Steep rise in health and safety fines

The largest UK fines for health and safety incidents have increased substantially in the past year, with some of the biggest brands in business having to pay millions of pounds for failing to control serious risks to employees and the public.

high court

There were 19 fines of £1 million or more in 2016 – the largest being £5 million. This compares with three fines of £1 million or more in 2015 and none in 2014.

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

It is hoped that the possibility of larger penalties will make employers take greater care to ensure people are not harmed by their activities, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

This shows 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.

Not every fine in 2016’s largest 20 involved a fatality, with the guidelines deeming that it is enough for a company’s health and safety failings to have caused injury, or put people at substantial risk of injury or death, to warrant a large financial penalty.

For example, the largest fine was the £5 million that Merlin Entertainments was ordered to pay after five people were seriously hurt in a rollercoaster crash at its Alton Towers theme park. Following the sentencing, the organisation said its focus on safety is “sharper and more engrained than ever”.

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. The Health and Safety Executive said it could have resulted in more serious injury or even death. Foodles stated: “The safety of our cast and crew was always a top priority and we deeply regret this unfortunate on-set accident. The Court acknowledged both the additional safety protocols that were immediately implemented, and that it was a very safe production in all other respects.”