Companies breaching health and safety rules to face tougher fines

A new review by the Sentencing Council has produced guidelines aimed to help courts dealing with corporate manslaughter, health and safety, and food safety offences.


These offences will still fall under existing legal guidelines but the review was carried out as it was felt there was a “lack of comprehensive guidance” regarding health and safety offences. Companies could face much tougher fines, with the new guidelines coming into effect from February 2016.


One of the biggest changes is that courts are urged to impose fines that reflect the size of the organisation. Existing guidelines failed to provide starting points and ranges for fines and it was felt that this often meant companies were under-penalised.


Under the new guidance, a company’s turnover will be taken into consideration. Larger companies that are found guilty of corporate manslaughter could face fines of up to £20 million and fatal health and safety cases could carry fines of up to £10 million.


Examples of cases that could lead to prosecution included a pedestrian killed by falling scaffolding, an employee being injured by faulty machinery and an outbreak of food poisoning caused by poor food hygiene standards.


The stated aim of using turnover is to produce a “real economic impact” and, in certain cases, to put a convicted company out of business. In the most severe cases, insolvency practitioners will be called in to take the necessary action.


Firms convicted of any offences would be obliged to provide comprehensive accounting information to the relevant court. It is hoped the guidelines will produce a standardised approach to sentencing so that fair and proportionate fines are in place for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public, or who put them at risk.


The new guidelines apply only to sentencing for firms that have been convicted of breaches. It is, of course, vital that businesses of all sizes take their health and safety obligations seriously, for the good of their employees, members of the public and the ongoing security of the businesses themselves.


By Phil Smith


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