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Time to get tough - new sentencing guidelines.

February 2016 will see the most fundamental change in health and safety enforcement for more than 40 years, since the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force in 1974.

The Sentencing Council’s new guidelines for penalties for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences in England and Wales apply to all cases regardless of whether or not the offence took place before that date. The prospect of fines based on turnover has caused major ripples in the safety world. Higher fines will carry significant commercial and reputational consequences – these tough new sanctions are a timely reminder that standards in health and safety management cannot slip.

At its extreme, large companies found guilty of health and safety breaches causing death under the current regime could expect a fine of a few hundred thousand pounds. From February you can add another zero or two for corporate manslaughter. In short penalties could run to millions.

For health and safety offences, fines of up to £10 million are envisaged for large organisations (those with a turnover greater than £50 million), up to £4 million for medium-sized organisations (turnover between £10 million and £50 million), up to £1.6 million for small (£2 million to £10 million) and up to £450,000 for microbusinesses (less than £2 million).

To put these figures into context, the recent prosecution of Siemens Windpower and Fluor Limited resulted in fines of £375,000 and £275,000 respectively. Under the new guidelines, the sentencing range in those cases might well have been between £1.5 million and £6 million.

Likewise, the recent prosecution of Hugo Boss resulting in a fine of £1.2 million could have been nearer £10 million following the death of a four-year-old boy who was crushed when a mirror weighing almost 18st fell on him at one of its stores.

The Sentencing Council’s rationale for introducing the new guideline stemmed from a lack of familiarity with offences of this type on the part of magistrates and judges, due to the relative infrequency with which they sentenced these types of cases. Furthermore, inconsistencies were identified in how various factors were weighted and applied in reaching sentencing decisions across the country.

Time will tell if the new guidelines really are a game changer.

For more articles from this month’s IIRSM insight magazine please click here. Members must be logged in to access the newsletter.

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