It is now just over two years since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced for health and safety offences in the UK and it seems that courts were not reluctant to impose very large fines for health & safety failings in 2017. Some notable fines – for companies such as London and Southeastern Railways (LSER), Iceland Foods Ltd and Warburton’s Ltd – and custodial sentences were given to individuals who were found to have breached health and safety legislation.
The guidelines aimed to ensure that fines imposed in such cases were “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.”
Over the last year, a number of cases saw fines in excess of £1 million being handed down, including for non-fatal cases.
Total fines for health and safety offences rose by more than £30 million in 2016-17, to equal £69.9 million, with the average fine per case more than doubling from 2015/16 levels to reach approximately £126,000.
It is believed that the increasing trend for high fines and custodial sentences will continue throughout 2018.
H.P.A.S. Limited, trading as Safestyle UK, recently pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of The Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £850,000 with £1,083 in costs.
The HSE’s investigation found:
- the company’s system for planning work at height was inadequate in that it failed to ensure that work was carried out in a safe manner
- windows were not routinely installed from the inside
- ladders were used in a way that constituted serious risk
- there was no system of monitoring or supervision in place
- operatives were left to their own devices.
It is not just large companies that are facing larger fines. A scaffolding company has been sentenced for safety breaches after a 16-year-old apprentice joiner fell approximately four metres from a scaffold platform.
Sheffield Magistrates’ Court was told how, on 6 September 2016, the apprentice was passing roof tiles from the loading bay to a colleague on the scaffold when he caught his foot in a gap between the scaffold platform and the loading bay. He fell backwards under a single guard rail to the ground below, sustaining injuries including a fractured cheekbone, broken wrist and injuries to his ribs. He also required 13 stitches for a deep cut above his left eye.
After investigation, the HSE found the loading bay edge protection did not include an intermediate guard-rail or toe board.
The scaffolding company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 8(a) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £918 in costs.
After the hearing, HSE inspector, Trisha Elvy, commented: “This case highlights the importance of following well known industry guidance to design and erect scaffolding in a safe manner. A fall from this height could have easily been fatal.”
The HSE makes it clear that everyone has the right to return home safe and well at the end of their working day. Workers should feel they are well protected at work, with suitable measures in place to control risks.
Higher fines and more severe punishments for individuals underline just how seriously health and safety failings by companies will be taken. It’s so important that companies continue to review their health and safety policies and procedures and their risk assessments and that they provide regular training to help educate and protect their staff. As the above shows, the financial and human costs of not doing this can be massive.