The death of a crane driver has led to the conviction of corporate manslaughter for a mobile crane hire company, making it the first in the UK to suffer such ignominy. Despite the verdict being handed down before the introduction of new, tougher Sentencing Guidelines this month, the level of the fine sends out a strong message to all UK organisations that may need to invest further in risk and compliance services.
The company in question, Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd, was hit with a £700,000 fine at Preston Crown Court on 22nd December 2015, also being ordered to pay £200,000 in costs. The conviction was in relation to the August 2011 death of Lindsay Easton, who was employed as a crane operator by the company. It was while Mr Easton was driving a 16-wheel, 130-tonne crane down a steep road away from a Lancashire wind farm that it crashed into an earth bank and fell from the road, killing Easton.
Lancashire Police and the Health and Safety Executive conducted an investigation into the incident, finding that several of the vehicle’s brakes provided very little braking force due to being inoperable, worn and contaminated, as well as that there were significant issues with brakes inspected across the company’s fleet requiring immediate repair. Mr Easton had replaced another operator, which meant that he was not using his usual vehicle, while significant failings were also found within the structure of the company.
While the outgoing regime’s Sentencing Guidelines call for punitive fines for such offences, sufficient to have an impact on the defendant, the £700,000 fine imposed on Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd may initially seem low to some, not least given its status as a medium-sized organisation with a turnover of just under £20 million. However, it is still the highest fine to have ever been imposed on a company for a corporate manslaughter conviction, continuing the upward trend for such offences as the revised Sentencing Guidelines take effect this month.
Those new guidelines place the starting point for a corporate manslaughter fine on a company of comparable size to Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd at £3 million, rising to as much as £7.5 million if adjusted for aggravating features. The case therefore even more strongly highlights how important it is, going forward, for companies to regularly inspect and maintain all equipment, machinery and vehicles used during the course of employment, to demonstrate regard for the safety of their employees and non-employees alike.
Finally, the case is also a warning to firms of the continued appetite of the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue corporate manslaughter cases attracting increasingly hefty fines. It is a warning that should be heeded by all manner of organisations contemplating the risk and compliance services of London Registrars.