Judge gavel, scales of justice and law books in court

The new Sentencing Guidelines for Health and Safety Legislation in the UK have been one of the most influential pieces of regulation in recent years. With February marking one year since its introduction, we take a look at the huge impact it had in 2016 and show you why it’s never been more important to ensure your own policies are up to scratch.

Fines triple in first year

The final figures for fines given in 2016 show a clear increase in rate and frequency. In 2016, 19 of the top 20 fines reached over £1 million compared to only 3 in 2015 and 0 in 2014. Three of these were over £3 million, with the largest fine given to a single company totalling £5 million.

The top 20 fines equalled a total of £38.6 million compared to £13.5 million in 2015 and £4.3 million in 2014; tripling year on year.

The following table shows the scale of the 20 largest fines handed to organisations convicted of health and safety offences in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Fines

KFG Quickserve case study – retrospective fines

An unusual example demonstrates the courts ability to serve higher fines under the new sentencing guidelines, even when previous fines were already imposed;

In 2015, a KFG Quickserve employee suffered severe burns while emptying deep fat fryers when he slipped on the stairs and spilt hot oil over his legs and feet. The company had failed to provide employees with adequate protective clothing and failed to follow safety procedures set out by the HSE when transporting hot liquid – which included waiting for the oil to cool down and using a secure lid.

In 2015, the highest fine the judge could impose was £20,000 which was reduced to £13,300 due to a guilty plea and the fact that the company had reported the incident.

Under the new guidelines, the judge was free to consider the company size, turnover and potential damage the risk could have caused. Because the slip could have caused a fall, potentially causing the employee to suffer further injury, the courts fined KFG Quickserve a further fine of £153,360, almost 8 times larger than the original fine.

Prosecutions and imprisonments rise

As well as fines, the number of prosecutions has also risen dramatically in 2016. A total of 46 company directors and senior managers were prosecuted under the guidelines, with many receiving jail sentences. The average over the previous 5 years, was 24.

And what’s more, individuals are no longer just prosecuted for intentional breaches, but also for expressing a disregard to safety or ‘blind-eye’ mentality.

You can read about some of the prosecutions here.

Companies prosecuted due to presence of risk

One of the main changes brought about by the guidelines, has been the focus switch from prosecution based on injury to prosecution based on the presence of risk. Businesses and even individuals are no longer only prosecuted for breaches resulting in injury. They can now be prosecuted for accidents where no harm was caused or for turning a ‘blind-eye’ to potential hazards.

One year on and there have already been several cases where businesses and individuals have been prosecuted despite no injury occurring;

Margam Hall Upholstery Limited

A director and three managers at Margam Hall Upholstery have received suspended jail sentences and a £2,500 fine due to health and safety failings at one of their factories. Working with dangerous machines and hazardous substances, woodworking is considered a high risk industry. However, the business failed to implement procedures for controlling wood dust, noise, equipment maintenance and washing facilities, despite the HSE highlighting concerns in 2015. The four managers involved were also disqualified from acting as company directors for five years.

ConocoPhillips (UK) Limited

ConocoPhillips was fined £3 million in 2016 following a gas leak that occurred in 2012, despite the fact that the leak did not cause any actual injury. However, 66 individuals were put in danger with at least 7 people put at extreme risk. The fine was ultimately decided based on annual turnover and ‘harm category 1’ risk, but took into consideration an early guilty plea and the fact that the firm had some safety procedures in place.

Health and safety compliance moving forward

With the new guidelines having such a massive influence on how safety breaches are prosecuted, it is more important than ever for businesses to up their health and safety game. Even in low risk industries, it is no longer possible to take a relaxed approach to health and safety as even a small accident or potential hazard can result in crippling fines and/or prosecution for the business and individuals involved.

So what should you be doing in 2017?

The first step to creating a safety conscious workplace is carrying out thorough risk assessments to identify any risks associated with particular tasks, workplaces and employees.

Once identified, the appropriate steps can then be taken to reduce risk. The HSE are responsible for enforcing and regulating workplace health, safety and welfare in the UK and provide guidance based on different industries and the specific risks they face.

As we found in several of our examples, the failure to comply to HSE guidance formed the grounds for hefty fines and sentences. Following their guidance will protect you from prosecution by demonstrating that the appropriate actions have been taken to create a safe workplace.

You can find HSE’s guidance here.

You can also look to better monitor and protect your staff in order to mitigate risk – our app is a simple, low cost solution that helps you meet your duty of care. Find out more here

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