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Pyranha Mouldings Ltd becomes the tenth UK company to be convicted of corporate manslaughter

Man in a warehouse wearing a hard hat Print publication

19/01/2015

Pyranha Mouldings Ltd has become the tenth company to be convicted in the UK under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (the Act), following the tragic death of an employee who became trapped in an industrial oven.

Peter Mackereth, the company’s technical director who designed the oven which was used to mould kayaks, was also convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of two charges of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Martin Heywood, investigating inspector at the Health and Safety Executive, said: “Alan Catterall tragically lost his life because the way in which maintenance work was carried out on the moulding ovens at the factory was fundamentally unsafe.

The doors were set to automatically close whenever the electrical supply was switched back on, which meant there was a high risk of someone being trapped inside. There had been no risk assessments and staff had not received suitable training on how to use the new ovens and there were no written instructions on cleaning and maintenance.

If Pyranha Mouldings and the individual prosecuted over Alan’s death had properly considered the risks to employees when they designed, installed and operated the ovens then he would still be here today.”

Pyranha faces an unlimited fine when sentencing is carried out next month. The suggested starting point for a fine in this situation is £500,000 under existing sentencing guidelines, but successful prosecutions to date have seen varying levels of fines imposed. The largest fine imposed to date is the £500,000 to be paid by Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited following its conviction last year.

Pyranha’s refusal to own up to its failures together with the fact that in September 2013, it was fined £50,000 plus costs when it pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 following the injury of an employee as the result of unsafe systems of work, lack of risk assessments and failure to train employees will almost certainly be taken into account as aggravating factors when the judge decides what level of fine to impose.

In addition to the unlimited fine, the judge also has the power to order the company to pay compensation, remedy faults and publicise the breach, all of which could have a significant impact on Pyranha’s finances and reputation.

Details of previous prosecutions under the Act can be found here.

The Sentencing Council is currently carrying out a consultation to review the sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter (amongst other offences). The Council proposes to create a more consistent approach to sentencing for both fatal health and safety offences and corporate manslaughter, given their close interplay. Accordingly large organisations committing corporate manslaughter could face fines of up to £20 million in England and Wales. Fatal health and safety offences could also carry fines of up to £10 million.

The Council also proposes that from now on, starting points and ranges for fines should be set out in guidelines, taking into consideration the offenders’ means and the seriousness of the offence to ensure ‘proportionate sentences’.

The consultation will end on 18 February 2015.

Aside from the financial and reputational impact for companies, the human cost alone means that it is vital that organisations take their health and safety obligations seriously. Ensuring that they have adequate safety management systems in place, including appropriate training and record keeping, which are fully embedded and supported by a strong compliance culture from the boardroom down to the shop floor will mean that businesses keep their employees safe whilst at the same time safeguarding their bottom line from unlimited fines.

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