The case of R v S Howe & Son (Engineers) Ltd is the leading case considered by the Courts when approaching sentence in fire safety matters. The case of Howe is not a fire safety case and its judgment was delivered in 1999 some 7 years before the FSO. The case lays down the foundations for the way in which all health and safety cases (including fire safety) should be approached when it comes to sentence. The Court will sentence upon the facts of the case and the personal circumstances of the Defendant or Defendant Company. But the Court will give more weight to certain matters than others. Examples of these are as follows:-
• Death as a resulting consequence of a breach.
• A failure to heed previous warnings.
• A risk run specifically to save money.
• Prompt admission of responsibility.
• Timely plea of guilty.
• Steps to remedy deficiencies after they are drawn to the Defendant’s attention.
• Good safety record.
Other Relevant Matters
• The degree of risk and the extent of the danger created by the offence.
• The extent of the breach.
• The Defendant’s resources and the effect of the sentence upon its business.
When dealing with a company, the case states that a fine needs to be large enough to bring home to the Defendant Shareholders the message that the workplace must be a safe environment for those who work there and for other members of the public who may be affected. However, a fine should not be so large so as to imperil the earnings of employees or create a risk of bankruptcy – although there may be cases where the offences are so serious that the Defendant ought not to be in business.