Dramatic rise in Health & Safety fines

Fines for Health & Safety offences dramatically increased during 2016.

Last year saw 19 fines of £1m or more. This compares with three £1m plus fines in 2015 and none in 2014.

Under tougher sentencing guidelines for courts in England and Wales:

  • bigger organisations (turnover more than £50m) now face fines of up to £10m
  • medium sized organisations (turnover between £10m and £50m) up to £4m
  • small organisations (turnover between £2m and £10m) up to £1.6m
  • micro-businesses (turnover less than £2m) up to £450,000.

Individuals held responsible can also be jailed for up to two years.

It was felt Health & Safety wasn’t being taken seriously enough. Stiffer penalties are meant to make sure organisations take more care and don’t harm anyone through their activity.

One year on

It’s been a year since the tougher guidelines were introduced and the results of a Freedom of Information Act request on their impact makes interesting reading…

They show the 20 biggest Health & Safety fines in total cost the businesses involved:

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

The increased fines show how determined courts are to get the message across that Health & Safety matters cannot be ignored in the workplace.

Of note is that not all of 2016’s huge fines involved a fatality. Indeed, the guidelines say a large financial penalty can be given for a Health & Safety failing that causes injury or puts someone substantially at risk of injury or death.

For example, Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd was ordered to pay a record £5m after five people were seriously hurt in a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers. Following the sentence the company says its focus on safety is “sharper and more engrained than ever”.

Foodles Production (UK) Ltd was fined £1.6m after Harrison Ford broke his leg filming the last Star Wars movie. The Health & Safety Executive said the incident could have resulted in more serious injury or even death.

Things courts consider in sentencing

Before last year’s guidelines, courts had little help in sentencing Health & Safety offences. There’s now a 40-plus page document providing a step-by-step guide for sentencing both companies and individuals. Courts take into account:

  • an organisation’s turnover (NB not profits or ability to pay!)
  • the level of “culpability” (degree of fault)
  • the chances the safety failing could lead to harm
  • how bad the harm could be.

The guidelines apply to all organisations and individuals sentenced on or after February 2016 regardless of the date of the offence.

You can’t now say you’ve not been warned!

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