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31st October 2016

Health and Safety Prosecution Fines on the Increase

After decades of relatively stable and predictable fines, the tide is now rising rapidly following the introduction of the sentencing guidelines in February this year, with the value of fines imposed by the HSE without doubt on the rise.

The total value of fines imposed has risen by 43 per cent compared to the same period last year. Between February 2016 and August 2016, health and safety fines totalled £20.6 million, compared to £14.4 million in February 2015 to August 2015.

However, the real figure is likely to be higher than the data suggests, as the HSE figures don’t include sentences imposed in cases prosecuted by local authorities.

In the past few weeks alone there have been a number of high value, high profile fines, including:

  • Network Rail fined £4 million for the death of an elderly woman at a railway crossing
  • £1.6 million fine for Foodles Production company after Harrison Ford was injured on the set of Star Wars
  • The high profile case resulting in a £5 million fine for Merlin Entertainments after a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers left two girls having to have their legs amputated.

The worrying thing for company directors is that fines are now routinely hitting the £1 million mark for non-fatal offences and even those where nobody has been injured – meaning that any breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act is now potentially a serious threat to a company’s bottom line.

The sentencing guidelines for health and safety, corporate manslaughter, food safety and hygiene offences came into force following a consultation in 2015. The size of fine given now depends on three ‘aggravating factors’ namely, the size of the company, the level of culpability of the company and the harm caused.

Lighthouse would urge directors to pay attention to the size of the new fines being imposed. Whilst health and safety has for many years featured prominently on many Board Meeting agendas, time spent on the point has not necessarily been significant. But with the very real risk of turnover related health and safety fines now being so large, they now demand that all directors, sit up and take note.


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