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How to protect your business from the heavy new penalties for health & safety breaches.

Penalties for businesses who breach health & safety law just got a whole lot heavier …

Huge fines and even prison sentences can be handed out since the ‘sentencing guidelines’ changed in February this year, in what has been called ‘the most dramatic change in health & safety enforcement [in England and Wales] since 1974.’ Companies such as ConocoPhillips (UK) have felt the pain – they were recently fined £3 million after 3 gas releases occurred on the Lincolnshire Offshore Gas Gathering System (LOGGS). No workers were killed, but the Court judged that at one point the lives of 66 workers had been in danger, and that was enough to justify the huge fine. In years gone by, fines this big were reserved for the most serious health & safety crimes, ones that resulted in multiple fatalities - Network Rail was ordered to pay £3.5 million after the Hatfield Rail crash, in which 4 people died and 70 people were injured. But under the new guidelines, it’s the POSSIBLE, rather than the actual, consequences of an offence that form the basis of the judgement.

 

It’s all pretty daunting for business owners …

who face ruin (with fines big enough to put them out of business) or worse, jail. As we all know, accidents happen! In fact there were 611000 accidents in UK workplaces in 2014/15. So what should business owners be doing – quaking with fear? Or should they be adapting their businesses to the new health & safety culture, and in this way protecting themselves from the heavier penalties? The answer, of course, is the latter.

 

If an accident happens …

…the HSE will now be looking at your whole company approach to health & safety. They’ll want evidence that you have strong systems in place, and that you have a history of learning lessons when things go wrong and doing what you need to do to make sure they don't go wrong again. If you can prove that you have a robust approach to health & safety, you will escape the heavier penalties that can now be imposed.

 

It’s not just the HSE who’ll be looking at how well you manage risk, it’s insurers too…

Insurers are not allowed to cover criminal fines, but they can, and do, cover the cost of responding to a health & safety prosecution, as well as the civil /personal injury claims that often follow. And if the criminal fines are rising, the civil claims are likely to as well. So if a business is found guilty of breaking health & safety law, and then uses its insurance to cover a hefty compensation claim, this is likely to bump up future premiums. As far as the insurers are concerned, that company is now high risk – especially if they don’t have the systems in place to ensure that accident doesn’t happen again.

 

There’s now no place to hide when it comes to health & safety ...

As a business in the UK now, you need to be on top of your health & safety. You need to be able to show that you have robust systems in place that are properly invested in and implemented. If you can’t, it could cost you dear … you’ll be open to huge fines if/when accidents do happen, and possible hefty insurance costs in the meantime.

 

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