CAV Aerospace Ltd fined £1 Million

Paul Bowers, a 47-year old, was fatally injured when a pile of metal being delivered to his workplace at Cambridge Airport toppled onto him.

Paul Bowers, a 47-year old, was fatally injured when a pile of metal being delivered to his workplace at Cambridge Airport toppled onto him. It was alleged that the metal stock had been placed dangerously high as it was being delivered.

CAV Aerospace (the company) was responsible for ordering and maintaining stock. It denied charges of corporate manslaughter and breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. However, an Old Bailey jury reached a guilty verdict and the company was fined £600,000 and £400,000 for the two offences to run concurrently. It was also ordered to pay £125,000 costs.

This is the largest fine yet imposed for corporate manslaughter, adhering to the Sentencing Council’s guideline that fines of this nature “will seldom be less than £500,000”. When determining the fine, the court noted that although the company was large it was not making “vast amounts of money – at least at present”.

The case is also interesting from the perspective that it was the first brought against a parent company when the incident had occurred on the subsidiary’s premises. The evidence put forward by the prosecution was that all operational decisions regarding the purchasing, delivery and storage of materials fell within the responsibility of the parent company. The company had ignored persistent warnings about the dangers of falling stacks of materials in the three years prior to the incident. The HSE found six near misses all logged on the company’s database but where no action was taken.

The charges for corporate manslaughter resulted from collective failings at senior management level. There were a number of mitigating factors, these were that:

  1. The company had been full and open with the HSE and went beyond what “will always be expected” using the Sentencing Council’s guideline;
  2. The company had also carried out significant changes to working practices with severe disciplinary action against employees who breached the new working systems; one of which had resulted in dismissal;
  3. The company had spent significant sums implementing these changes, providing support and counselling to Mr Bowers’ family and making payments in addition to any damages or other payments Mr Bowers and his family were entitled to;
  4. The company had a previously good health and safety record with no prior prosecution or enforcements; and
  5. It also had a generally good attitude to health and safety with managers able to make any changes on site and being trained to a “fairly high level” on health and safety, and regular reports being made to the senior management.

Despite these mitigating factors however, the seriousness of the company’s conduct when handling the delivery of materials left them with a record fine. This is perhaps a sign of the times that while the new sentencing guidelines are not yet in place, members of the judiciary may be starting to take them into account when determining sentence.

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