The largest UK fines for health and safety incidents have increased substantially in the past year, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

There were 19 fines of £1 million or more in 2016 – the largest being £5 million. This compares with three fines of £1 million or more in 2015 and none in 2014.

The rise in fines is a result of the introduction of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, which came into force on 1 February 2016.

It is hoped that the possibility of larger penalties will make employers take greater care to ensure people are not harmed by their activities, says IOSH.

Shelley Frost, Executive Director of Policy at IOSH, said: “Health and safety offences can ruin lives, devastate families and inhibit precious talent.

“Whilst you cannot put a value on human life, the level of fines now being handed out recognises society’s disapproval of serious corporate failures that lead to injury, illness and death. It reflects a desire to deter others from making the same errors and takes significant steps forward in aligning penalties for these offences with other regulatory breaches in the UK.

“Protecting employees and others affected by a business’s operations will not only eliminate the risk of a large financial penalty but can also be key to ensuring and maintaining an organisation’s strong reputation and ultimately contributing to its success.”

For the first anniversary of this change in legal guidance for the courts, IOSH, in association with Osborne Clarke LLP’s specialist health and safety legal team, has revealed the results of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request exploring the impact of the new sentencing guidelines.

This shows that the largest 20 fines imposed for health and safety offences last year cost the businesses involved a total of £38.6 million. In comparison, the largest 20 fines in 2015 and 2014 cost £13.5 million and £4.3 million respectively.