New Sentencing Guidelines Lead to Massive Fines for Breaches of Health and Safety

New Sentencing Guidelines Lead to Massive Fines for Breaches of Health and Safety

09th November 2016

According to data published by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), ,the number of company directors and managers prosecuted for health and safety offences by the HSE in the year to March, 2016 more than trebled.  In contrast to this, the number of employees prosecuted by the HSE during the same time fell by 90% from ten to just one.  Of the 46 directors or managers prosecuted, 34 were found guilty, with 12 being given prison sentences, the longest sentence imposed being two years.

This demonstrates an increasing commitment by the HSE to prosecute the most senior individuals within a business and by making senior management responsible for the health and safety failings of their business and staff, this has become a serious issue in company boardrooms across the UK. 

Following on from the introduction of the new sentencing guidelines back in February of this year (which we covered for our readers), the value of the fines imposed by the HSE for breaches of health and safety regulations have increased.  The total value of fines imposed has risen by a massive 43% compared with the same period last year.  Between February, 2016 (when the new sentencing guidelines came into force) and August, 2016, health and safety fines totalled £20.6 million, compared with £14.4 million for the same period the previous year.  These figures don’t include sentences imposed in cases prosecuted by local authorities, so the real figure is likely to be somewhat higher.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen some pretty hefty, high profile fines which include:

·         A £5 million fine for Merlin Entertainments following a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers which left two young girls needing to have legs amputated

·         A £4 million for Network Rail following the death of an elderly lady on a railway crossing in Suffolk

·         A fine of £1.6 million for Foodles Production Company when Harrison Ford was injured on the set of the new Star Wars movie/

Now that these fines regularly hit and exceed the £1 million mark for non-fatal offences, even when no injury was involved in some cases, any breach of health and safety regulations is a serious threat to a company’s financial health. 

The sentencing guidelines for health and safety and corporate manslaughter came into force following a consultation which took place in 2015 and they mean that the size of the fine handed out is commensurate with the size of the company, the level of culpability of the company and the degree of harm caused.  This means that very large companies with a turnover exceeding £50 million are likely to face fines in excess of £100 million in more serious cases. 

Although health and safety tends to feature prominently in the agenda of so many board meetings, it’s a subject that will be even more important in future.  The advent of turnover related health and safety fines means that no company or business owner can afford to ignore legislation.  Doing so could sound the death knell for the company if convicted of breaching the rules.