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R v British Steel Plc [1994]


Defence of reasonably practicable; proper delegation; directing mind of the company



Act, Regulation or Reference:

Date: 1994


In 1990, British Steel decided to move a steel platform by crane. Two workers were provided by sub-contractors to do the repositioning work. British Steel provided all equipment and a British Steel engineer, Mr Crabb, was made responsible for supervision. The platform was cut free without first being suspended from the crane. While one of the workers was underneath the platform, another worker walked on it causing it to collapse, fatally injuring the worker underneath.

British Steel accepted at Sheffield Crown Court that the incident constituted a breach of s. 3(1) of the 1974 Act. However, they stated that the defence of reasonable practicability enabled them to submit a defence on the basis that the directing minds of the company had taken all reasonable care in delegating supervision to Mr Crabb.

The Decision

The judge ruled that the defence of proper delegation did not arise and British Steel was convicted. British Steel appealed.
The Court of Appeal held that s3 (1) imposes absolute liability subject to ‘reasonably practicable’ measures to avert the risk and the appeal was dismissed.
The case reinforces the concept that corporations cannot avoid liability simply because the act causing the breach was carried out by someone who was not the directing mind of the company. Nor can they avoid responsibility simply by taking reasonable care to delegate responsibility.