A car parts manufacturer whose cooling tower triggered Legionnaires’ Disease outbreaks has had its health and safety fine cut by almost £400,000.
Serious flaws in Faltec Europe Limited's water system led to infected droplets entering the atmosphere around its plant on the Boldon Business Park.
Between October 2014 and June 2015, four of the company's workers and a local resident fell victim to the disease, London's Appeal Court heard.
"One of those spent time in intensive care under an induced coma, lasting for 10 days," Lord Justice Gross told the court.
Faltec was also prosecuted over an October 2015 explosion in a flocking machine which left an apprentice severely burned and traumatised.
The company pleaded guilty to three charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was hit with a total £1.6million fine at Newcastle Crown Court in May last year.
But now, after Faltec's lawyers argued the financial penalties were over the top, the Appeal Court has slashed the fines to £1,180,000.
Lord Justice Gross pointed out that only 0.04 per cent of those exposed to Legionnaires’ Disease would usually be expect to die.
The risks of serious harm from the outbreaks was "medium", rather than "high", the judge ruled.
The court heard Feltec's complex water system includes four cooling towers and 22,000 metres of pipework.
Investigations after the outbreaks revealed that the Legionella bacteria had grown unchecked in disused and capped off pipes.
Dosing the pipes with biocide would have neutralised the bacteria, but that had not been done effectively.
The judge, sitting with Mr Justice Sweeney and Sir Kenneth Parker, said the "failure of oversight" by Faltec was serious.
But the risk of the outbreaks causing deaths amongst the company's workforce and local population was only about four in 10,000.
The judge slashed the company's fines in respect of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreaks from £800,000 to £380,000.
However, the £800,000 penalty imposed over the flocking machine explosion was fully justified, he ruled.