Employer's liability - Duty not to expose public to risks to health or safety, Whether necessary to prove actual danger and public exposed to risks to their health. Bacterium causing legionnaire's disease in air conditioning
Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
The Science Museums air conditioning cooling tower was inspected by officers of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and found to contain legionella pneumophila, the bacterium causing legionnaire's disease.
The Board Of Trustees Of The Science Museum were charged, as employers, with failing to discharge their duty under section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health and safety, in that members of the public outside the appellants' building had been exposed to risks to their health due to an inadequate system of maintenance of the air conditioning system.
The appellants submitted at the end of the prosecution evidence and again at the end of all the evidence that there was no case to answer as no actual risk to the public's health had been proved. Both submissions were rejected. In summing up the judge directed that the prosecution did not have to prove that members of the public had inhaled the bacteria, or that the bacteria had been outside the building to be inhaled, but that it was sufficient if there had been a risk of it being there. The appellants were convicted and appealed against conviction.
The appeal was dismissed. Section 3(1) of the 1974 Act it is
sufficient for the prosecution to prove that members of the public
were exposed to a possibility of danger; that the risk that harmful
bacteria might emerge into the atmosphere outside the appellants'
building had exposed members of the public to a possibility of
danger; and that, accordingly, since the jury had been entitled to
conclude that the defendants had not discharged the burden of
proving that they had taken all practical steps to minimise the
risk, the conviction could not be said to be unsafe and
No cases are referred to in the judgment or were cited in argument.
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