Penalties for not protecting lone workers

If your organisation is found to be in breach of UK health and safety regulations, what financial penalties can you expect to incur and how are they decided?

Aside from the obvious human cost of tragedy, there can be significant financial implications if a team member is injured or killed at work.

Any organisation or individual found to be negligent can face substantial fines and, in the worst cases, custodial sentences can also be imposed.

Therefore, as an employer or manager, it’s important to understand UK health and safety laws, who is responsible for enforcing those laws, the fines that can be incurred for not protecting lone workers from risk, and how financial penalties are decided.

Lone worker legislation in the UK

The following legislation applies to lone worker safety in the UK:

Lone worker safety enforcement

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation in the UK and in the most serious cases:

  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England and Wales,
  • The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Scotland, and
  • The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Northern Ireland.

How are health and safety fines decided?

The most recent guidelines for Health and Safety and Corporate Manslaughter offences, issued by the Sentencing Council, introduced strict penalties to serve as a serious deterrent for poor practice. There is an emphasis on:

  1. Culpability (i.e. was it a deliberate breach of the law or minor failings)
  2. Level of harm (i.e. how many people were exposed to the risk of harm, whether the offence caused likely or actual harm, and the seriousness of the harm)
  3. Financial information (of an organisation or individual).

The guidelines also state: "a fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact, which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply".

Health and safety fines issued in 2020-21

Enforcement data for Great Britain is published by the Health and Safety Executive.

In 2020-21, 185 cases were prosecuted or referred to COPFS to be prosecuted in Scotland, and 2,929 health and safety notices were issued during this time.

Fines of £26.9 million were issued to those found guilty of a health and safety offence (this compares to £34.9 million in the previous year), with the average fine being £145,000.

These figures are lower than in previous years, partly due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Organisational breaches of health and safety legislation

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (section 33(1)(a) for breaches of sections 2 and 3), Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (section 33(1)(c)).

For breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, fines for organisations can range from £50 up to £10 million.

When deciding on an appropriate penalty, the courts will consider the offenders’ level of culpability (very high, high, medium or low); the level of likely or actual harm caused (where 1 is the highest level of harm and 4 is the lowest), and the organisation’s financial information for the previous three years.

You can find more comprehensive descriptions on the Sentencing Council website.

To explain how fines can increase based on company turnover, we’ve outlined some examples below. All these examples demonstrate the most serious offences where the organisation is found to be highly culpable, and the incident has caused the highest level of harm:

Large Organisation (Turnover £50 million and over):
Fine range: £2.6 million - £10 million

Medium Organisation (Turnover £10 to £50 million):
Fine range: £1 million - £4 million

Small Organisation (Turnover £2 to £10 million):
Fine range: £300,000 - £1.6 million

Micro Organisation (Turnover less than £2 million):
Fine range: £150,000 - £450,000

Several factors are deemed to increase culpability, including:

  • Cost-cutting at the expense of safety
  • Poor health and safety record

Breaches of health and safety legislation by individuals

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (section 33(1)(a) for breaches of sections 2, 3 and 7, Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (section 33(1)(c)), Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (sections 36 and 37(1) for breaches of sections 2 and 3 and section 33(1)(c).

As with organisations, when looking at breaches by an individual, the same metrics for culpability and level of harm are applied to the case. Similar aggravating, or indeed mitigating factors, can also be considered.

Penalties can range from the imprisonment of an individual to a fine based directly on a person's earnings. For a situation involving very high culpability and a harm category 1, the custodial range is of 1 - 2 years.

Fine bands can start at 50% of relevant weekly income (Band A) and go up to 600% of relevant weekly income (Band F). For context, Band F is considered an alternative to a community order or custody in the context of the guideline.

This represents not only a risk of imprisonment but a serious financial penalty on anyone deemed responsible for failings leading to a breach. This does not solely affect company directors or a board, this can impact managers within an organisation and upwards.

Corporate manslaughter fines

If an incident occurs which leads to the death of an employee, fines can be issued under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

Fines for corporate manslaughter can range from £180,000 up to £20 million.

You can read more about this on the Sentencing Council website.

How can employers protect lone workers and avoid fines?

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, organisations that employ people who work alone, must have a Lone Worker Risk Assessment to ensure the lone working risks have been identified and that necessary steps have been taken to control those risks.

lone worker risk assessment template

Many organisations choose to deploy lone working devices to minimise the risks associated with working alone and to demonstrate duty of care to employees.

In the event of an accident at work or other health and safety incident, a lone worker solution could help to:

  • Reduce culpability as organisations can prove their efforts to protect their employees from lone working risks, and
  • Reduce the level of harm as workers have a means to quickly call for help in an emergency.

Both of these points can help to minimise any fines imposed.

You can find more information about why you should protect lone workers here: Why Protect Lone Workers.

Further information

For more information about how a lone worker solution can help you to reduce risk and financial penalties, please get in touch using the form below.

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