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Top-down approach can prevent huge fines under new sentencing guidelines

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Last year, the Health and Safety Executive brought in new legislation that toughened up the penalties for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offenses.

It was a long time coming as fines and penalties had become fairly stable and predictable over the last few decades and it was very clear that some companies weren’t taking health and safety as seriously as they should.

Some most certainly felt that they could ‘get away’ with a few things or cut corners, and pushed the rules as far as they could, while many were lacking the safety awareness to understand the severity of the risks… and the consequences.

It’s this lack of awareness, particularly from those in positions of responsibility, that is costing them, big. So, with prosecutions, convictions and fines in the millions becoming a far more regular occurrence, how can those most at risk reduce the chances of it happening to them? By promoting safety from the top down.


With HSE prosecutions of high-level directors reaching a five-year high in 2016, with 46 taken to court (a 50% rise on the previous year), now is definitely the time to make sure your company is taking safety seriously, at every level.

With a very successful prosecution rate (73%), the HSE is sending a clear message to those overlooking their responsibilities that negligence won’t be tolerated and comes at a very high cost for individuals and companies alike. As well as damaged reputations and poor staff morale, there are uncapped fines and imprisonment to contend with, too.


These tougher penalties could now see large companies fined more than £20m for a serious breach of the rules.

In fact, fines are up 43% compared to the same period last year. In a recent case, a major retailer was recently fined over £2m for a breach of H&S law – more than ten times the fine they incurred last year (before the sentencing guidelines took place) for an incident that resulted in a fatality.

But the greatest impact of these changes are being felt by medium-sized companies (turnover of £10m – £50m), where these fines remove a higher proportion of company turnover than other groups.

Because of this, it’s of greater importance than ever before that managers and directors are fully aware of what their role is in all this and of exactly what the law demands from them.


In a perfect world, it wouldn’t take the threat of large fines and imprisonment to convince those with a duty of care to commit to a workforce’s safety.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But, be warned: ignorance is not an excuse. Even if a company is arranged in such a way that the director or directors are kept in the dark as to any circumstances that would — under law — be theirs to address, they will still be liable for the fallout from any resulting accidents.

Rather than living in hope (or ignorance) of getting away with bad practice, it’s far less stressful for those in positions of responsibility to work safely, and encourage the same of those under their management. And the savings to be made are substantial. Aside from avoiding the aforementioned fines, working safely is proven to save money by reducing damage and increasing efficiency.


Ultimately, a company that takes ownership of safety from the top down, throughout the entire workforce will reap the rewards. Having the understanding and the inclination to reduce risks and prevent accidents is fundamental to a creating a safer working environment from which the entire company, including its staff, can benefit.

Though it starts with the directors and managers, the approach must be inclusive to take full effect. In materials handling, operator training is a good start but it’s not just your fork lift drivers who need to recognise the risk. The message must be passed down to anyone whose work brings them into close proximity to lift trucks. After all, they need to be aware of the hazards to understand the best ways to avoid them.

And that means drivers, warehouse staff, administrators, managers, directors, visitors — everyone.

When everyone knows their roles in contributing to site safety, from living it to enforcing it, that’s when we’ll start to see a real difference.

To find out more about how taking ownership of safety can protect your workforce as well as your bottom line, give us a call on 01246 555222 or take a look at our range of safety management courses here.

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