Businesses have experienced a steep rise in health and safety fines since new sentencing guidelines were introduced in February 2016.

In 2016, there were 19 fines of £1m or more compared to just three fines of over £1m in 2015 and none in 2014.

The guidelines – applying to health and safety, corporate manslaughter, food safety and hygiene cases – were designed to ensure a consistent approach to the sentencing of health and safety and corporate manslaughter cases.

New Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines

Furthermore, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said the large penalties would encourage employers to take greater care in protecting their people.

Commenting on the increase in large fines, Mark Haydock, Managing Director of EDP said: “Most penalties in 2016 would have been related to health and safety offences that took place before the guidelines were introduced; it will be interesting to see what the fines look like going forward alongside the impact the increase has on the number of injuries, illness and fatalities.

“Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and protecting them should be priority, regardless of what the fines may be. However, nobody likes to be hit in the pocket and the rise in the levels of fines handed out should have the effect of making employers show a real commitment to health and safety, which can reduce injuries and save lives. It should go without saying that investment in health and safety can also help companies protect their brand, reputation and bottom line.”

Under the old guidelines, the starting threshold for corporate manslaughter convictions was £500,000, but under the new guidelines, fines could exceed £10m for serious health and safety offences or £20m in corporate manslaughter cases - and even more for very large companies.

According to the IOSH and Osborne Clarke LLP’s specialist health and safety legal team, which have explored the impact of the new sentencing guidelines, the largest 20 fines imposed for health and safety offences last year cost the businesses involved a total of £38.6m, while the largest 20 fines in 2015 and 2014 cost £13.5m and £4.3m respectively.

Osborne Clarke LLP partner and an IOSH Council member, Mary Lawrence said: “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.”

At the end of February, the Westminster Legal Policy Forum, part of the Westminster Forum Projects got together to discuss how Brexit could change the way health and safety is regulated.

Commenting on the possible challenges ahead, EDP’s Mark Haydock concludes: “The improvements in the sentencing guidelines were made to protect employees from injury, illness and death and I hope these would remain following Brexit as they will undoubtedly make a huge impact in the future.

“We work with businesses throughout the UK and beyond to ensure they are fully compliant with legislation and are doing everything in their power to protect their people, brand and reputation. What businesses don’t realise is that in doing this, they will see a return on investment in other ways – a workforce that feels looked after will be more highly motivated and this could positively impact a business’s bottom line in terms of productivity, absence and recruitment.”

Should you wish to discuss your business's health and safety compliance or would like more information about EDP's Strategic Review, please contact David Beer, Business Development Manager, by email: