LEICESTER, England, January 30, 2017 /PRNewswire/ --
The largest fines for health and safety incidents have increased substantially, with some of the biggest brands in business paying millions of pounds for failing to control serious risks to employees and the public.
There were 19 fines of £1 million or more last year - compared with three in 2015 and none in 2014.
The rise is a result of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, introduced on 1 February 2016.
The possibility of larger penalties is making employers take greater care. This in turn can enhance business success, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
Shelley Frost, IOSH Executive Director of Policy, said: "The level of fines now being handed out recognises society's disapproval of serious corporate failures that lead to injury, illness and death. It reflects a desire to deter others from making the same errors.
"Protecting employees and others affected by a business's operations will not only eliminate the risk of a large financial penalty but can also be key to ensuring and maintaining an organisation's strong reputation and ultimately contributing to its success."
For the first anniversary of this change in guidance, IOSH and Osborne Clarke LLP's health and safety legal team have revealed the results of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, exploring its impact.
This shows the largest 20 fines for health and safety offences last year totalled £38.6 million, compared with £13.5 million in 2015 and £4.3 million in 2014.
Not every large fine in 2016 involved a fatality, the guidelines deeming it is enough for 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 imposed on Merlin Entertainments after five people were seriously hurt in a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers. Following the sentencing, the organisation said its focus on safety is "sharper and more engrained than ever".
Most fines imposed by courts in 2016 related to health and safety offences which took place before the guidelines were introduced.
Mary Lawrence, a partner at law firm Osborne Clarke LLP specialising in health and safety, and an IOSH Council member, 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.
"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."
The 2016 guidelines provide a step-by-step guide for sentencing both companies and individuals for health and safety, and food, offences. This includes taking into account the turnover of the organisation, the level of culpability and the likelihood that the failing could lead to harm and how bad the harm could be. Previously, there was little assistance for courts sentencing health and safety offences.
A summary report and analysis of the FOIA request data by IOSH and Osborne Clarke, with advice on how to prevent serious breaches that lead to fines, is available from http://www.iosh.co.uk/sentencingguidelines
Notes for editors:
The sentencing guidelines are available at http://ow.ly/gnIP308j6K0
About IOSH - http://www.iosh.co.uk
About Osborne Clarke - http://www.osborneclarke.com