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Case Study: Carlsberg Fined £3 million

18 August 2022

We take a look at the recent sentence imposed on Carlsberg and what lessons companies can learn…

Background

Carlsberg has been fined £3m and ordered to pay £90,000 in costs after a contractor died on 9 November 2016 whilst working on the brewery's Northampton site. 

David Chandler, 45, was killed and David Beak, now 57, was seriously injured when they were exposed to a fatal level of ammonia. 

Twenty people needed hospital checks after showing symptoms of ammonia exposure and it was several days before the leak was contained and gas levels dropped to a safe level. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded after a lengthy investigation that Carlsberg had failed to put in place appropriate isolation controls to prevent exposure to ammonia before work started to remove the compressor from a refrigeration system.

The HSE investigation concluded that the standard of isolation in relation to that compressor was a single valve non-proved isolation, which is the lowest standard of isolation. According to the HSE, the standard that should have been in place was positive isolation, which is the highest standard of isolation.

The Charges

Carlsberg Supply Company UK Ltd, who were summonsed under their new company name of Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company, pleaded guilty to charges under Section 2(1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. 

The Principal Contractor for the project was Crowley Carbon UK Ltd, which had appointed numerous contractors to assist in the works. One of those sub-contractors Speedrite NE Ltd. Speedrite NE employed both David Chandler and David Beak.

Crowley Carbon UK Ltd were also the subject of a HSE prosecution for their failings in the incident but the company was placed into compulsory administration by the creditors, which left the HSE unable to prosecute the company.

Sentencing

The Judge at Birmingham Crown Court held that the offending sat squarely within the middle of the 'high' culpability bracket under the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for Health & Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences (the 'Guideline’) and within 'Harm Category 1'.

The Court treated Carlsberg as a large organisation, rather than a very large organisation, on the basis that their circa £98 million turnover was roughly double the upper limit of the turnover identified in the Guidelines as being the threshold applicable to a 'large' organisation and not one whose turnover "very greatly" exceeded the large organisation threshold. 

Key Learnings

Carlsberg accepted failures in relation to the suitability and sufficiency of the assessment of risks associated with the presence of ammonia, the standard of isolation and the lack of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. It is imperative for companies to ensure that all risks have been sufficiently assessed and that the requisite risk assessment is not only in place, but the measures are suitably implemented. 

Projects that involve multiple contractors always require effective management arrangements for planning, managing and monitoring risks to the health and safety of those who will be affected by that work and companies engaging contractors always need to be aware of their health and safety roles and responsibilities.  

Looking at the sentencing exercise, a number of strong mitigating factors were taken into account such as steps being taken to remedy deficiencies, a high level of co-operation beyond that which will be expected and that Carlsberg accepted responsibility prior to the commencement of the prosecution. It is vital that when a company finds itself in a situation where such an incident has occured, that it takes prompt steps to understand the incident and how it occurred, and consider the wider strategy to be applied from the very outset.

DWF's Regulatory, Compliance and Investigations team are experts in this area and can advise you thorough every step of the process from the day of the incident through to the conclusion of the case. Please contact Simon Belfield

Further Reading