A company has been fined £2 million and its directors jailed after two employees drowned in a tanker of pig feed, demonstrating the courts' increasingly robust approach to those who avoid the cost of implementing proper safety measures.

Greenfeeds Limited, which is now in liquidation, was given the fine at a sentencing hearing at Leicester Crown Court last week after being convicted of corporate manslaughter.

Gillian Leivers was jailed for 13 years after being convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and a health and safety offence. She was also disqualified from being a company director for 15 years. Her husband, managing director Ian Leivers, was jailed for 20 months having being convicted under s.37 Health and Safety at Work Act. The company's transport manager, Stewart Brown, received a one-year suspended sentence for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Background to the case

In December 2016, Nathan Walker, 19, and Gavin Rawson, 35, both died in a tanker that contained about six tonnes of food waste.

Mr Walker was cleaning the inside of the tanker when he collapsed and drowned after being overcome by the carbon dioxide fumes that had built up. His colleague Mr Rawson then died while trying to rescue him.

During the six-week trial, the court heard that numerous health and safety failings at the family-run food waste company in Leicestershire had been identified during the investigation.

These included a lack of adequate health and safety procedures for cleaning the tankers, the lack of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and a failure to provide breathing apparatus or PPE.

Critically, these failings were longstanding despite staff repeatedly alerting senior management as to the risks involved and the need for safety equipment and training, plus the fact that Greenfeeds had previously been convicted following a similar incident that took place in 2005. That death had not led to any review of the company's safety procedures.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Peter Fraser stated that the dangers were obvious and that the deaths were completely avoidable, adding that the tragedy represented a dereliction of duty that appeared to be motivated by a desire to avoid the costs of implementing proper safety measures.

A growing trend

Convictions for gross negligence manslaughter arising from fatal work-related accidents are rare, but we are now starting to see the impact of the sentencing guideline introduced in 2018 being put into practice by the courts as the backlog caused by the pandemic begins to ease.

Earlier this month, for example, two construction company directors were jailed following the death of a roofer in Hove, in July 2018.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Graham Tester would not have fallen to his death had there been adequate protections, such as scaffolding or safety barriers, in place.

Steven Wenham, of Total Contractors, was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and jailed for five years. John Spiller, of Southern Asphalt, was convicted of an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act and jailed for 15 months. Both companies also received fines, of £190,000 and £120,000, respectively.

The case of Total Contractors & Southern Asphalt serves as a salutary reminder of the consequences of a failure to plan and prevent an avoidable work at height accident. Greenfeeds demonstrates the costs of putting profit before safety and a failure to heed warnings. While each of these cases relates to a different specific risk, together they act as examples of a sentencing trend towards tougher penalties for serious health and safety failings.

This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.