As discussed in previous articles, the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter, food safety and hygiene offences were set to increase fines for organisations by a potential eye-watering 10 to 15 times on a plea or finding of guilt. These guidelines officially came into force on 1 February 2016 but even prior to this there appeared to be an upward trend in sentences imposed for health and safety offences.
- On 21 January 2016 CRO Ports London Limited was fined £1.8m and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £14,328 after a maritime terminal worker suffered multiple fractures, nerve and ligament damage after his arm became wrapped around a powered capstan, while mooring an ocean- going vessel.
- National Grid Gas Plc was fined £1m and ordered to pay costs of £26,296 on 25 January 2016 for breaching s3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 after a worker had broken his femur. The circumstances were that the worker became trapped between two gas pipes after one had burst.
- UK Power Networks (Operations) Ltd were fined £1m and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £153,459 on 27 January 2015 after a worker was electrocuted by a low-hanging high voltage power cable. The above sentences suggest that courts consider the risk of harm on the worker/employee rather than the actual harm caused when deciding on an appropriate fine. Consideration of the risk of harm was only introduced in the new sentencing guidelines.
Cases after 1 February 2016
Unsurprisingly, courts are set to continue to impose high fines on duty holders after 1 February 2016; albeit to date there have not been many examples of such cases in the courts. On 3 February 2016 Walter Heselwood Ltd was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £40,000 following an accident in 2009 when an employee was killed when a gas cylinder exploded and struck him in the face. The fine may not seem as high as some of the examples above, however, the turnover of the company must be considered. A fine of £120,000 for a micro/small company is likely to have a devastating impact.
Consideration of health and safety should be treated as a priority by all organisations, as the impact of large fines could have a huge impact.
Please don’t forget the Birketts’ health and safety mantra:
- Say what you do.
- Do what you say.
- Have the paperwork to prove it.
The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding the new health and safety sentencing guidelines, please contact a member of the Health and Safety team. Law covered as at February 2016.