They say that you can’t put a price on a human life but of course, in a world of limited resources, we can and we do. Consequently employee health and safety isn’t always top of the agenda for a business – that’s why the UK has a comprehensive body of Health and Safety legislation, an organisation to investigate and enforce it and consequently an enviable track record in reducing workplace accidents.
A zero accident society may not be realistic but we can certainly strive to stamp out workplace accidents which can be attributed to serious health and safety failings. A business should protect and respect their employees' safety because it’s the right thing to do. Where that’s not sufficient motivation, the new Health & Safety sentencing guidelines were designed to carry some hefty pecuniary persuasion that’s “proportionate to the means of the offender and reflects the seriousness of the offence committed.”
Three years after the guidelines came into force The Sentencing Council recently released a report to highlight their impact and the top level statistics are a real wake up call for any business taking a chance on health and safety.
Before the guidelines, convicted companies were fined £40,500 on average, with two-thirds fined less than £20,000 and only 17% made to pay more than £60,000. In the ten months following the guidelines being introduced, the average penalty was £221,700 – a rise of nearly 450%. Just over half were fined over £60,000 with fines below £20,000 accounting for just 31% of cases.
Furthermore several of the large fines issued in recent years do not involve a fatality or even an accident with courts looking at the risk of harm as a result of the failings rather than the actual harm. A company won’t get off lightly because they were just lucky no one was hurt.
When money is tight and every department is fighting for its budget, Health and Safety professionals still need to be heard and the new guidelines are a clear signal and deterrent to any business not investing in workplace safety.