First anniversary of the introduction of health and safety sentencing guidelines – IOSH position statement

Every employee in every industry has the right to expect that their employer will do all it can to prevent them being injured in an accident or exposed to something which could harm their health.

On 1 February 2016, the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences came into force in the UK, bringing much-needed clarity and consistency to the level of penalties for companies and individuals convicted of safety and health breaches.

Health and safety incidents can ruin lives, devastate families and inhibit human talent. Most are avoidable, and IOSH supports greater efforts worldwide to keep people safe at work.

New research by IOSH and law firm Osborne Clarke shows emergent trends since the guidelines were introduced.

We are seeing a sharp rise in fines for health and safety offences. There were 19 fines of £1 million or more in 2016, compared with three in 2015. 

IOSH welcomes the shift in focus on the seriousness with which safety and health incidents are treated by our legal system – as it does data breaches or financial irregularities – and may make employers take greater care.

While you cannot put a value on human life, the level of fines now being handed out by UK courts recognises society’s disapproval of serious corporate failures that lead to injury, illness and death, reflects its desire to deter others from doing the same and makes considerable steps in aligning penalties for these offences with other regulatory breaches in the UK.

Several of the large fines issued in recent years do not involve a fatality or even an accident, but a penalty imposed relating to a risk which could have caused a serious injury may prevent another person being put at risk going forward.

Protecting employees and others affected will not only eliminate a business’s risk of a large financial penalty but can also be key to ensuring and maintaining a strong reputation and ultimately contributing to its success. Organisations can be better placed to attract and retain talent and may also score points in procurement processes for valuable contracts.

Ultimately, health and safety should be managed practically within a business, just like any other risk. Risks need to be identified and reduced through sensible and proportionate procedures and practices.

A large amount of free and accessible support and advice is available for organisations, both from IOSH and other organisations including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on what ‘good’ looks like within a business. Support is also available through health and safety peer networks, including IOSH branches and sector groups.