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Written by
on 19 June 2017


Changes to health and safety laws are having an effect – and offenders are paying a heavy price.

When the Government introduced tougher sentencing rules in 2016, the aim was to hit offenders where it hurt – on the company balance sheet. By increasing the severity of fines and punishments, it was hoped that businesses would have more of an incentive to protect their employees.

Now research from law firm BLM suggests that the changes are indeed having an effect.

An enormous increase in fines

According to the report, there were 292 fines issued for health and safety failings between 2016 and 2017. The total paid in fines was more than £61million – an increase of 148% over the previous year before the health and safety came into force.

Much of the increase in costs is believed to be down to the way the new fines are calculated. Rather than assigning a universal figure for offences, fines are now defined according to the size of the business.

This change means that large businesses with a turnover in excess of £50 million could receive fines of £10 million for breaches of health and safety law. Where an employee is killed and the company is found guilty of corporate manslaughter, fines could even top £20 million.

Take Merlin Entertainments for instance. When 16 riders were injured on the Smiler rollercoaster, HSE investigations revealed a number of failings. Because of the size of the company, they were handed a £5 million fine. The final bill would actually have been £7.5 million had Merlin Entertainment not pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them.

Big fines are a reality

BLM also noted that of the 292 fines issued for health and safety breaches during 2016/2017, more than 18 were for sums in excess of £1 million. There was just two of that magnitude during 2015.

It is quite clear that judges are willing and able to use the full force of the law to punish those businesses who fail to protect their workers and the general public. It should also be noted that the construction sector paid the most in fines over the last year.

Protecting your business against fines

Obviously, the most effective way to avoid enormous fines is to meet your responsibilities in the first place. Prevention is always the best approach.

It is also important to note that your business could face prosecution for near misses. Where an onsite near miss has a high likelihood of causing harm, you could still be charged and fined – even if no one is actually seriously injured.

Your first line of defence will always be the humble risk assessment. Make sure you devote sufficient time and resources to properly assessing every onsite activity – you will greatly reduce the risk of an accident, simply because you have tried to identify and mitigate potential dangers.

And if you are ever in doubt, get expert help. Hiring a third party health and safety consultancy like Veritas Consulting is always cheaper than be being prosecuted and fined after an incident.

To learn more about protecting your business and its employees onsite, please get in touch.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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