Health & Safety Update

25/01/2017

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Health & Safety Update

New sentencing guidelines for courts dealing with corporate manslaughter, health and safety, and food safety offences were introduced in February 2016 that means significantly higher fines for directors and businesses and all should be aware of the potentially devastating commercial consequences of prosecutions. The number of company directors who have been prosecuted for health and safety offences has more than trebled up to March 2016 from 15 to 46. The number of employees who were prosecuted by the HSE in 2015/16 has fallen from 10 in the previous year, to just one. Of the 46 Directors prosecuted 34 were found guilty and 12 were given prison sentences, with the longest prison sentence imposed at two years. Between February 2016 and August 2016, health and safety fines totalled £20.6 million, compared to £14.4 million in February 2015 to August 2015 which was a rise of 43%.

In the past, only corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences causing death were covered by specific guidelines and there was a sense that the process of calculating fines was insufficiently robust. Also, because courts did not deal regularly with health and safety matters, there was a lack of consistency in sentencing and there was concern that fines, did not fulfill the purposes of sentencing (punishment, deterrence, and public protection) and sometimes failed to reflect the seriousness of the harm caused and/or the culpability of the offender. This has now been made very clear with the sentencing guidelines and now the direction the courts are taking.

The most important aspect of the sentencing guidelines is a company’s finances for the purposes of calculating any fine is turnover, rather than profit. The stated intention of such fines is to have a “real economic impact” and, in some cases, put a convicted organisation out of business. The size of fine given depends on the size of the company, the level of culpability of the company and the harm caused.

Recent fines include:-

  • A £5 million fine for Merlin Entertainments after the Smiler rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers left two individuals having to have their legs amputated.
  • Network Rail fined £4 million for the death of an elderly individual at a railway crossing
  • £1.6 million fine for a Production Company after Harrison Ford was injured on the set of Star Wars movie
  • Given the trends that are becoming evident all directors and those with the responsibility for health and safety should sit up and take note.

Reference SHP online