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A tougher regime on health and safety liabilities for employers saw corporate fines for breaches rocket over the past two years, a business research firm has revealed.

Tragically, despite the tougher sentencing regime, fatal work-related injuries continued to rise last year, Thomson Reuters Legal Business reported.

It stated that the sum for fines for employers over health and safety breaches rose to £57.3m in 2017 – an increase of 18% for the year before (£48.5m) and more than double that of 2015 (£27m).

The tougher sentencing regime came about in 2016 when the Sentencing Council, which is intended to promote greater consistency in sentencing while maintaining the independence of the judiciary, introduced tougher guidelines. These clarified employers’ liability in the case of harm, or risk of harm, when health and safety guidelines are breached.

The reality, though, is that despite these tougher sentences, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has now reported that work-related fatal injuries rose in 2017/18 to 144, up nine year-on-year.

The most number of deaths by sector occurred in Construction (38), with Agriculture second (29). There were 15 each in Transport/Storage and in Manufacturing, with 12 in Waste.

The HSE found that the most common type of accident involved “falls from a height”, accounting for nearly a quarter of all work-related deaths (35). Being struck by a moving vehicle accounted for 26 deaths, and being struck by a moving object, 23.

It added that 100 members of the public were killed in work-related activities in the same period.

A couple of examples included in the report of employers prosecuted over health and safety breaches were a boat maker that was fined when an employee suffered chemical burns and a roofing company penalised when a worker fractured his skull falling from a height.

As well as deaths and injuries caused by workplace accidents, of course, there are deaths from illnesses contracted through work. The report stated that mesothelioma – a type of cancer caused by past exposure to asbestos, banned as a building material in the 1080s – accounted for 2,595 deaths in 2016.

Head of business crime and investigations at Thomson Reuters Practical Law Morag Rea said that senior management must view health and safety breaches as costly and avoidable mistakes.

“The health and safety of the workforce is a business priority, and failure to prioritise is considered a significant business risk. Fines for health and safety breaches continue to rise considerably, as companies are held increasingly accountable for failing to adhere to standards,” she said

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