Employers have a general duty to ensure the safety of their
employees under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act
1974. On 1 February 2016, the new sentencing guidelines for health
and safety offences came into force. The guidelines direct the
courts to consider the sentencing of offending organisations using
a step-by-step approach. This approach comprises nine categories,
including the level of culpability, the seriousness of the harm at
risk and whether anyone was actually harmed. The guidelines also
require an assessment of turnover to set a starting point for a
fine that is "intended to bring the message home to the
directors and shareholders of offending organisations".
Merlin Attractions Operations Limited (Alton Towers) was one of
the first large organisations to receive a conviction and sentence
under the new guidelines. The court fined it £5 million,
following an accident which injured 16 people and resulted in
life-changing injuries for two girls who needed leg amputations.
Alton Towers admitted to breaching the Health and Safety at Work
Act 1974 and it will have to pay the £5 million in addition
to any individual compensation payments to the victims of the
accident. Three other large organisations have received fines of
between £1.8 million and £2 million for breaches of
their health and safety duty under the new regime.
Last year Wilko Retail Limited (Wilko) received a fine of
£200,000 in relation to a workplace fatality. More recently,
in January 2017, Wilko received a fine of £2.2 million as a
result of an incorrectly loaded roll cage toppling onto a Wilko
employee, causing spinal injuries and paralysis. At £1.4
billion, Wilko's turnover is much higher than the £50
million threshold for "large" companies under the
sentencing guidelines. Therefore, the judge proceeded in delivering
a sentence that was proportionate to this turnover, and one which
would ensure that the fine would have a real impact on the company
and act as a warning to other organisations. This recent judgment
demonstrates that judges' discretion to go beyond the
guidelines for very large organisations is an important element of
the new guidelines. It shows that breaches of health and safety can
result in a much higher sentence than would previously have been
anticipated, let alone issued.
It is important that executive boards and senior management
teams understand the steps they can take in advance of a potential
incident to ensure that any harm is avoided. In particular,
employers should follow the steps below to ensure they minimise the
risk of health and safety breaches, and avoid prosecution for these
Identify and control health and
Ensure that systems are in place to
control the risks identified
Implement, and adhere to, the systems
that have been set up
Provide proper training to staff
(both health and safety, and for use of specific equipment and
machinery used in the workplace)
Regularly review risk
Employers should also ensure there are clear health and safety
policies in place for all staff to refer to, and a clear reporting
line for employees to raise any concerns over health and safety in
the workplace. The recent Wilko case acts as a warning to
employers that breaches of the general duty to ensure the safety of
their employees could have a severe impact, both for the welfare of
their employees and financially for the organisation. Employers
should also be reminded that the potential effect of any criminal
proceedings and/or convictions could result in the imprisonment of
individuals at the organisation if the individual's consent,
connivance or neglect has led to a relevant breach of health and
Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A
top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm
is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent
and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways.
Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the
communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows
that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully
completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business
challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons'
global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local,
national and global needs of private and public clients of any size
in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
The seminar will take place on 31 March 2017. It aims to provide German companies with an overview of the latest developments in relation to insurance coverage, banking transactions and legal aspects of doing business with Iran.
The employment landscape is one that is constantly shifting. Employers who fail to keep up with the changes do so at their peril.
We are pleased to invite you to this seminar, designed to help in-house counsel and HR practitioners get to grips with key recent and forthcoming developments in employment, pensions and immigration law and practice and what they mean for your workforce.
In SSE Generation Limited v Hochtief Solutions AG and another decided on 21st December 2016, the Court of Session in Scotland considered a contractor's potential design liability under the NEC Form of Contract.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).