Comment – A dangerous precedent…

Massive fine could be merely the tip of the iceberg.

Yesterday’s story about the monumental fine handed down to Mick George Ltd gained traction the moment I hit the upload button. In its first hour online, the story passed the 100 reads, 500 reads and 1,000 reads milestones faster than any other story this year. It has since gone on to be our most-read story of the year so far.

I would love to say that this was due to my journalistic excellence and my finely crafted prose. But I merely reported the Health and Safety Executive’s findings. The truth is that this story took off because everyone in the UK demolition industry knows precisely what this means.

The UK legal system works on the basis of precedent; a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” system that ensures that the way in which a prosecution is handled today is based – more or less – on the way a prosecution was handled yesterday.

That being the case, the handing down of a £566,000 fine for what, in the grand scheme of things, was a relatively minor safety misdemeanour should serve as a warning to any company that is currently awaiting their day in court over a health and safety-related issue. (And before the health and safety police and keyboard warriors start filling up my email inbox with messages about the potential dangers of overhead power lines, I know. But the fact remains, no-one got hurt!)

Personally, I question not only the magnitude of the fine but also the reasoning behind it. Were the Health and Safety Executive seeking to make an example of Mick George Ltd and, if so, why? To the best of my knowledge, the company has a safety track record that is no better and no worse than that of its competitors; and as far as I am aware there has not been a recent spate of overhead power line strikes.

I could understand the size of the fine if the tipper driver involved had been hurt in some way. But he wasn’t; and neither was anyone else.

In truth, the reasoning behind such a landmark fine doesn’t really matter to anyone other than Mick George Ltd who – in my opinion, at least – appear to have been grossly mistreated and over-penalised.

What does matter for the wider UK demolition community is that there is now a precedent. There is now an entry in a legal text book that says it’s absolutely dandy to fine a company half a million quid over an incident in which no-one was hurt. Lord alone knows what that means for incidents in which workers or pedestrians WERE hurt.

Either way, if your company is facing a day in court over a prior health and safety incident (and the Mick George Ltd incident dates back to March 2016) then the message is very simple:

Be afraid. Be very afraid.