My colleague Victoria Anderson previously blogged about the Health & Safety Executive (HSE)'s annual statistics, and what these figures may indicate for health & safety in Scotland. But the figures also provide a stark reminder to businesses of the financial penalties imposed by courts for health & safety breaches.
The HSE statistics include details of conviction rates and fines over the past five years, to 2018/2019. These show a trend across all industries, for fines resulting from health & safety convictions.
Until 2018/19, the total level of fines for all industries had increased year on year since 2014/15 - rising from £16.21m to £71.57m in 2017/18. For the first time in five years, 2018/19 saw a decrease in the total figure, to £54.48m. However, this doesn't tell the whole story and more detailed analysis is required.
In fact, the figures show the average fine imposed in each individual conviction has continued to rise. When considering fines per conviction for offences prosecuted, the average fine per conviction rose from £100,803 in 2017/18, to £114,446 in 2018/19. A similar increase is seen when the figures are analysed with respect to fines imposed per conviction for cases prosecuted by HSE (or by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland): using those figures, the average fine per conviction rose from £147,567 to £149,661.
What does this mean in practice?
It is important to note that these figures are average fines, across all prosecutions. Depending on the incident circumstances, the severity of the injury, the business's resources and its approach to health & safety management, the fine imposed in any individual case may be much higher. Recent examples show that the courts take a firm approach when it comes to sentencing businesses found guilty of health & safety offences.
In February 2020,a fine of £400,000 was imposed on a construction materials company after an employee suffered injuries to his arm, resulting in amputation. In January 2020, a company was fined £700,000 when a worker was fatally injured while testing equipment. And, at the end of 2019, a local authority received a fine of £1.4m after a child sustained a head injury from an unsecured street bollard.
The statistics show that health & safety breaches will continue to be punished and therefore companies, directors and managers must maintain close control over health & safety management. Any health & safety incident carries the risk of death or serious injury. As well as the human cost, when it comes to fines the business will inevitably pay a heavy price if there is a health & safety breach.