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9th November 2012

Garden Centre Charged with Corporate Manslaughter

What has happened?

The Crown Prosecution Service has charged a Norfolk garden nursery with corporate manslaughter in relation to the death of an employee which occurred two years ago.

The company has been summoned to appear at King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court on 23 November. It is the third company to be charged with corporate manslaughter since the introduction of the Act in 2008. Earlier this year, a farming company received the largest ever health and safety fine in Northern Ireland following the first corporate manslaughter conviction there.

Grzegorz Krystian Pieton died on 15 July 2010 from an electric shock, caused when the metal hydraulic-lift trailer he was towing came into contact with an overhead power line.

The incident occurred in Terrington St Clement, at Belmont Nursery, which is run by PS & JE Ward Ltd, based in King’s Lynn.

The HSE investigated the incident on the same day and immediately served the company with two Prohibition Notices, relating to: the operation of vehicles of a certain height from coming into contact with or closely approaching the overhead power lines in the field adjacent to the nursery buildings; and the movement of metal irrigation pipework under the overhead lines without undertaking a suitable risk assessment and implementing a safe system of work.

PS & JE Ward issued a statement through its solicitors, saying: “Belmont Nursery has worked closely with Police, the HSE and other agencies investigating the incident at the nursery. As formal legal proceedings are now underway, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on any aspect of the case at this time.

How could this affect me?
This will be an interesting case as the site would be classed as ‘low risk’ under recent government proposals and therefore not subjected to routine health and safety inspections by the HSE.

PS & JE Ward is a small company with fewer than 50 employees. According to corporate-accounts information provider Duedil, the nursery operator’s most recent accounts show it to have net assets of £740,056 and a turnover in 2010 of £4,277,310.

Convictions under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 should attract very substantial fines which could affect a company’s ongoing viability.

The risks associated with overhead powerlines are well known and there is detailed guidance on working safely near them. In this context, it makes financial as well as practical sense for companies and organisations to ensure they have adequate safeguards in place to prevent incidents which could give rise to such prosecutions.

The Lighthouse team will monitor this prosecution closely and provide further information as the case develops.

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