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Autoclave specialist convicted of corporate manslaughter

10 November 2014

Failed autoclave specialist Sterecycle has been convicted of corporate manslaughter at Sheffield Crown Court, for the death of 42 year old worker Michael Whinfrey, following an explosion at the firm’s waste processing plant in January 2011.

In his sentencing remarks, the Judge announced a fine of £500,000 as a mark of condemnation for the offence and to act as a deterrent to others.
Kingsley Napley partner and health & safety law expert Jonathan Grimes comments: "This is only the eighth successful prosecution of a company since the Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homocide Act 2007 came into force. The Act was introduced in the wake of The Herald of Free Enterprise, Hatfield and Ladbroke Grove tragedies to make companies more accountable for disasters and fatalities, yet convictions have been in short supply. As with previous cases, this company (Sterecycle) was relatively small in size with only around 50 employees. It remains to be seen if either the legislation, or those tasked with enforcing it, will be effective in dealing with larger companies with more layers of management.

"That said, one interesting feature of this case is that the prosecution relied not on the specified acts of individuals, but on the aggregation of failures throughout the company. This is a basis for prosecution that would not have been possible prior to the passing of this Act. Previously the 'identification principle' required individual gross negligence by someone in a senior position in the company to be proven for the gross negligence of the company to be established – the reason for the failed prosecutions of companies in cases like the Hatfield Rail disaster, and the Herald of Free Enterprise case. This case does therefore show that in the right cases management failures causing death, even in the largest companies, could form the basis for a successful corporate manslaughter prosecution.
"Today’s verdict is therefore a sign companies of all sizes need to take the Act and risk of prosecution seriously. It sends a strong message that companies should take their responsibility for the safety of employees and customers carefully or they will face severe consequences.  Companies can face unlimited fines and management individuals can face prison sentences if convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homocide Act. The successful prosecution today is an important warning shot for all companies, especially their directors, HR and safety teams.”