The report of two workers toppling into a vat of chocolate at the Mars Wrigley factory in Pennsylvania (US) over the weekend made for interesting reading. In a scenario worthy of Roald Dahl, the two workers ended up waist deep in chocolate and a hole had to be cut in the vat to free them. Mars Wrigley was subsequently fined $14,500 by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (the USA’s equivalent of the Health and Safety Executive). 

The legal framework for health and safety enforcement in the US is, of course, different to that in Great Britain, and there have been several large fines in the English courts over recent years. On the face of it, a fine of only $14,500 for a business the size of Mars Wrigley might appear low by comparison. In England fines are calculated by reference to a number of criteria. In addition to considering the level of harm the breach caused, other factors such as culpability, and the turnover of the business are taken into account. By way of example, in 2022 Dyson was fined £1.2 million in England when a worker was injured by a falling machine. 

It is important that businesses remember that someone does not need to have been injured seriously, or indeed at all, for a company to be prosecuted and fined a significant sum. Whilst the level of harm caused by the breach is relevant when it comes to calculating the fine, it is the breach of the company’s legal obligation to ensure health and safety which will form the basis of any enforcement action, which could include prosecution in the criminal courts.