Written by: Richard Steedman on Monday 06/08/2018
Health and safety has always been at the forefront of the property and construction industry, but in light of the recent site safety updates, new sentencing guidelines and fines linked to turnover, we thought it was time to take a look at how the sector has changed.
The health and safety picture in the UK
Much has been done in recent years to improve health and safety, with the UK now having the second lowest rate of fatal incidents in Europe. However, there are still pockets of bad practice. In 2017/18, there were 38 fatal injuries in construction, more than any other UK industry.
Given the high levels of fatalities in the construction industry, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been taking a hard line on firms of every size, with increased sentencing powers and fines linked to turnover now being imposed.
Increased sentencing powers
Sentencing guidelines for health and safety corporate manslaughter offences were revised in February 2016. The new penalties increased the level of risk and culpability for many offences and introduced fines that are potentially unlimited. Until that point, most offences under the Health and Safety Act 2008 carried a maximum fine of £20,000.
There has also been an increase in the number of custodial sentences that are being handed out to directors and other company officers who neglect their health and safety responsibilities. The majority of convictions under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 have been against directors and senior offices of SMEs. That’s because it’s easier to prove responsibility for the implementation of safe working practices in organisations where there’s a straightforward management structure.
Fines have been on the rise
Since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced, the number of large fines handed out for cases not involving manslaughter has increased significantly. In 2014 and 2015, there were 0 and 3 fines imposed over £1m respectively. However, in the first year after the new guidelines were introduced, there were 19 fines of £1m or more.
The highest fine awarded to date was the £5m handed to Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd following The Smiler roller-coaster crash at Alton Towers theme park. There were also fines of £4m and £2.6m for Network Rail and Balfour Beatty respectively.
There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of fines being imposed where there’s been no actual harm but a heightened risk. One example of a so-called ‘near miss’ case is the construction firm that was fined £640,000 when carbon monoxide escaped into a block of flats. Although the leak was detected before any of the residents could be affected, the potential for serious ill-health was reflected by the fine.
Fines linked to turnover
For the first time, corporate fines for health and safety offences are being linked to the defendant’s turnover. The sentencing guidelines have introduced categories of organisation based on their turnover and the upper thresholds for fines.
Health and safety fines have been categorised as follows:
However, for corporate manslaughter cases, the upper thresholds for fines are much higher.
Keeping your worksite safe
The rules and regulations are there to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone who deals with commercial property, in whatever respect. If you need guidance or advice on any aspect of health and safety, please get in touch with a member of our team.