per cent of those exposed to the Legionella bacteria would be expected to die. The risk of serious harm arising from the company’s failure of oversight was therefore medium, rather than high as had been found by the sentencing judge.
The amount of that fine was reduced to £380,000. The Court, however, found that the fine in respect of the flocking machine explosion was fully justified. The company’s total fine was reduced from £1.6 million to £1.18 million.