New sentencing guidelines cause big spike in safety and corporate manslaughter pay-outs

Safety fines paid by the construction sector increased 83% in the first year of the new sentencing guidelines.

Analysis by law firm Clyde & Co found that construction companies were ordered to pay out £13m in the 12 months from 1 February 2016, when tougher penalties for safety and corporate manslaughter offences were introduced, compared to £7m in the previous year.

Under the new rules, the scale of fines varies according to the turnover of the company and can exceed £20m for the worst cases involving corporate manslaughter, and potentially more for the largest companies.

Fines against construction firms represented 21% of the overall total collected by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in the first year of the new sentencing guidelines. The highest fine imposed on the sector was £2.6m, which was handed out to Balfour Beatty for a trench collapse on a wind farm project.

Last week, the Bam, Ferrovial and Kier Crossrail JV was fined £1m for the death of a tunnel engineer and injurires in 2014 and injuries to two other workers in 2015, and three contractors including Balfour Beatty were ordered to pay out more than £1m for exposing workers to asbestos on a school refurbishment in 2012.

The amount collected in fines by the HSE across all industries increased by 74% overall during the first year of the new sentencing guideline, to £61.6m from £35.5m.

Rhian Greaves, head of compliance and strategic support at Clyde & Co, said: “The floodgates are open with more fines exceeding £1m this year than in the previous 15 years combined.  Companies should be concerned that fines are now routinely hitting the £1 million mark, even in apparently less serious cases meaning that all breaches of health and safety law are now a serious threat to a company’s bottom line.

“Thanks to the new sentencing guidelines, health and safety is now a top priority for the boardroom. Our research confirms what we have been seeing in practice – the new sentencing guidelines are biting hard.”