hands protecting building

Managing agents and others with responsibility for the management of commercial property should be aware that 2016 saw a substantial increase in UK fines for health and safety incidents. In several cases, well-known business brands were forced to pay millions of pounds for failing to control serious risks to employees and the public alike.

During last year, 19 fines of £1 million or more were handed out; the largest of which was £5 million. To compare this with 2015, only three fines of £1 million or more were issued, and none at all in 2014.

The steep rise in fines is a direct result of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, which came into force on 1 February 2016.

Shelley Frost, Executive Director of Policy at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), said:

“Whilst you cannot put a value on human life, the level of fines now being handed out recognises society’s disapproval of serious corporate failures that lead to injury, illness and death. It reflects a desire to deter others from making the same errors and takes significant steps forward in aligning penalties for these offences with other regulatory breaches in the UK.

“Protecting employees and others affected by a business’s operations will not only eliminate the risk of a large financial penalty but can also be key to ensuring and maintaining an organisation’s strong reputation and ultimately contributing to its success.”

On the first anniversary of the change in legal guidance for the courts, it was revealed (via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request) that the largest 20 fines imposed for health and safety offences last year cost the businesses involved a total of £38.6 million. In comparison, the largest 20 fines in 2015 and 2014 cost £13.5 million and £4.3 million respectively.

The data also demonstrated that a health and safety offence does not have to involve a fatality in order to attract a large fine.   For example, the broken leg and dislocated ankle suffered by actor Harrison Ford while filming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, resulted in a £1.6 million fine for Foodles Production.

Mary Lawrence, a partner at law firm Osborne Clarke LLP and an IOSH Council member, hinted that this was the tip of an iceberg:

“The increase in fines being issued by the courts demonstrates a desire to drive the message home that ensuring health and safety within a working environment is fundamental. So while fines regularly exceeded the million-pound mark last year, we can expect to see even larger fines going forward.

“I see many businesses who focus on the safety and health of employees and others experiencing a broad range of benefits, including being better placed to attract and retain talent, scoring points in procurement processes for valuable contracts or even when seeking external investment.”

Andrew Regel, Technical Lead for Training at Alcumus commented:

“Whilst the threat of a million-pound fine will undoubtedly focus the minds of many duty-holders, emphasis must be placed on the business benefits of good health and safety management.

“By protecting their workers and the public, managing agents and other responsible parties can reduce absences and sick leave, retain staff, boost their reputation as well as their productivity and profits, and reduce insurance premiums and legal costs.”

Alcumus offers the broadest range of health and safety risk management services to assist businesses comply with every aspect of health and safety legislation including:

  • Audits and assurance activities
  • Risk assessments and effective control strategies
  • Specialist health and safety consultancy
  • Health and safety outsourcing
  • Design and implementation of health and safety management systems
  • Occupational hygiene measurements and solutions