Tougher fines and sanctions in court

How You Can Avoid Tougher Sanctions in 2016

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2016-01-02 10:35

2016 marks a change in health & safety legal matters with the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences to become active from February 1, 2016.

Concern that sanctions were too low

There has been concern for some time that penalties imposed for healthy and safety offences, particularly on larger organisations, were too low. It was also thought that the approach to sentencing in the courts was inconsistent across different areas.

In response to that concern and as we discussed in New Sentencing Guidelines, the Sentencing Council issued new guidelines in November 2015. Those guidelines will apply to sentencing in all health and safety and corporate manslaughter prosecutions from February 2016.

It will be mandatory for courts to follow the guidelines for all sentences passed after the 1 February 2016, regardless of whether or not the offence took place before that date. The sentencing guidelines will be applicable regardless of the date the offence was committed. 

These guidelines apply to everyone

The new Health and Safety sentencing guidelines apply to companies, small businesses and individuals. The entities are differentiated by turnover, the guidelines state that the fine must be commensurate to turnover. In essence,  the bigger the company the bigger the fine.

Real economic impact

The fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact on the entity. The calculations used will be similar to any other criminal offence, the severity of the offence will be calculated by the category, then the degree of culpability and the harm caused or the likelihood of harm arising.

What does that mean

Under the current guidelines, fines for health and safety offences resulting in death should not normally be less than £100,000. Fines for corporate manslaughter should not be less than £500,000. That will change dramatically with the incoming guidelines.

With the new guidlines it is believed that fines for health and safety offences could be up to £10 million 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).

For corporate manslaughter offences, the ranges are even higher with penalties of up to £20 million for large organisations. Where an organisation’s turnover greatly exceeds the £50 million threshold courts may go beyond the figures contained within the guidelines. Fines like that will have serious commercial implications for any business. 

How can you protect yourself

It is incumbent upon every organisation large or small to take action to protect themselves. Here are some of the things you must do. 

  • If not already in place, put in place a system of risk assessment and risk management designed to identify hazards and generate appropriate precautions.
  • Ensure that health and safety policies are relevant to changing circumstances, communicated and enforced. It should be made clear across the organisation that failure to adhere to health & safety strategy will be dealt with by using the disciplinary process if appropriate.
  • Make sure that there is a consistency of approach across all sites that belong to your business or third parties where your staff may work.
  • Ensure that everyone in the organisation understands their personal responsibility for health and safety

Having proper health & safety procedures and risk analysis and assessment in place will not only reduce the level of risk of committing an offence, but it also provide evidence that you can use in mitigation. This can help to reduce the level of sentencing faced when an offence is committed. Health & safety compliance management should be managed by a senior member of your organisation. 

In short, health and safety at work is a serious concern that deals with the lives and livelihoods of employees. Lapses in health & safety management have serious implications for the people involved often leading to injury and even death in the worst of cases. The changes in the sentencing guidelines are designed to ensure that all organisations remember this clearly.

You need to ensure that all of your health and safety precautions and risk analysis are a continuous process. This will help you to keep risks as low as reasonably possible. If you have any questions about health surveillance services in the UK, or you are looking for health and safety services in Leicester or across the UK, don't hesitate to call us on 01455 234 600 or contact us online. 

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