Tougher Health and Safety Fines From February 2016

Tougher Health and Safety Fines From February 2016

07th January 2016

February of 2016 will see the introduction here in the UK of much higher fines when it comes to breach of health and safety legislation and this is something that is particularly relevant for all of us in the construction industry.  As we all know, the construction sector is one of the most high risk industries in which to work and our stringent health and safety legislation has helped to make the UK one of the safest places in the world in which to work.  However, the legislation alone is not worth the paper it’s written on without a rigorous enforcement procedures and higher fines are one method that can be used to deter employers from ignoring the legislation and neglecting their responsibilities towards their workforces.

There have been concerns for quite some time that the penalties imposed for health and safety offences (particularly when we consider larger organisations with multi-billion pound turnovers) are too low.  In response to these concerns the Sentencing Council (which is independent of the judiciary and serves to promote greater consistency and transparency in sentencing) issued new guidelines in November which will apply to all health and safety and corporate manslaughter prosecutions.  It will be mandatory for the courts to follow the guidelines for all sentences passed after 1st February, 2016, regardless of whether or not the offence took place before that date. 

We’re poised on the brink of a new era when sentencing in health and safety offences will increase significantly with the imposition of weighty fines which are likely to damage the commercial activities and reputation of the companies involved.  In future we’re likely to see fines of up to £10 million for larger organisations which have turnovers between £10 million and £50 million while smaller companies (with turnovers between £2 million and £10 million) will face fines up to £1.6 million. 

In corporate manslaughter cases, the fines will be even higher with penalties of up to £20 million for larger organisations.  In cases where an organisation’s turnover greatly exceeds £50 million, the courts may go beyond the figures contained in the guidelines. 

The other factors that influence the level of fines imposed are the level of harm caused and the seriousness of the offence in terms of culpability.  Culpability ranges from high (a deliberate breach of or disregard for the law) to low (where the offender did not fall too far short of the appropriate standard).  Once the level of culpability has been decided, the court will then need to consider the risk of harm – both the seriousness of the harm risked and the likelihood of that harm arising.

The seriousness of harm is divided into three categories which include fatalities, physical or mental impairment resulting in life long dependency or significantly reduced life expectancy.  The second category covers physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term effect on the ability to carry out day to day activities or return to work, or a progressive permanent or irreversible condition.

We’ll be taking a more detailed look at this news in the coming weeks and publishing some tips that you can use to avoid heavy health and safety fines.