Health and safety laws bite as fines rocket by 40%
Fines on companies for health and safety breaches have increased by 43 per cent in a year under tougher sentencing guidelines, figures show.
The amount paid rose from to £54 million in 2016-17 from £37 million during the previous year. Lawyers argued that the figures demonstrated that health and safety laws were starting to bite. Fines of up to £2 million were imposed for health and safety breaches including those leading to serious accidents, sometimes fatal.
In September 2016 Merlin Attractions Operations, which runs the theme park Alton Towers, were fined £5 million after admitting breaching the Health and Safety Act over a crash on one of its rides. Victoria Balch, who was on the ride at the time, had to have a leg amputated.
In one case in which an employee lost balance cleaning a bread mixing machine and suffered a serious spinal injury the company was fined £2 million. In another, a water company was fined £1.8 million after an employee died in a sand filtration unit. And a bus company was fined £600,000 when an employee died having suffered fatal head injuries falling from a ladder while accessing the top of a fuel tank.
The Sentencing Council guidelines introduced in February 2016 direct courts to sentence on a step-by-step approach and to assess the culpability and likelihood and seriousness of harm. Another factor is that the £5,000 cap on fines in magistrates’ courts was lifted in March 2015.
The analysis of fines shows that in the year after the guidelines came into force, the average corporate fine was £280,974 – three times the average fine of £90,604 in the preceding twelve months.
Morag Rea, head of business crime and investigations at Thomson Reuters, which analysed the figures, said: “Organisations are being forced to sit up and take note as fines for health and safety offences are significantly higher and have far less regional variation than before. The definitive guidelines and removing the cap on fines has proved a potent combination and any breach of health and safety regulations can now be a very costly mistake.”