A Yorkshire household waste processing company has been fined £500,000 after being found guilty of corporate manslaughter.
Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited, which denied the charge, was convicted at Sheffield Crown Court on 7 November over the death of 42-year-old father-of-three Michael Winfrey in January 2011.
Mr Whinfrey, who was working as an autoclave operator, suffered fatal head injuries when the door of an autoclave failed and blew out under pressure. A colleague also suffered life-changing injuries in the explosion, which was so strong it blew a hole in the wall of the factory.
A joint investigation by South Yorkshire Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that there were longstanding safety issues with the autoclave doors. Detective Sergeant Rob Platts, who led the investigation for the police, said the verdict recognised “systemic failings” by Sterecycle, adding: “Because of the company’s inexcusable neglect, a man lost his life in a completely avoidable incident.”
HSE inspector Carol Downes said: “Modifications were made to the autoclaves without adequately considering the effect on the equipment; safety devices were removed because they slowed production; and when breakdowns occurred ‘running repairs’ were made without ever getting to the root cause of the problems. Employees were inadequately trained and felt in genuine fear for their safety at the site. The view was taken that production should be maintained at all costs.”
In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Jay said: “I have absolutely no doubt that this case has been one of the most difficult and demanding of its type that has confronted the criminal justice system. In my judgment, the majority of the blame for this deplorable state of affairs must be borne at senior management level, by which I mean… those at the higher end of the management tree.”
Jeremy Sirrell,a partner at Palmers whose expertise includes representation in health and safety prosecutions, said: “While such cases are extremely rare, companies can face unlimited fines and management individuals can face prison sentences if convicted under the Act.
“This case underlines how essential it is for all businesses to make health and safety a priority and ensure that everyone within the company – from the most senior management to the most junior – understands their health and safety responsibilities and rights. For more information on our health and safety compliance and representation services, please contact us.”