UK Safety Fines Rose 80% In First Year Of New Sentencing Guidelines

Fines handed to duty holders found guilty of safety and health offences increased by 80% in the 12 months to the end of March 2017 despite a fall in the number of cases prosecuted.

13 February 2018

UK safety fines rose 80% in first year of new sentencing guidelines

Fines handed to duty holders found guilty of safety and health offences increased by 80% in the 12 months to the end of March 2017 despite a fall in the number of cases prosecuted.

In 2016-17 – the first full year that the new sentencing guidelines for safety and health offences were in place – fines reached £69.9m compared with £38.8m for the same period a year earlier.

There were 554 cases that resulted in a conviction for at least one offence in 2016-17. This was the lowest number recorded over the past five years; there were 672 such cases in 2015-16 and 619 in 2014-15.

Of these cases, 206 were in construction – the highest number for any industry in 2016-17 – leading to penalties totalling £15.9m. This figure marks an increase of more than 100% on the 2015-16 figure of £7.9m when 246 cases were convicted.

In the manufacturing industry, fines doubled between 2015-16 and 2016-17, from £12.5m to £25.1m. The number of convicted cases however fell 32% from 210 to 159 during this time.

Agriculture was the only industry where total fines were lower in 2016-17 compared with 2014-15. They fell 13% from £823,900 to £712,700.

2016-17 is the first full year that the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guidelines for Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences have been in effect in England and Wales. Under the new guidelines, the level of fine corresponds to the offending organisation’s turnover. If convicted of a safety and health offence, large organisations that turn over more than £50m and fall into the “very high” culpability category could be fined up to £10m.

The guidelines were introduced on 1 February 2016, In 2016-17, 38 cases received fines over £500,000; the single largest was £5m (for Merlin Entertainments). The 20 largest fines accounted for £30.7m of the £69.9m total. In 2014-15 period – the last full year before the guidelines – when five cases were at or above £500,000 and the single largest fine was £750,000.

The HSE and local authorities issued 11,913 enforcement notices in 2016-17, a 5% increase compared with the previous period. Notices issued by the HSE were up 8% while local authorities were down 7%. Notices issued by local authorities fell annually between 2012-13 and 2016-17. The figures for notices issued by the HSE have fluctuated over the past five years.

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