Retail outlet Wilko has pleaded guilty at Leicester Crown Court to four offences relating to the Health and Safety at Work Act after an incident in August 2013, and received a £2.2 million fine (plus costs of £70,835).
The incident involved employee Corisande Collins, who was pulling a top-heavy roll cage loaded with 230kg of paint out of a lift when the cage fell onto her. Ms Collins' spine was damaged, leaving her permanently paralysed from the waist down.
Judge Mooncey stated that there were "significant failings" and 'that heavily and unevenly laden cages were being manoeuvred around, sometimes unnecessarily, with items not even required on the shop floor. The risks were clear'. The incident was described as high culpability as there was no risk assessment for the lift or use of the roll cage as well as 'inadequate training and supervision'. Health and safety inspectors commented that the systems used by Wilko were unsafe.
The billion pound retailer accepted that they had failed to ensure the health and safety of their employees and has stated they will not be appealing the decision.
This case provides another example of the impact of health and safety sentencing guidelines which have now been in force for almost a year. Particularly, this case has a defendant with high turnover, a finding of high culpability, and a serious level of harm. On that basis, the large fine is not unexpected, and is comparable with the £5 million fine given to Merlin Entertainments following the Alton Towers incident last year.
This case provides further evidence that the Court system is increasingly confident in imposing large fines, and serious penalties for breaches of health and safety law are here to stay. It is worth noting that this fine followed an early guilty plea from Wilko, which will have resulted in a substantial discount in the amount fined.
If you have any queries or concerns with regard to corporate criminal liability, please contact a member of our Business Risk and Regulation team.