Safety Case Law

Custom Search

R v. F. Howe and Son Engineers Limited


Appeal against fines and costs. Previous plea of guilty for, failing to ensure safety of equipment, failing to ensure safety of employees and failing to create a risk assessment.


Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) 

Act, Regulation or Reference:

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, s. 2(1)  -  The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, reg. 11

Date: 1998


A fatal accident which occurred in 1996 when G Smith, who was a 20 year old employee of the appellant was electrocuted. He was using an electric vacuum machine which had defective wiring. The machine had been purchased second hand by F Howe and Son in 1995. The cable to the machine became trapped between one of its wheels and the floor, causing damage to the wiring so that the machine became live. Mr. Smith was holding it at the time and was unable to let go until the power was turned off. He was taken to hospital where he was
certified dead.

The company pleaded guilty to offences under the Act and Regulations for failing to ensure the safety of its employees and the safety of equipment etc. It was find £48,000 with £7,500 costs.
H Howe appealed the fines.

The Decision

F Howe and Son was a small company with limited resources., and so The full burden fell upon the company as neither the fines nor the costs were tax-deductible. In the court's judgment an appropriate fine was one totalling £15,000. This was imposed on the first count of the indictment (failing to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the safety at work of employees, Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. 2(1), with no separate penalty in respect of the other offences. The order for costs remained the same. The total financial penalty was reduced from £55,500 to £22,500.


In the court's opinion, the judge in Bristol Crown Court had given insufficient weight to the financial position of the company. It may have been that he did so because the financial information that he had was not provided until the very last moment.
A fine needs to be large enough to bring that message home where the defendant is a company not only to those who manage it but also to its shareholders. The objective of prosecutions for H&S offences in the work place is to achieve a safe environment for those who work there and for other members of the public who may be affected.