As the local construction industry continues to recover, specialist risk and insurance law firm BLM says firms here must make health and safety a priority and consider the precedent set by new sentencing guidelines in England and Wales.
Five fatal injuries and 137 major accidents occurred within the construction industry in Northern Ireland between January 2015 and September 2016 and the Department for the Economy reported 510 new jobs within industry sector in the last quarter of 2016, therefore, according to BLM partner Patrick Connolly, prioritising safety management is crucial for employers.
“The emotional and reputational costs of workplace accidents can be very grave, however, they are only part of the story. The financial consequences of health and safety failures have the potential to fold a business,” said Patrick Connolly.
With new 2016 sentencing guidelines entitled ‘Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food and Safety and Hygiene Offences’ already being introduced in England and Wales, he is urging firms to take heed and ensure their safety systems are fit for purpose and compliant.
“The impact of the new guidelines in England and Wales will mean that many construction businesses will find themselves incurring significant fines and increased threats of custodial sentences for directors and managers.
“Although not applicable to the Northern Ireland courts, there is a precedent to follow the legal footsteps of our English and Welsh counterparts. For instance the referral to 2010 guidelines by the Belfast Crown Court led to the first major corporate manslaughter case in 2012. It is crucial therefore, that companies recognise the importance of the 2016 Sentencing guidelines in this jurisdiction”.
The range of fines vary considerably based on where culpability and harm are pitched so, for example, a large company with high culpability and harm category 1 can expect a fine between £1.5m-£6m with a starting point of £2.4m, whereas medium culpability and harm category 2 would attract a range between £300k-£1.5m with a starting point of £600k.
These recent changes will put added pressure on construction companies to adopt pre-emptive assessment systems which highlight areas of risk and potential harm. BLM says improving the behavioural safety would be time well spent by any company.
“Despite new sentencing guidelines being a relatively recent development, the message on safety is indisputable – it is the penalty for getting it wrong that has become the real sting in the tail.”