P&O operated a freight service and a yard at the port at Liverpool. In the yard P&O employees loaded and off-loaded containers to and from ferries. The containers were lifted from the HGVs by large trucks. An employee of P&O standing in the yard was struck by one of these trucks in operation and killed.
The Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation into the accident and found that P & O had failed to ensure the safety of its employees in a number of respects and had failed to ensure that the dock premises used by all employees were suitable and adequately lit. The HSE brought a prosecution against P&O for failure to ensure, as reasonably as practicable, the health and safety at work of its employees under s. 2(1) of the Health and Safety at work Act 1974 and for failure ensure that the dock premises were adequately lit under Regulation 6(1) of the Docks Regulations 1988.
P&O pleaded guilty to the two offences and were fined £250,000 under the 1974 Act and £50,000 under the 1988 Regulations.
P&O appealed against the sentence on the grounds that it was excessive. Mitigating factors advanced were that a guilty plead had been entered at the first opportunity, there had been no previous convictions or similar offences, that the breaches of duty had been careless not deliberate or reckless and were not occasioned by any costs savings or financial motives.
The fines totalling £300,000 as imposed by the judge had been too much given the circumstances of the case and the culpability of P&O. Aside from the death of the employee, there were no significant aggravating factors and numerous mitigating ones. The fines were quashed and fines of £200,000 and £25,000 were imposed for the breaches of the Health and Safety at work Act 1974 s. 2(1) and the Docks Regulations 1988 Regulation 6(1) respectively.
*Full case details
R. vs P&O European Ferries (Irish Sea Ltd) 24 November 2004, Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, Judgement of Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Davis and the Recorder of Cardiff His Honour Judge Griffith Williams QC
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Despite the fact the Court of Appeal accepted there were no significant aggravating factors and numerous mitigating ones, the total amount in fines was only reduced by 25%.
Sentences for breaches of health and safety at work legislation will be significant in order to send a message to employers, directors, shareholders and others in large companies to remain vigilant in respect of their obligations towards employees imposed by health and safety legislation.