Health and safety fines rise dramatically following the introduction of new sentencing guidelines...

November 20th 2017

Recent changes to the way that UK courts calculate fines for health and safety offences have led to a dramatic increase in the punishments being handed down by the courts.

Health and safety sentencing guidelines…

It has been a little over a year now since the introduction of new legislation that has radically changed the approach to sentencing for those found guilty of health and safety offences. Prior to February 2016 the only sentencing guidelines available were for cases involving the death of a person and charges for Corporate Manslaughter, where the recommended fine was a minimum of £500,000. For other health and safety offences involving a fatality a starting point for fines was set at £100,000. Interestingly, in all cases, the sentencing guidelines specifically prohibited the courts from fixing a fine in relation to the turnover or profitability of the defendant. That all changed in February 2016 with the introduction of new sentencing guidelines which have resulted in some of the biggest and well known companies in the UK receiving huge fines for health and safety related offences. A very clear message is being sent to the boardrooms of UK businesses that they will be severely punished when they are found to have failed to protect people harmed by their business activities.

Since the introduction of the sentencing guidelines last year there have been 19 fines over £1m. This compares with only 3 in 2015 and none in 2014.

The 20 biggest health and safety fines resulted in the following costs to those businesses punished:

  • £38.6m in 2016
  • £13.5m in 2015
  • £4.3 m in 2014

It is not only the financial impact that companies need to be aware of. The associated bad press and publicity, that always accompanies such cases, can also have a negative impact on the organisations brand, image and reputation.

Recent high profile health and safety cases…

A university in the north of England was recently fined £400,000 and had to pay costs in excess of £25,000 following an experiment that went wrong. Two students were given a caffeine solution that contained over 100 times the intended quantity of caffeine. They became violently ill and had to be rushed to hospital.

Merlin Entertainments, the owners of Alton Towers, were fined £5m following an accident on the “Smiler” ride in June 2015 which resulted in two young women each having a leg amputated and 14 other people being seriously injured in the crash. The accident received more press coverage than the Shoreham air crash that happened three months later and involved multiple fatalities. Visitor numbers to Alton Towers and revenues were badly affected as a result of this tragedy.

JCB were fined £375,000 and their contractor, DHL, were fined £266,000 following injuries to a DHL auditor on a JCB site. The auditor was first hit by a forklift truck before 770Kg of hydraulic ramps came crashing down onto him. He received multiple serious injuries and was very lucky not to have been killed. Investigations discovered poor traffic management, inadequate risk assessments and a totally unsafe system of work. Both companies also had to pay the full prosecution costs.

Organisations can still be severely punished even when no injury has occurred. Oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips was fined £3m over three gas leaks on their Lincolnshire Offshore Gas Gathering System; no one was hurt, though 66 people were put at risk.

So what should you be doing to ensure that you comply with health and safety legislation?…

Safety leadership. Good health and safety performance starts at the top. The Board / senior management team should lead the way in health and safety by ensuring that it is an integral function within the operations of the business and that health and safety performance is regularly monitored and reported on. There should be clear policies on health and safety management and accountability.

Organisation for health and safety. There should be a clear health and safety structure within the organisation where managers/supervisors are made responsible for the health and safety performance of their departments. For this to be done effectively they will need to be suitably trained and competent in health and safety.

Competent safety advice. To comply with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (Regulation 7), companies should have access to “Competent” health and safety advice. This person/organisation must have the necessary knowledge, understanding, skills and experience to be able to offer suitable and relevant advice.

Risk assessment. You should carefully assess all of the risks that are present within your business and produce documented risk assessments (if you employ more than 5 people). Assessments should clearly identify the risks to health and safety and the control measures that are to be implemented to remove or reduce those risks to an acceptable level.

Training. You should ensure that your staff receive adequate health and safety training to enable them to work safely and without the risk of harm.

Lycetts Risk Management Services gives you access to a wide range of practical risk management guidance and assistance. Please contact Richard Wade on 0845 671 8999 to discuss your requirements.

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