A judge has given a £100k discount off the fine a manufacturer was to pay for the death of one of its workers because of financial losses it would incur due to coronavirus, a court heard.
Mr Javeed Ghaffar had been working on machinery used to manufacture fibres used in teabags while employed at IFG Drake Ltd’s site in Huddersfield on 24 March 2017.
Leeds Crown Court heard at sentencing on 3 June how fibres had got stuck to the rollers of the machine and begun to wrap around them, an issue known as a lap. Mr Ghaffar tried to remove the lap, and as he did so, he became entangled in the machine and was fatally crushed.
Malcolm Galloway, defending IFG Drake in court, said that His Honour J Stubbs QC settled on a starting point of £750,000 for the fine.
The company was a medium-sized firm, which had a turnover of roughly £33m per year for the past three years. This was the appropriate fine for a company of this size, and the incident which was medium likelihood of level A, harm Category 2. The Judge decided on an ‘uplift’ to the top of category 1 to reflect the death of Mr Ghaffar.
Galloway, writing on the Crown Office Chambers website, said: “There were no aggravating factors and a number of mitigating factors including a high level of cooperation (‘what more could they have done’) so the judge then reduced the figure to £650,000.”
At step three, the sentencing guidelines require the court at to “step back’, review and, if necessary, adjust the initial fine based on turnover”. Mr Galloway writes that the judge took the “unusual step” of adjourning the court: “The judge was plainly troubled how he should approach the effect of Covid-19 in the sentencing process.”
“The judge recognised that even before the pandemic the company had a substantial turnover but a relatively low profit margin and as a result of the pandemic was predicted to make a substantial loss this financial year,” said Mr Galloway.
As a result of the identified drop in turnover he reduced the figure down to £550,000.
The Judge also finally gave the firm a reduction for the early guilty plea so the fine was further reduced to £366,850.
IFG Drake Ltd, of Old Mills, Drighlington, Bradford was fined £366,850 for breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. It had to pay £23,993 in costs.
Investigating HSE inspector, John Boyle commented: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to provide adequate guarding against dangerous parts of the machine.”
Commenting on how the fine was reached, Mr Galloway said it proved how important it is for defence teams to provide up-to-date financial information in the current times.
“A simple, ‘the company is going to find it very hard because of CV19’ is unlikely to find favour before a sentencing judge, particularly in a case involving a fatality.”
The case was the first health and safety sentence undertaken by counsel from Crown Office Chambers to be heard in a court since lockdown.
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