In two recent cases, the Court of Appeal has reduced the fines imposed on companies for health and safety convictions.
Most companies comply with health and safety laws, and require workers to wear appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment), have staff safety training programs and take other measures to protect their workers. However, safety breaches still happen and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) successfully prosecutes many companies every year.
When deciding on the level of fines, there are two general principles that courts should follow: the financial situation of the business, and the level of harm that safety breaches cause. One recent Court of Appeal decision found that a fine was out of proportion to the size of the business.
NPS London Ltd had been fined £370,000. It is a small company, but it is linked to a larger organisation and the fine was based on this partnership. The Court of Appeal decided that NPS was the offending organisation and was a small business, so the linked company should not increase its size. The fine was reduced to £75,000.
In the second case, the lower court judge's assessment of harm for a safety breach went against an expert witness who estimated the harm to be less than the judge’s assessment. The Court of Appeal agreed with the expert and reduced the fine from £400,000 to £190,000.
These cases show that appeals can be successful, but the best policy is to make the utmost effort to avoid health and safety breaches in the first place.