The price of failing to control serious risks and hazards has risen considerably over the past year. In 2016, 19 fines of £1 million or higher were issued throughout the UK (the highest being £5 million), compared to just 3 in 2015 and none in 2014. Stats released by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and Osborne Clarke LLP also revealed that the largest 20 fines imposed for health and safety offences in 2016 cost the businesses involved/in question a total of £38.6 million, compared to £13.5 million in 2015 and £4.3 million in 2014.
The latest results come on the back of the news that the number of company directors and senior managers prosecuted for health and safety offences had tripled over the past year, with 46 directors and managers facing the consequences of poor health and safety management, 12 of which were convicted to prison sentences.
This steep rise in prosecutions and fines is a result of the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food and hygiene offences that were introduced on 1st February 2016.
The update saw some radical changes to the way in which Crown Courts and Magistrate Courts can impose fines and imprisonment to both organisations and individuals who have been deemed to neglect their health and safety duties, taking into account the culpability of the offender, the risk or likeliness of harm and the economic impact the imposed fine will make - imposing a fine which will put an organisation out of business may now be considered an acceptable consequence.
The new sentencing guidelines reflects the growing desire for organisations to answer for any shortcomings in their activities that causes harm to employees and members of the public.
Shelley Frost, Executive Director of Policy at IOSH commented:
"Health and safety offences can ruin lives, devastate families and inhibit precious talent. Whilst you cannot put a value on human life, the level of fines now being handed out recognises society's disapproval of serious corporate failures that lead to injury, illness and death. It reflects a desire to deter others from making the same errors and takes significant steps forward in aligning penalties for these offences with other regulatory breaches in the UK.”
It is hoped that the tougher consequences imposed by the new sentencing guidelines will encourage employers to take greater steps to ensure the safety of those effected by their operations.
Technical Director Brenig Moore commented:
“The government is clearly committed to making health and safety a boardroom issue and holding organisations accountable for any corporate failings, the consequences of which are tougher than ever. It is now in the best interest of the business and individual directors to establish a high standard of health and safety and avoid the risk of such large financial penalties and possible prison sentences.”