When the new Sentencing Guidelines came into effect in, February 2016 we predicted the rise of mega-fines for health & safety accidents and oversights. In the first half of 2016, this has certainly proved true. In these first few months, there have been 55 fines of at least £100,000 for health and safety work offences, compared with 23 in the previous period.
Just looking at a few of the major cases, the negative consequences for businesses of violations is extraordinary:
- A metalwork firm in Kent was fined £160,000 after an employee slipped and almost fell through an asbestos cement roof while replacing a ceiling fan. Although he was not injured, the company’s safety failings discovered during the ensuing investigation resulted in the fine (representing 17.5% of the company’s pre-tax profits).
- A telecommunications company was fined when two of their engineers were injured falling from heights and the accident was not properly investigated.
- An international food industry giant was fined £800,000 for a conveyor belt accident that could have been avoided by a risk assessment of the machinery.
- A UK construction company was fined £2.6 million following a fatality (which was already a reduction on their £4 million fine because of their early guilty plea).
So what can UK companies do to prevent accidents and safeguard themselves in case of accidents?
Bump up the quality of risk assessments
One of the mitigating factors the HSE considers when handing out fines is any steps the company took to ensure their workplace had a top notch risk assessment and that their employees were properly trained in safe work practice.
Unfortunately, many risk assessments fall short. Companies looking to establish best practice with their risk assessments would be encouraged to either bring in a health and safety consultant to conduct a full risk assessment or support and review staff’s risk assessment efforts. Additionally, full-day risk assessment courses for health and safety staff is time well spent.
Ensuring employees have recognised technical and machine operation training is also a way to minimise accidents.
Train your H&S leader
A company’s health and safety manager is the lynchpin in a strong safety culture. Fortunately, EEF offer accredited training designed for these professionals including the EEF/Oxford Brookes University Advanced Diploma in Health, Safety and Risk Management & the NEBOSH Diploma for high risk business and the EEF/Oxford Brookes Certificate & NEBOSH Certificate for the medium to low risk business. These qualifications are available in national and international versions at EEF centres or at your sites.
With potential fines exceeding £10m for serious health and safety breaches or £20m in corporate manslaughter cases, UK companies would be advised to strongly consider revisiting their risk assessment and training programme with the help of a professional.