G4S fined £1.8million

In 2016, G4S was handed a £1.8million fine for failing to protect Harlow Council’s workers from the risk of Legionnaire’s Disease (see the news story). G4S manage the Council’s Harlow branch. An inspection had found a serious lack of compliance in maintaining water systems at the site: monitoring and testing of systems was erratic; staff had received inadequate training; and there were no up to date policies or suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place to safely operate or manage the building’s water systems. All this was despite a long-standing duty, extensive guidance, advice from its own consultants and advice from Harlow Council. Its culpability was characterised as ‘very high’ (a ‘deliberate breach of, or flagrant disregard for, the law’).

What’s interesting about this case is that G4S lodged an application for permission to appeal the sentence, claiming that it was manifestly excessive. The company sought to have its culpability reduced to ‘high’, arguing that it had tried to address the risk from legionella by having a policy and risk assessment, taking steps internally and engaging an independent contractor to carry out routine management and monitoring. This application was rejected; Ms Justice Russell stating that G4S was aware of its legal obligations and over a period of four-and-half years it failed to act. This could only be viewed to be a blatant and flagrant disregard of compliance with statutory obligations.

The reason that this is interesting is that it shows that simply paying ‘lip service’ to the motions of legionella control – having a policy but not taking the appropriate actions, undertaking minimal training but not implementing it and attempting to pass responsibility to external consultants – is simply not acceptable and the consequences are severe.

We always work with our clients in a very collaborative way. Yes, we are the experts and we offer our clients the benefit of that expertise and take the lead in that process but we also involve them in it so that they understand the risks, the systems and their responsibilities. This way, the monitoring and implementation they’re doing is meaningful and complements the more technical aspects that we do.
In the G4S case, a resident did become ill with Legionellosis (the trigger for the investigation), so while they were arguing over whether their culpability was ‘high’ or ‘very high’, there had actually been a very real risk to health. Having everything in place and working in partnership with your consultants helps to avoid this kind of dangerous (and expensive) outcome.