Tougher H&S Penalties
New Sentencing Guideline
New penalties came into force in February 2016 making fines proportional to turnover. Some big names have been caught as well as a general increase in fines and custodial sentences since then.
Fatalities of Staff or Customers
Insurance and risk law firm BLM has tracked construction fines weekly since the new rules came into play. The three highest fines alone totalled £6.5m, all of which involved fatalities of either staff or customers. They warn that the industry needs to become more aware of the new HSE sentencing guidelines, as fines for construction companies hit over £12.6m in the first 12 months
Directors of two construction companies were also given custodial sentences, one for six years after being found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter, the other for six months after one of his employees was killed on site.
Big Name Culprits
Balfour Beatty took the biggest hit, fined a total of £3.6m since February 2016 for two incidents in which workers were killed, while Travis Perkins was fined £2m for an incident where a customer died after being crushed by a company vehicle. Kier MG (formerly known as May Gurney) was fined more than £2m at Lincoln Crown Court after a worker’s leg was broken in six places when a trench collapsed on him.
Lack of Awareness
Helen Devery, partner and head of health and safety at BLM, said: “Between February and December 2016, construction companies incurred fines totalling more than £12.6m. What is worrying is that awareness of these guidelines is piecemeal across the industry with some smaller businesses failing to understand their importance and the potential impact on their business.”
Risk & Training
Devery emphasises that “All construction companies, big or small, must recognise that the causes of deaths and injuries have remained generally the same so health and safety has to continue to be a key priority for senior management and across the wider business. Risks should be assessed carefully on each project and effective training undertaken.”
Alton Towers Cited
Kevin Bridges, partner in health and safety at law firm Pinsent Masons, also believes there is still not enough awareness of the situation. “For small or medium-sized companies, they might not have the health and safety power of some of the big contractors, and I’m seeing, in general, a lot of awareness is not out there. I also think the value of fines is only the tip of the iceberg and we can expect them to rise even more, look at Alton Towers operator Merlin being fined £5m earlier this year. That was a horrific accident but nobody actually died, I think the construction industry is in danger of much larger penalties if someone is killed.
Large Contractors Defined
Large contractors, as defined by the Sentencing Council, are firms with a turnover above £50m. They can be fined up to £20m under the new guidelines.
Penalties Set to Ride
The British Safety Council point out the potential for fines to rise even higher. Where an offending organisation’s turnover or equivalent very greatly exceeds the threshold for large organisations, it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence.
“It is only a matter of time before judges become more confident with the new rules and impose further significant fines on larger construction businesses.”
It’s Not Just Big Firms
Nor is it just Contractors. Designers, Technicians, Engineers, Manufacturers … under the CDM Regulations we all have a legal duty to make sure that our buildings are safe to make, transport, build and live in.
And It’s Not Just the Fines
Accidents cost more than court penalties. Interruptions to work, loos of reputation, investigations into the causes of an accident, massive amounts of extra paperwork, consulting with lawyers (your own and insurers), increased insurance premiums (if you can still get cover) and so on, to say nothing of the personal distress and upset that this causes for everyone involved.
Safe Design Makes Good Business Sense
As long standing Chartered Building Consultants (CIOBC) and Chartered Surveyors (RICS), we fully support the new requirements. Health & Safety is considered in all aspects of our operations. Our help is available to designers and builders, from early design, through technical development of the structure and manufacturing to transport and erection. Like our approach to sustainable building it is an integral part of our processes, all aimed at making your projects the best, safest and most profitable.
We use pre-fabrication to deliver the high quality buildings that architects and their clients want at prices they can afford using timber, as a renewable and recyclable material wherever it can practically deliver these benefits to our clients. Call us to arrange a visit to our factory and discussion with our in-house team of professionals for your next project. You’ll be glad you did!