There has been a steep increase in the number of UK businesses fined more than £1 million for health and safety breaches in the past 12 months, it has been revealed. In addition, the largest fine handed down in 2016 totalled £5 million.
According to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), this rise is the result of new sentencing guidelines surrounding health and safety breaches, which was introduced during February last year.
In 2016, 19 organisations received a fine over the £1 million mark, compared to just three in 2015 and none during 2014.
The IOSH submitted a freedom of information request, along with the specialist health and safety legal team at Osborne Clarke LLP, to see how the new guidelines have had an impact since their introduction.
In total, the 20 largest fines handed out last year, amounted to £38.6 million - making health and safety breaches incredibly costly for firms that don’t take health and safety procedures seriously and due care of their employees.
Executive director of policy at IOSH Shelley Frost commented: “Whilst you cannot put a value on human life, the level of fines now being handed out recognises society’s disapproval of serious corporate failures that lead to injury, illness and death.”
Meanwhile, Mary Lawrence, a partner at Osborne Clarke LLP, predicted that significant fines are likely to continue, and could well exceed the levels experienced in 2016, with the courts keen to highlight the importance of health and safety in the workplace.
Of course, it isn’t only about making sure all members of staff have received the relevant health and safety training, but also that each firm has a robust incident response plan in place, should any injury or illness occur at the workplace.
And Ms Lawrence explained that firms with a strong health and safety record experience many benefits besides avoiding hefty penalties from the courts. She said these include “being better placed to attract and retain talent, scoring points in procurement processes for valuable contracts or even when seeking external investment”.
But it isn’t only businesses that need to be mindful of their health and safety responsibilities. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently fined the University of Northumbria £400,000 after a university lab experiment left two students seriously ill.
The HSE revealed that an experiment to demonstrate the effects of caffeine went wrong when students were provided with powdered caffeine instead of 200mg tablets. The amount given to the volunteers was miscalculated and led to them ingesting 100 times more caffeine than they should have done for the experiment.
Both students were rushed to hospital and had to undergo dialysis to remove the excessive caffeine from their bodies. The HSE highlighted the university’s failure to properly control the risks associated with this kind of experiment, stressing the importance of strict procedures for any experiment of this nature.