Judges take a tough line against health and safety breaches at work and are intent on sending out a message to employers that laxity will not be tolerated. In one recent case, a packaging company was hit with a six-figure fine after a worker’s toes were amputated by an industrial machine.
The machine was the length of a commercial bus. Cardboard was fed in at one end and passed through it at substantial speed on a conveyor system. A member of staff had previously expressed concerns that there might be a serious accident and that prediction came to pass when a worker’s left foot became caught in the machine’s working parts. All his toes on that foot were severed.
Following a Health and Safety Executive investigation, it emerged that employees had not been trained to make use of a vital safety feature of the machine. The company admitted an offence under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £9,866 in legal costs.
In challenging the fine before the Court of Appeal, the company pointed to a blemish-free safety record over the seven-year period since its foundation. Operating in a highly competitive field, its profits were modest. However, arguments that the penalty was disproportionate or unaffordable were rejected. The risk of an accident had been high and the consequences for the injured worker were life-changing.