The HSE has recently confirmed its intention to prosecute the manufacturer of an ejection seat following the death of Red Arrow pilot, Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, in November 2011.
The result of the prosecution could have wider implications for manufacturers, as this is an unusual and potentially landmark case.
The pilot died after his seat accidentally initiated, during pre-flight checks on the ground at an airbase in Lincolnshire. This ejected him from his seat, while the parachute failed to deploy.
The manufacturer of the seat, Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd, is now facing prosecution by the HSE for breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Section 3 places a duty on employers to ensure that non-employees who might be affected by their actions are not exposed to a health and safety risk.
It is unusual to see a manufacturer of safety equipment being prosecuted by the HSE for a breach of health and safety regulations where the issue relates effectively to product safety. Such issues are usually considered to be a matter for Trading Standards and fall under the General Product Safety Regulations. But the HSE have confirmed that they are satisfied that it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution.
The decision to prosecute also follows investigations already conducted by a number of authorities including the Ministry of Defence, Military Aviation Authority, the police and a full inquest.
It will be interesting to see how the case unfolds, especially given the potential implications the decision could have more generally for manufacturers of safety equipment - where product safety is called into question.
The new Sentencing Guidelines for Health and Safety Offences would also apply to any successful prosecution here, with the level of any fine being directly linked to turnover. Comparatively, if this was a prosecution under the General Product Safety Regulations - where there are no such prescriptive sentencing guidelines - any fine imposed would be much lower for a large organisation.
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