Heavy penalties for health and safety breaches

30 May 2017

Health and safety fines and penalties have sky-rocketed since the courts implemented revised sentencing guidelines on 1 February 2016.

In the first year under the health and safety sentencing guidelines, 23 fines of £1 million or more were issued. That’s more seven-figure fines than the previous 20 years combined.

The largest 20 fines in 2016 cost offending businesses a total of £38.6 million compared with £14.8 million in 2015. 

The biggest was £5 million, handed to Merlin Entertainments after five people were seriously hurt at its Alton Towers theme park. However, bigger fines are expected as courts get more comfortable with the guidelines.

Severe sentencing for health and safety breaches

“If you breach the law and are prosecuted it’s going to cost you much more than before, and the likelihood of individuals receiving prison sentences is also much higher,” says Jamie Fitzroy, Risk Management Consultant for JLT Specialty. 

Of the 67 individuals prosecuted in the first year under the guidelines, 61 per cent were given custodial sentences – triple the previous year’s figure.

Heavy penalties for health and safety breaches

Risk of harm

Crucial changes to the way penalties are issued include the severity of offences being graded on the risk of harm rather than actual outcomes, and fines being determined according to the size and turnover of the offending company.

Companies could face fines of up to £10 million, and are unlimited for organisations with turnovers far exceeding £50 million. 

However, the majority of prosecutions last year (80 per cent) were made against SMEs with fewer than 250 employees, with an average fine of £82,047. 

Health and safety risk management

As the courts clamp down, senior management must invest in risk management initiatives and enforce safety from the top down, says Fitzroy.

“Businesses need to ensure they have robust management systems and incident response plans in place so that, if something does go wrong, they can reduce the chances of prosecution, or can at least demonstrate effective systems and procedures as mitigation.

“If they get it right, no one will get hurt and they won’t have to worry about potentially damaging fines and penalties.”

For further information please contact Jamie Fitzroy, Risk Management Consultant on +44 7717 515986 or email jamie_fitzroy@jltgroup.com