Employers are now being fined more than ever if they fall foul of health and safety legislation.
From January 2016 to January 2017 £76.7m worth of fines were dished out to employers that failed to keep their workers safe. This is over double the amount from the year before. A fine of £3m was given to a chemical company and the construction and manufacturing industry was hit the hardest with fines totalling over £22m.
So, what is the maximum fine for a breach of health and safety?
How Much Could You Be Fined Before March 2015?
Before we look at what the fine structure is like today, we first need to go back to 2015 when the legislation changed.
Prior to 12th of March 2015 fines were capped at £20,000 for health and safety breaches. There was a clear fine structure in place that ranged from £5000 – £20,000 at magistrate court level. Offenders who contravened the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 faced penalties that were limited for everyone unless the case went to the crown court.
Then, in March 2015, new legislation was enacted that gave magistrates much more power in England and Wales.
What Is The Maximum Fine For A Breach of Health And Safety Now?
The new legislation removed the fine cap and allowed magistrates courts to give out unlimited fines for offences committed on or after the 12th of March 2015. It also extended to environmental and food offences were that were previously limited to £50,000.
The reasoning for this is that being able to offer unlimited fines that are proportional to the offence will act as a better deterrent for companies that breach health and safety law. In the past, the magistrate’s court would commit cases to the crown court that they felt unable to hand out an appropriate fine or sentence, now they have the power to offer unlimited fines and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months. The theory is that this free up the crown court for other matters and it keeps the case within the one jurisdiction.
So, the maximum fine for a breach of health and safety is, well, there is no maximum fine. Companies can be fined whatever the court thinks is adequate in relation to the offence that has been committed.
Making Sure You Comply With Health And Safety Law
Aside from keeping workers and members of the public safe, there is more emphasis now than ever to stay on the right side of health and safety law.
Offences can carry huge fines that can be incredibly damaging to businesses. While some large companies may be able to cope with these fines, smaller employers will struggle. While not every accident at work is avoidable, the liability of the company can be greatly diminished if proper health and safety regulations and legislation is complied with in the first place.
Staying on the right side of the law is imperative and with the new unlimited fines and potential imprisonment at magistrate court level, the onus really is on employers to keep everyone safe at work.