The sentencing guidelines for safety came into force earlier this month, and aim to bring some consistency to sentencing for safety breaches.

With fines ranging from £3 million to £2, the consistency might appear to be a work in progress, but Cedrec are a stickler for the details, so let's have a look at three recent fines to get our heads around the new guidelines.

Balfour Beatty fined £1 million for death of worker

We begin with the most tragic incident of the three, the death of an employee, resulting in a £1 million fine for construction giants, Balfour Beatty.

Larry Newman was repairing a central reservation when a crane used in the repair swung and hit him in the head. The loss of Mr Newman led to Balfour Beatty pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

This fine is interesting for the guidelines only because it was delivered mere weeks before the new guidelines came out.

Under the new guidelines, the death of Mr Newman would be categorised under “Harm Level A”, and the fines for such a tragedy, which include death, serious damage to lifespan and quality of life, mean companies can be fined to the tune of £20 million. When profits and turnover of a company are taken into account, the possible fine is unlimited. Whilst £1 million is a large sum of money, and still within range of the new guidelines, it would be entirely plausible to speculate that Balfour Beatty, due to a large turnover and profit margin, could have been fined a much higher amount, had they been sentenced at a later date.

ConocoPhillips (UK) fined £3 million for gas leaks

Our second incident is where the new guidelines and sentencing structure come into focus.

ConocoPhillips (UK), the gas and oil giant, were fined £3 million, and also given the additional court costs of approximately £160,000 for three gas leaks.

The fines are staggeringly large for incidences that did not actually incur any death or injury. Instead, the courts were able to look at the “what if” of the case.

The gas leaks were unexpected and uncontrolled for the most part, and therefore the entire platform, located 70 miles from the Lincolnshire coast, could have been at serious risk. The platform was home to 66 workers at the time, and all lives were therefore at risk.

This means that, when considered with ConocoPhillips (UK) very large turnover, in the billions per year, they were handed a stinging fine to encourage them to rectify the safety breaches.

Company fined £2, director given prison sentence

Finally, we move to the story which at first read, you would be forgiven for casting off the new guidelines' aims for consistency.

Ultimate Traders Ltd., a scrap metal firm, were fined £2 after a worker's arm became trapped in a forklift.

The fine is so small due to the finances of the company, who are in the process of being struck off.

The injury came about after the director of the company, Mr Nasir Rashid, 36, told the worker to stand on the foklift, whilst Mr Rashid operated it, in order to move metal around a crate. The worker was trapped for 2 hours after becoming stuck. His arm has suffered nerve damage that means returning to physical work will be difficult, if possible at all.

Mr Rashid, therefore, due to the financial status of his company, and his disregard for OH&S legislation and the safety of his employee, was fined a further £750 and given a six month sentence, suspended for 18 months.

Custodial sentences are likely to be used many times now the guidelines give solid reasoning for such a sentence, and where it is evident that the actions of an individual caused the harm.

Cedrec's take

These guidelines mean steep, harsh outcomes of prosecution when found guilty, and rightfully so. The UK has one of the best systems for safe workplaces, yet actions such as those of Mr Rashid are damaging to workers, confidence in management and in general damaging to the health of our workforce.

When a company follows guidance, the legislation and a dose of common sense, the guidelines allow for that adherence to be taken into account, so even if a company does suffer an innocent accident, they can still walk away from prosecution with the ability to return to their workplace, fix what went wrong, and improve their safety systems.

If a company doesn't follow the advice and legislation, well, that is a gamble which is very unlikely to pay off.