New health and safety sentencing guidelines come into force
New sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety offences have now come into force. The Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for the Sentencing of Health and Safety, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene offences took effect from February 1 and could see the steepest fines rise up to £20 million.
The guidelines for judges in England and Wales were issued as existing guidelines were seen as too vague and it was also thought that sanctions could be too low to act as a deterrent. Judges are, however, still free to use their discretion and set penalties outside the recommended range if they feel they are dealing with an exceptional case.
Under the new guidelines, the court will be encouraged to set penalties based on the size of the offending organisation. Large companies with a turnover of £50 million or more could face fines of up to £20 million for corporate manslaughter and up to £10 million in cases of fatal health and safety offences. Companies will be expected to provide full financial accounts if convicted of a relevant offence.
It is, of course, in the interests of every business to follow health and safety procedures and set up best-practice training and protocols as appropriate. This will help to protect employees, members of the public and the business itself. Failing to do so could lead to criminal or civil proceedings that could cause lasting damage to a company’s reputation and result in substantial costs can leave a company requiring insolvency advice.
As well as the size of an offending company, the guidelines require the court to consider the culpability of an offender and the level of likely risk of the set of circumstances surrounding an offence. Managers or directors found guilty of a breach of duty to their employees or the public can be jailed in the most serious of cases. According to the Health And Safety Executive, 142 people were killed at work in 2014 – 15 and 102 members of the public were fatally injured in work-related accidents.
By Phil Smith
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