Health and Safety is a serious matter and the consequences of getting it wrong can be devastating. Despite this, we all know some companies who have ‘gotten away with it’. That said, things might just have changed. Not only has the HSE introduced “Fee for Intervention”, (a charge of £129 per hour for intervention), but the Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guideline has the potential to revolutionise sentencing.
These new sentencing guidelines came into force on 1st February 2016. Put simply any “fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to operate within the law”. The guidelines introduced a step by step approach to sentencing whereby the courts are directed to base their sentencing decision on the culpability of the company along with the seriousness and likelihood of the harm. The courts must then use the turnover of the company in order to set a starting point for the fine.
Before the changes were introduced it was thought that successful prosecutions would result in substantial increases in fines, certainly compared to those seen previously where large fines were in the region of £150,000. Since the guidelines have been in force there have been a number of fines over £1m. For example
Company Harm Turnover Fine
C.RO Ports London Arm injury £25m £1.8m
Balfour Beatty Fatality £8.8bn £1m
National Grid Gas Broken leg £3bn £1m
UK Power Networks Fatality £1bn £1m
Merlin Amputation £385m £5m
ConocoPhilips None £4.8bn £3m
In the Conoco case, there were a number of gas leaks where employees were sent to investigate whilst gas was still present. The risk of death or serious injury was deemed to be high. This case amply demonstrates the impact of the new guidelines. Previously, a breach of health and safety regulations which did not result in injury may have resulted in a fine in the tens of thousands, rather than millions. However, the focus is now on the “risk of harm” as well as actual harm.
Just this week, we have seen Volvo UK fined £900,000 following an incident where an employee fell from a stepladder. The threat of enormous fines combined with the potential for imprisonment of senior managers and directors, shows just how important the issue of health and safety is.
When faced with a HSE prosecution, your (Employers Liability) insurer may be able to help with prosecution defence costs, but no insurer will pay a fine on your behalf let alone go to jail on your behalf.
If you’re worried that you’re not doing enough, or would like some help reviewing your health and safety management, please contact ProAktive where one of our experts will be happy to help.
By Rachel Hamill GradIOSH, Risk Adviser