Health and safety sentencing changes sees construction fines double

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Changes to health and safety sentencing guidelines sees the total amount of fines paid out by construction firms double in the past year

Last year saw construction firms fined a total of £14m in the wake of tougher health and safety rules. This put the industry at the top of the table, ahead of manufacturing at £12m.

New regulations

Changes to health and safety sentencing were brought in last February. This saw the total fines that could be given raised considerably and factors such as culpability, seriousness and likelihood of harm, as well as the size of the business are now taken into account when handing out penalties. The new guidance enables firms with a turnover in excess of £50m to be fined up to £10m for breaching health and safety regulations and up to £20m in the case of corporate manslaughter.

As a result of the amended guidance, four construction firms were charged over £1m in fines last year. Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions was handed the largest at £2.6m following the death of a worker.

Construction firms contributed to a third of issued fines

Insurance and risk law firm BLM examined 87 health and safety offences committed by construction firms since January 2016. These accounted for almost a third of fines issued.

Helen Devery, partner at BLM, said: “The new sentencing guidelines reflect historic concerns that fines were proportionately too low for offences.

“Now, penalties are imposed in proportion to the size of the business rather than using a universal figure for all offences, which sends a strong message to all construction businesses. It is people and business critical to ensure that safety processes and systems are a board level priority.

“Robust and proactive audit processes that interrogate and improve systems will be seen as best practice. At the heart of this is a commitment to effective risk assessment and training across all parts of the business.”

David Shorrock, managing director of DS Risk Management and a former HSE principal inspector, said: “The year ahead will further reinforce how much getting health and safety wrong can cost an organisation.

“The astronomical levels of fines under the new regime will continue and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that 2017 will see the first £10m fine.”

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