Safety and health sentencing: two years on

02 February 2018

Today marks the second anniversary of the introduction of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety and other offences in the UK. What effect have they had? Matthew Breakell and Charlotte Miles, associate and solicitor at DAC Beachcroft respectively, take a look:

high court

It is two years since the implementation of the UK Sentencing Council's Definitive Guideline for the Sentencing of Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences.

In 2017 we saw, as predicted, that the courts weren't shy about imposing high fines for organisations and custodial sentences for individuals for breaching health and safety legislation.

The principal focus of the Guideline is to ensure fines are ‘sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation’.

A significant number of cases have attracted fines in excess of £1m, many in non-fatal cases, and this is a trend that is likely to continue.

The 2016/17 data on prosecutions released by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shows a large annual increase in fines. In 2015/16, the total fines for health and safety offences was £38.8 million. This rose to £69.9 million in 2016/17. The average fine per case in 2016/17 was approximately £126,000, which is more than double the average fine in 2015/16. Notably, the ten highest fines in 2017 ranged between £1.35m and £3m.

There is no doubt that the sharp increase in fines over the past two years is the subject of regular discussion in boardrooms up and down the country.

Notable fines in 2017 include:

• London and Southeastern Railways (LSER) and Wetton Cleaning Services Ltd (Nov 2017) - £2.5m and £1.1m respectively - an employee of Wetton Cleaning Services was electrocuted after falling on a 750-volt live rail during his shift at LSER’s depot.

• Iceland Foods Ltd (Sept 2017) - £2.5m – a contractor hired to replace filters within an air conditioning unit at the company's warehouse, fell three metres from a platform through a suspended ceiling and sustained fatal injuries.

• Warburtons Ltd (July 2017) – £1.9m – an agency worker was cleaning parts of the bread line at the company's site; his arm became trapped between two conveyor belts leaving him with friction burns which required skin grafts.

• Nottinghamshire County Council (April 2017) - £1m – a disabled man was struck by tractor being operated by council employees, suffering serious bruising and injuries to his arms, legs and head.

The increasing level of fines demonstrate the importance of organisations taking preventative action, such as regularly reviewing health and safety policies and procedures, ensuring that risk assessments and method statements are in place and that they adequately reflect the risks involved, providing refresher training to staff, and ensuring the proactive and effective management of health and safety in the workplace.

The increasing trend in high fines and custodial sentences also highlights the importance of careful management of the regulator's investigation to minimise risk and financial exposure for a company, personal exposure for individuals and the preparation of a robust defence, where justified.

To view the guidelines, click here.

Notes for editors

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is the world’s leading chartered professional body for people responsible for safety and health in the workplace. We have more than 47,000 members in about 130 countries.

We act as a champion, adviser, advocate and trainer for safety and health professionals working in organisations of all sizes. Our focus is to support our members in their efforts to create workplaces that are safer, healthier and more sustainable.

Our shared objective is a world where work is safe and healthy for every working person, every day. Through our 2017-2022 strategy, ‘WORK 2022 – shaping the future of safety and health’, we will seek to enhance the occupational safety and health profession, build strategic collaborative partnerships across industry and strengthen our influence globally through impactful research and development.

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