Food manufacturer fined £2 million following the death of an employee

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On 4 February 2015 a 29 year old father of one, Jacek Adamowicz, was cleaning a storage yard at Hitchen Foods Limited when a number of plastic bales each weighing 703kg fell on top of him and trapped him on the ground. Mr Adamowicz subsequently died of his injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had failed to consider and properly plan the stacking and storage of the bales. Furthermore it had failed to implement a safe system of work for its employees during the stacking of the bales. There was also no formal training in stacking bales and lack of monitoring in the bale area.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Section 2(1) states that it is the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees. The company was fined £2 million and ordered to pay £32,595 prosecution costs to the HSE. It had previously been confirmed at Mr Adamowicz’ inquest that the death had been accidental and that no criminal charges were to be brought against the company.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Ian Betley said “[the company] fell far short of the required standard expected. Not only should proper planning have been carried out in relation to the storage and stacking of waste bales, but also a system of work subsequently put in place to mitigate those risks. The company failed on both these counts with devastating consequences.”

WM comment

The Sentencing Council’s new definitive guideline for sentencing corporate defendants for health and safety offences came into force on 1 February 2016 and sets out clear steps which the court must follow when deciding upon the level of the fine. These guidelines will have been followed to establish a fine of £2 million.