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Financial Times: Increase fines, says safety watchdog

EXTRACT: Shell was fined £900,000 last year after two workers died on its Brent Bravo platform in the North Sea.


By Andrew Taylor,Employment Correspondent
Published: August 18 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 18 2006 03:00

Employers should face heavier fines for health and safety offences, ministers have been told.

Bill Callaghan, chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, has written to the Cabinet Office calling for “more training for judges and magistrates so that the level of fines . . . recognises the gravity of breaches and acts as an effective deterrent”.

The HSC, responsible for safety at work, was responding to a government review of regulatory sanctions headed by Richard Macrory, professor of environmental law at University College London.

Mr Callaghan said: “Before we can look objectively at alternative penalties, there is a need to ensure the current level of penalties, in terms of the level of fines imposed, act as an effective deterrent.

“It is our belief that the current level is too low and needs to be increased.”

The watchdog said the number of people killed at work in 2004-05 fell by 5 per cent to a record low of 212. The rate of deaths per 100,000 employees was also the lowest ever at 0.71.

Mr Callaghan said the UK had the lowest fatal accident injury rate of 15 European Union countries but that there was no room for complacency. “There are still too many people killed at work every year,” he said.

Last month, the government published a corporate manslaughter bill that would make it easier to prosecute companies for fatal accidents and impose unlimited fines. But unions and bereaved families were disappointed the legislation would not permit individual directors to be jailed or face personal fines.

Jonathan Rees, deputy chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, the operational arm of the commission, said: “Despite some recent high-profile cases where larger penalties have been imposed, the average fine for offences involving deaths at work is less than £50,000 and for all offences it is just £12,500.”

A £10m fine imposed on Balfour Beatty for its failures in the Hatfield rail crash was cut last month to £7.5m by the Court of Appeal. Other recent big fines include a £15m penalty imposed by the Scottish courts on Transco, the utility company, after a gas leak led to a blast that killed four members of a family.

Shell was fined £900,000 last year after two workers died on its Brent Bravo platform in the North Sea.

The executive came under fire from unions last week after Geoffrey Podger, its chief executive, warned that 250-350 jobs, representing up to 9 per cent of the executive’s staff, were likely to go by April 2008 to satisfy government imposed budgets.

Unions complain that the number of visits to workplaces made by HSE safety inspectors fell by 24 per cent between 2002-03 and 2004-05. The number of convictions achieved by the HSE also fell by 24 per cent in 2004-05 compared with the previous year.

The executive, however, said that its strategy of spending more on education and preventative action was clearly working judging by the latest reduction in deaths at work particularly in problem industries such as construction.

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