32561215_sUK: Companies have been warned that increasing fines for serious breaches of health and safety laws could lead to the closure of offending businesses.

Warnings issued by the British Safety Council point to fines totalling nearly £5m meted out to two major UK companies in the last two weeks.

Last week, Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions was fined £2.6m for breaches of health and safety law leading to the death of James Sim in April 2010, when a trench he was working in collapsed. On April 29, builders merchant Travis Perkins received a fine of £2m following an incident at its depot in Old Wolverton in 2012 when a worker, Mark Pointer, was crushed by a company vehicle.

According to the British Safety Council, the prosecutions demonstrated the significance of recent changes in sentencing guidelines that will be applied by courts in England and Wales for health and safety offences.

Over the past two years, the British Safety Council has argued that the planned changes to the sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences would result in significantly greater fines.

Neal Stone, policy and standards director at the British Safety Council, said that the changes have been a long time coming.

“The possibility of significantly larger fines is now a reality,” he said. Rightly so. The warning signs from the courts have been there for some time. Senior judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, have argued that changes in sentencing practice were much needed.

“The British Safety Council, having consulted its members, publicly supported the changes to the sentencing guidelines. We strongly believe that the Sentencing Council has adopted the right approach, with the courts now being required to assess the culpability of the defendant, the degree of actual or potential harm caused and the financial turnover of the organisation.  

“As the guidelines make clear, there will be occasions when the fines imposed will be so large that they will lead to closing down the offending business. The British Safety Council trusts the courts to apply the sanctions wisely. Larger fines by themselves, whilst justified, will not bring back to life Mark Pointer and James Sim. We must continue our work to prevent tragic and needless deaths and injuries in our workplaces.”