G4S was fined £1.8m at Chelmsford Crown Court on 2 September 2016 after Harlow Council prosecuted the company for failing to protect its workers from the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.
The cash transit arm of security multinational, G4S was found guilty of breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and fined £1.6m; a further £200,000 fine was issued for failing to ensure others were not exposed to risk under Section 3 of the same Act.
In October 2016, G4S lodged an application for permission to appeal the sentence. Honour Mr Justice Popplewell refused permission to appeal on the 7 November 2016.
G4S then renewed their application for leave to appeal the sentence. At the appeal hearing on Wednesday 12 July 2017 heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, G4S claimed that the sentence was “manifestly excessive”.
Lawyers acting for G4S argued that the court’s characterisation of culpability as ‘very high’ (a ‘deliberate breach of, or flagrant disregard for, the law’) was wrong. G4S sought to have the culpability reduced to ‘high’.
The company argued that it had tried to address the risk from Legionella by having a policy and risk assessment, took steps internally and had engaged an independent contractor to carry out routine management and monitoring checks.
In giving judgement, Ms Justice Russell stated that it was difficult to see how any argument could reduce culpability down from ‘very high’ under the sentencing guidelines.
G4S were aware of their legal obligations and over a period of four-and-half years, it failed to act. Ms Justice Russell said this could only be viewed to be a “blatant and flagrant disregard of compliance with statutory obligations”.
The case dates back to 2013, when it was reported to Harlow Council Environmental Health Officers that a resident of Harlow had contracted Legionellosis.
An inspection in October of that year revealed a serious lack of compliance in maintaining water systems at the site.
G4S did not take the steps required to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from its water systems despite a “long-standing duty, extensive guidance, advice from their own consultants and from Harlow Council”, the Council said.
Councillor Danny Purton, portfolio holder for environment, commented: “I am pleased that the Court has upheld the level of fine originally handed down to G4S in full. Although G4S did make some improvements to its practises it was aware of its legal obligations to protect its staff and visitors from exposure to Legionella bacteria and, over a period of four-and-a-half years, it had failed to act.
“The health and safety of our residents is our number-one priority. The Council will always take decisive action in situations like this where necessary because people’s lives could be at stake.
Inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires' disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.
Hot and cold systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella can grow if not managed.