Since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced in England and Wales this year there has been a six-fold increase in fines of £1m or more for accidents and near-misses at work.
In 2015 the 20 largest fines imposed on business for safety and health offences totalled £13.5m, and in 2014 totalled £4.3m. Compare this with last years (2016) total which was £38.6m and it is obvious that fines are increasing.
Since the 1st of February, when the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences came in to force, there have been 19 fines of £1m or more. In 2015 there were just three fines that exceeded £1m and in 2014 there were none.
Not all fines in the top 20 involved a fatality. The guidelines state that a large fine can be imposed in the event of an injury, or if there was a substantial risk of injury or death.
For example, Alton Towers amusement park operator Merlin Entertainments was fined £5m – the highest financial penalty of 2016 and the UK’s third largest safety fine – following the crash on its Smiler rollercoaster on the 2nd of June 2015. No one died but 16 people were injured, five of them seriously.
And film production company Foodles Production was ordered to pay £1.6m for safety breaches after Hollywood star Harrison Ford sustained a broken leg and dislocated ankle when he was crushed by a hydraulic door. The accident, which the Health and Safety Executive said could have resulted in more serious injury or even death, happened on the 12th of June 2014 while the actor was filming Star Wars: the force awakens.
Most fines imposed by courts in 2016 related to safety and health offences which took place before the guidelines were introduced.
Mary Lawrence, a partner at Osborne Clarke and an IOSH Council member, said: ‘The increase in fines being issued by the courts demonstrates a desire to drive the message home that ensuring health and safety within a working environment is fundamental. So while fines regularly exceeded the £1m mark last year, we can expect to see even larger fines going forward.
‘I see many businesses who focus on the safety and health of employees and others experiencing a broad range of benefits, including better placed to attract and retain talent, scoring points in procurements processes for valuable contracts of even when seeing external investment.’
Shelley Frost, executive director of policy at IOSH, said: ‘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.
‘Protecting employees and others affected by a business’s operations will not only eliminate the risk of a large financial penalty but can also be key to ensuring and maintaining an organisation’s strong reputation and ultimately contributing to its success.’