New sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences in the workplace were introduced by the Sentencing Guidelines Council in February 2016. Organisational safety was placed under a spotlight with heavy fines promised for any company that failed to protect employees against known hazards and preventable risks. But surely, such a huge change wasn’t needed with health and safety now considered a driver in all industries? It appears this isn’t the case.
Record fines for health and safety breaches
And what was promised was delivered, with businesses across all industries faced with fines escalating into millions of pounds. Similar to GDPR fines, the structure for fining a company for a serious health and safety breach is no longer on a sliding scale but linked to their turnover, culpability and the seriousness and likelihood of harm caused or risked.
A business with a turnover in excess of £50 million could face a fine of up to £10 million for serious offences. Corporate manslaughter charges could see fines reaching £20 million. Since the new guidelines were introduced, the 10 highest fines total just over £30 million.
The vast sums involved have attracted the attention of the media. For example, Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd was fined £5 million in the wake of the Alton Towers ‘Smiler’ incident. Attention-grabbing these fines may be, but the raft of cases bring smaller businesses.
Whilst smaller businesses struggle to pay their fines, the courts have set out to explain that they have no intention of destroying businesses, but that a fine in relation to health and safety must be punitive in order to get the message across.
Culpability and the likelihood of the risk of harm are decided on a sliding scale hence the reason why some firms face eye-watering fines for health and safety incidents.
A recent addition to the guidelines came in the summer of 2018 in which sentences for individuals convicted of gross negligence manslaughter (GNM) were made more punitive. Initially excluded from the 2016 guideline update, individuals guilty of more serious offences could face up to 18 years in prison. This guideline is retrospective too and so will apply to all cases in court after November 2018.
Is the state of safety at work getting worse?
These changes could lead people to believe that health and safety at work is not improving, with workers facing huge risks and hazards on a daily basis. But this isn’t the case. The majority of companies do take the safety and health of their employees seriously.
Problems arise, however, when organisations fail to be proactive in terms of health and safety and pleading ignorance is no defence. A culture of disinterest is prevalent in some companies or a feeling of confusion around health and safety, especially when the top tier of management is not leading on this important aspect of business.
Looking forward, these attitudes have to change and they will with a stark message from authorities as to the seriousness of the offence. Managing risk in business – your business – is a priority. And this is non-negotiable.
How can we help you?
If you are in need of assistance with any aspect of Health and Safety management, here at Synergos we’d be delighted to help. Whether you have questions or are looking for advice and support to maintain standards, call 01484 666160 or Email email@example.com and we’ll be happy to talk it over with you.