Five event companies have been prosecuted and fined in the previous year one of the most high profile of which was the £1.6 million fine meted out to Foodles Production when Harrison Ford broke his leg on the Star Wars set. The new guidelines* apply to health and safety offences committed by individuals or companies including corporate manslaughter. The devil is in the detail, they can be downloaded at www.sentancingcouncil.org.uk and should be required reading for company secretaries, health and safety managers and directors. In all cases fines are potentially unlimited but prison sentences are limited to 2 years (although there is a potential whole life tariff for manslaughter by gross negligence).
The new guidelines set out tables for calculating the sentence based on company turnover (or individual’s ability to pay), actual or potential for harm including how many people were or could have been affected and the degree of culpability. This produces a ‘start point’ within a suggested range. The fine can then be mitigated by cooperation with the authorities and/or an early guilty plea. This is perfectly sensible and reasonable in concept but there are some very clear issues for the events and venues business.
A ‘large’ company is deemed to be one with a turnover of more than £50 million for whom the starting point for a medium harm and medium culpability incident is £600,000 but ranges up to £10 million for the most serious (non-fatal) incident. Where it involves a charge of corporate manslaughter the start point for a low culpability incident is £500,000 ranging up to £20 million for the most serious offence. The start points are scaled down for smaller companies but the point is that the fines for larger companies are many multiples of what they would have been before.
The next issue is the potential for harm and the potential numbers of people involved i.e. there does not have to have been an incident or any injury. Here the events industry is very vulnerable. The HSE has already stated that it regards the whole industry as ‘high risk’ and has issues with crowded construction areas. A moving forklift quite clearly has a very high potential for harm. A worker standing on a live edge at 3 metres could fall and be killed or suffer life changing injuries. Fire hazards would be classed as potentially very harmful to many workers or occupants. In essence, most of the industry’s activities are likely to be in the highest harm category. For example, if a worker were injured by a moving forklift and the offending company had a turnover of more than £50 million, assuming a ‘medium’ level of culpability (which means a lapse in what was otherwise a good set up) the start point for the fine would be £1.3 million but could be up to £3.25 million.
We have got to the point where in business terms the type of financial loss that would be associated with the total loss of an event or the loss of a venue for an extended period could now result from a lapse in an otherwise sound health and safety management system.
* Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guideline