Legal Guides

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Fines for H&S offences on the rise

The increase follows a change in legislation which came into effect in February 2016, under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. 

The new guidelines were imposed for:

  • health and safety
  • food hygiene
  • corporate manslaughter offences.

When imposing fines, the court must now consider:

  • culpability
  • seriousness and likelihood of harm, and
  • the size of a business / its turnover

The actual offence is in creating a risk of harm, ie failing to manage risks to health and safety, and there is no requirement of  proof that the offence caused any actual harm.

According to insurance and risk law firm BLM, the total value of health and safety fines issued to UK companies in 2016 was more than double that of the previous year, with businesses being forced to pay out more than £61m.

Fines for the construction sector were the most costly, with a bill of almost £14m. This was followed by manufacturing (£12m), utilities (£8.4m), leisure (£7.4m), logistics / transport (£7.2m), industrial (£3.9m) and public sector (£2.6m).

The sentencing guidelines indicate that the level of fine should reflect the extent to which the offender fell below the required standard. It should meet, in a fair and proportionate way, the objective of punishment, deterrence and the removal of any gain through the commission of the offence.

It should not be cheaper to offend than to take the appropriate precautions.

All fines must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact on the business.  This will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation.

These new guidelines send out a powerful message to all organisations. Health and safety is both people and business critical. Therefore, decisions about safety processes and systems should be a Board level priority.

The cost of getting it wrong has never been higher.

Author: Grahame Barker, Employee Management Limited

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. 

Published on 16th May 2017
(Last updated 7th May 2021)