New guidelines for safety penalties – introduced from February 2016 – have raised the average fine for serious health and safety breaches to about £2M, Watkins told FoodManufacture.co.uk. Manufacturing fines could continue to rise, after a record-breaking £5M penalty on the owner of Alton Towers in September 2016, after a carriage collision on one of its roller coasters, he added.
“While the overall number of firms being fined has not changed that much, what has changed is the size of those fines,” Watkins said. “We are seeing a seismic shift in the level of fines being handed down.
‘A new average emerging’
“The current highest fine is £5M, but it is only a matter of time before fines top £10M. We are starting to see a new average emerging at around £2M for serious cases with both Bakkavor and Warburtons having received fines in this range. By contrast those cases probably would have attracted a fine no more than 20% of that number before.”
Watkins’ comments came after law firm BLM published its health and safety tracker in March. Food manufacturing penalties contributed just over £2M to UK manufacturing’s total pay-outs in 2016, which came to more than £12M.
The tracker showed McCain Foods received the largest penalty of £800,000 in May 2016, after a worker nearly lost an arm in an accident involving a conveyor (see the chart below for more information).
Two food manufacturers have been fined £2M this year already. Warburtons was ordered to pay out after a worker was hospitalised following a fall from a mixing machine. Bakkavor was fined after a worker died when plastic bales fell on top of him.
Sentencing guidelines changed last year with new legislation for health and safety, food hygiene and corporate manslaughter offences. Courts now consider culpability, seriousness and likelihood of harm, and the size of a business and its turnover when imposing fines.
BLM head of health and safety Helen Devery said: “The new sentencing guidelines send a strong message to all manufacturers big or small. It is people and business critical to ensure that safety processes and systems are a board level priority.
“The introduction of the risk of harm means that near misses will be reviewed and subject to potential prosecution, so this has been a game-changing 12 months for the industry. Robust and proactive audit processes, which interrogate and improve systems, will be seen as best practice and at the heart of this is a commitment to effective risk assessment and training across all parts of the business.”
Meanwhile, last week an Essex salad growing company was fined £120,000, after a worker was seriously injured by a chainsaw while felling trees.