In the year to the end of March 2016, 46 company directors and senior managers were prosecuted by the HSE for breaches of the law. This was up from 15 in the previous year. Almost all the cases involved the injury or death of an employee and many involved the construction industry.
The biggest impact is on “medium sized” companies with annual turnover between £10m and £50m. These businesses are seeing fines removing a higher share of their turnover than any other business group.
Of those prosecuted in the past year, 34 were found guilty, resulting in 12 prison sentences, although some were suspended. In one case, the director of a metal works was convicted of gross negligence and manslaughter after a five-tonne metal-cutting guillotine fell from the forklift truck he was driving and crushed a worker.
The HSE said the 2015-16 figures were in contrast to the unusually low number of prosecutions the year before, however the number still represented a five-year high.
The HSE said, “Prosecution of directors is intended to hold them to account for their failings, HSE’s policy is to prosecute directors when we have evidence that they have breached the law and when it is in the public interest eg when the director/manager was personally responsible for matters relating to the offence.”
The total value of fines imposed following HSE prosecutions in the six months since the sentencing guideline was introduced on 1st February 2016 rose 43% on the same period in the previous year. Fines totalled £20.6m from February to August 2016, against £14.4m in February to August 2015.
In the past few weeks there has been a spate of high-value fines. In September Network Rail was fined £4m over an incident involving a passenger being killed by a fast rain at a level crossing, while Merlin Entertainments received the highest fine to date of £5m for the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash.
After decades of relatively stable and predictable fines, the tide is now rising rapidly as the new guideline is applied by the criminal courts. Fines are now routinely hitting the £1m mark for non-fatal offences and even those where nobody has been injured, meaning that any breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is now potentially a serious threat to a company’s bottom line.
Assurity Consulting are leading experts in workplace health, safety and environmental compliance, helping organisations of all sizes manage their responsibilities and avoid the increasing fines we are seeing across the UK. For more information, please contact us on tel. +44 (0)1403 269375 or email us.