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Tough new fines loom for safety slip-ups

Monday, 21 March 2016 14:27

If you thought a breach of health and safety regulations would just result in a rap over the knuckles, new sentencing guidelines may make you think again, argues Sean McAuley of accountancy firm AAB.

From 1st February 2016, the sentencing guidelines for health and safety regulations became a great deal tougher. Although the advice is issued for courts in England & Wales, it’s likely to be considered within the Scottish legal system too, as most of the relevant laws apply right across the UK.

Under the new regime – which covers health & safety and corporate manslaughter, as well as food and hygiene offences – the larger your organisation and the more serious the offence, the more you can expect to pay in fines. In this way, the Sentencing Council believes that penalties will become ‘fair and proportionate’.

If you’re looking for a benchmark as to what this might mean, Lincoln Crown Court fined energy multinational ConocoPhillips a cool £3 million on 8th February for a major gas leak off the Lincolnshire coast. The company was also required to pick up nearly £160k in costs.

Time to assess your own level of risk

The new guidelines provide a much-needed steer for Directors and Senior management across all industries to move risk assessment and the whole issue of health and safety up their corporate agenda.

Where an infringement has been identified and a court is required to determine culpability, deliberate or flagrant disregard for the law clearly argues in favour of a significant level of liability. This will also apply if you who have failed to follow recognised standards in your industry.

This means you will need to have put appropriate risk management protocols in place. Clearly your strategy should strongly concentrate on ‘prevention rather than cure’ otherwise exposure to breaches may well count against you in any legal case, as will any evidence of repeated breaches or failure to address issues resulting from previous incidents.

Allowing people to speak out

One other question which is important to consider for your business is whether you have any proper whistleblowing arrangements in place to identify health and safety issues.

If members of your staff – or people external to your business – have concerns over your health and safety practices, they must be allowed and encouraged to voice them without fear. This is yet another factor which will be weighed up by the courts when considering any sentence.

Independent and external whistleblowing specialists such as SeeHearSpeakUp, can provide much needed risk assurance for your business by offering you effective whistleblowing services that will provide you with the protection your business needs.

For more information contact Sean McAuley, Fraud Services Senior Manager, sean.mcauley@aab.uk