An Accident Waiting to Happen

  • October 09, 2015
  • By Hunters Law

Fashion Retailer Hugo Boss UK was recently sentenced to a record fine of £1,2 million plus costs after pleading guilty to offences under health and safety legislation before Oxford Crown Court.  What had happened?

In June 2013, a four year old child was visiting the Hugo Boss outlet store at Bicester Village with his parents when, tragically, a 2 meter tall mirror weighing more than 100kg fell over, causing fatal head injuries to the child from which he later died in hospital.  A freak accident?  No, an entirely avoidable one: the mirror had simply been propped up against a changing room wall, balancing on the floor, without any fixings, and was a serious accident waiting to happen.  To make matters worse, this was not an isolated incident; there had been previous reports from other Hugo Boss stores of unsecured and falling mirrors.

Little wonder perhaps, that the court took the opportunity to remind businesses and the public at large that the legislation and sentencing guidelines on corporate manslaughter and health & safety offences causing death have teeth.  In November 2014, the Sentencing Council opened a new consultation on sentencing guidelines for these types of offences.  They propose that the court should consider (i) the level of harm (including its seriousness and likelihood) and (ii) the level of culpability (ranging from low to very high) of the offender before (iii) assessing the size and financial turn-over of the corporate offender to find the starting point for determining the appropriate size of the financial penalty.  Aggravating and mitigating circumstances would then need to be taken into account in the usual way to adjust the penalty, such as a reduction for guilty pleas.  If the new guidelines are adopted, they are likely to result in much higher and more consistently applied fines for health & safety offences committed by large companies and the Hugo Boss UK case is indicative of a move in that direction.

While Hugo Boss UK theoretically had a health and safety management system in place, this was clearly neither properly implemented and managed nor was there adequate training and supervision of its staff.  The main lesson for businesses (in particular, public facing multi-site retailers) is that they must pro-actively manage compliance with their health and safety policies and continuously monitor and assure the health and safety of their customers and employees across their estate.  This must include procedures for reviewing their policies and following-up in the case of near misses and incidents.

This article was originally published in Discover Germany and can be found here.

Gregor Kleinknecht

Hunters incorporating May, May & Merrimans

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