Prosecuted for running a filthy pizza restaurant – get a suspended jail sentence and banned from running a food business; Blow up an oil depot in the biggest mainland explosion in 60 years and miraculously avoid killing hundreds – miniscule fines for the five companies responsible compared to their profits, with no senior manager held personally responsible and no jail!
Hilda Palmer, spokesperson for the Hazards Campaign said: “We have campaigned for bigger fines and for holding directors accountable for their actions for many years, so the miniscule, inadequate fines levied on those responsible for the Buncefield explosion is no surprise and will, yet again, act as no deterrent (1).
“The fines are also far too low to reflect in any way the immense damage caused to the 43 people injured, to the local community and environment but we see yet again how corporations behaving badly externalise the costs of their crimes – in this case at least £1 billion! – on to the community and the rest of society and are allowed to get away with it again and again. On the same day a Birmingham restaurant owner was given a 36 week suspended prison sentence for a dirty pizzeria and banned from running a food business (2). As none of the directors of the three companies that caused the massive Buncefield explosion was held accountable in court, such a penalty was not available.
“The fact that the local MP also thinks the fines are far too small (3) is surprising as his Conservative party, now part of the coalition government, is a vehement supporter of the deregulation of health and safety law and its enforcement as unnecessary red tape. They continue with their mantra that safety laws are a huge and untenable burden on business, with Lord Young currently reviewing health and safety with a view to cutting this so-called burden. The Buncefield explosion shows that even in extremely hazardous industries, employers fail on a monumental scale to comply with the most basic and common sense of procedures, apparently untroubled by threats of being caught or of penalties they may suffer which amount to hundredths of one percent of their profits, as in this case. The fact that no-one was killed and more were not injured was pure luck, but many hundreds of people have had their lives and livelihoods immeasurably damaged by the criminal behaviour of these three companies. No worker and no one living anywhere near a large corporation can feel any safer as a result of the fines on these companies.
“It is time to be clear that the current enforcement of health and safety, and punishment of those guilty of breaking the law, is not working and needs strengthening, not weakening with more funding and support or we are all in danger. It is also time to be clear that tiny fractions of one percent of a large company’s profits will not harm them much, and that those who make the decisions which lead to such horrendous breaches of very basic health and safety precautions must be held accountable. It is simply not justice that the owner of a dirty pizza shop faces jail and is banned, but causing the biggest explosion in peace time results in miniscule fines. The directors of Total, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd and British Pipeline Agency Ltd, TAV Engineering Ltd and Motherwell Control Systems should face the consequences of their actions and inactions, via legal duties on directors, and face jail for their crimes, or we will see more incidents like this.
“It must be very clear now to the local MP and everyone else, but especially the Tories and Lord Young (,) that deregulation of health and safety and cuts in its enforcement are not going to prevent another incident like this, and that deregulation has been blown-to smithereens in the Buncefield explosion – We did not vote to die at work and we expect MPs to stand up for our lives, not make them more hazardous.”
More information Hilda Palmer 0161 636 7557