There has been a six-fold increase in fines of £1m or more for accidents and near-misses at work since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced in England and Wales.
The 20 largest fines imposed on businesses for safety and health offences last year totalled £38.6m, compared with £13.5m in 2015 and £4.3m in 2014, according to figures obtained.
Since 1 February 2016, when the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences came in to force, there have been 19 fines of £1m or more. In 2015 there were just three fines that exceeded £1m and in 2014 there were none.
Not all fines in the 2016 top 20 involved a fatality. The guidelines state that a large fine can also be handed down in the event of an injury, or if there was a substantial risk of injury or death.
For example, Alton Towers amusement park operator Merlin Entertainments was fined £5m – the highest financial penalty of 2016 and the UK’s third largest safety fine – following a crash on its Smiler rollercoaster on 2 June 2015. No one died but 16 people were injured, five of them seriously.
And film production company Foodles Production was ordered to pay £1.6m for safety breaches after Hollywood star Harrison Ford sustained a broken leg and dislocated ankle when he was crushed by a hydraulic door. The accident, which the Health and Safety Executive said could have resulted in more serious injury or even death, happened on 12 June 2014 while the actor was filming Star Wars: the force awakens.
Most fines imposed by courts in 2016 related to safety and health offences which took place before the guidelines were introduced.