New sentencing guidelines come into effect on 1 February 2016 for health and safety enforcement, which could spark the most fundamental change in 40 years since the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force in 1974. Seismic increases in fines are predicted in some cases, and particularly those cases involving larger companies.
The new guidelines will introduce a codified system for fines, with its starting point based on the turnover of companies leading to dramatic increases in the level of fines. Companies and individuals convicted of health and safety offences will respectively face steeper fines and be subject to custodial sentences.
The guidelines will apply to all companies convicted of a health and safety offence. They will be applied universally by the courts when imposing fines on corporate entities and individuals in all health and safety, food safety and corporate manslaughter cases. The key change will be new comprehensive guidance for judges, removing perceived inconsistency in the way that health and safety and food safety cases are dealt with currently.
The fundamental difference will be that the starting point for fines of corporate bodies will be their turnover, leading to much larger fines being imposed. The starting points for offences that cause death and involve a high level of culpability will vary from between £250,000 for micro organisations with a turnover of less than £2 million, to £4 million to £10 million for a large organisation with a turnover in excess of £50 million.
Ten times current averages
Very large companies, with turnovers significantly above £50m committing an offence involving a death, could face fines of around £10million, possibly higher. Fines are likely to be up to ten times the average current fine for similar cases.
The guidelines will also introduce changes for sentencing of individuals, which is expected to result in more custodial sentences being imposed and courts will now have to consider a custodial sentence where an individual’s actions result in death or serious harm and are found to have been negligent.
Danny McShee, health and safety partner at Kennedys