With tougher sentences and fines for health and safety offences starting to bite, Harrison Drury’s David Edwards, offers some advice for how businesses can take a proactive approach to minimising the risk of breaches and potentially ruinous legal proceedings.
It’s been almost a year since new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, designed to have a real economic impact on organisations that break the law, came into force.
A flurry of recent prosecutions bear witness to the devastating impact these breaches can have on the families involved and on the future viability of the businesses responsible for the offence.
We’ve seen a London construction firm fined £550,000 for two counts of corporate manslaughter following the death of two men who fell into a light well that did not have metal railings fixed around it.
A DIY wholesaler was fined £2.2 million following the death of an agency worker who fell from an unguarded platform.
In another case, a Yorkshire-based textile company boss was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence, and the company fined £175,000, after his brother (the MD of the business) was pulled into a carding machine after its safety system was manually overridden.
What are the sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences?
Under the new guidelines introduced in 2016, health and safety fines are calculated in a staged process which factors in the level of harm involved, culpability and the turnover of the organisation.
Turnover will be the starting point for the amount of fine. For the most serious offences, fines of up to £10m are possible for large organisations (those with a turnover greater than £50m).
For medium-sized organisations (those with a turnover between £10m and £50m) the fine could reach £4m, and up to £1.6m for small organisations (which have a turnover between £2m and £10m) Micro-businesses (a turnover of less than £2m) can expect a fine of up to £450,000.
For corporate manslaughter charges, the penalty for a large organisation may be as much as £20m.
The courts will adjust the level of fine after taking into consideration any aggravating factors, such as relevant past convictions, cost cutting at the expense of safety, and a poor health and safety record. Mitigating factors, such as co-operation with the investigation, self-reporting and acceptance of responsibility, will also be taken into account.
How can my business reduce the risk of a health and safety breach?
It’s easy for business owners to attach labels to health and safety and see it merely as a compliance issue. However, these new health and safety fines send a clear message to business owners that they need to pay more than lip service to health and safety issues.
Clearly, any business that does not make reducing health and safety risk a key business priority, attaching proportionate time and monetary value to it, is living in a false economy given the financial and reputational risks.
My five rules for creating a safer workplace offer some practical tips for business owners and senior managers to reduce the risk of health and safety breaches.
For more information on managing health and safety issues in the workplace and minimising legal risk, contact David Edwards on 01772 258321.