Organisations pay the price for ignoring workplace safety

Nearly
900 companies, organisations and individuals were convicted of health and
safety offences during 2001-2002, with the average fine passing the £12,000
mark.

The
Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Offences and Penalties Report for 2001-2002
identifies offenders and shows that of the 1,064 cases prosecuted by the HSE,
more than 84 per cent resulted in conviction.

The
average fine for health and safety cases across the UK increased by 39 per
cent, from £8,790 in 2000-2001 to £12,194 in 2001-2002. This rise is mainly due
to a marked increase in penalties handed down by the higher courts, where fines
are unlimited. The lower court average fine is almost unchanged.

There
were substantial increases in average fines for the construction industry (up
62 per cent), manufacturing (47 per cent) and mining and quarrying industries
(20 per cent). The average fine in the services and agricultural sectors
remained largely unchanged.

But
Health and Safety Commission (HSC) chairman Bill Callaghan said penalties for
Health & Safety offences should be higher still.

"Health
and safety offences are serious crimes. They can cause extreme pain and grief
to the victims and their families and it is vital that the level of fines
reflects this.

"While
I would prefer not to see incidents and injuries happen in the first place, I
am very encouraged to see that the average level of fines in 2001-2002 rose by
nearly 40 per cent. This sends out a strong message to the small minority of
employers who do not take their health and safety responsibilities seriously.

Fines
for health and safety offences have been too low in the past, he said. "It
is of course for the courts to decide what penalties should be imposed, but I
very much hope that this is the start of an upward trend, rather than a
one-off.

"HSE’s
policy has been to publish details of all convicted health and safety offenders
on its prosecutions database. Corporate reputation is an increasingly important
business issue – and customers, investors and insurers are more than ever
before taking notice of an organisation’s health and safety performance. We
make no apologies for encouraging them to sit up when that performance falls
well short of what the law requires."

By Quentin Reade

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