New guidelines from the Sentencing Council look set to see the courts handing out more severe sentencing and penalties to employers who neglect their responsibilities to health & safety in the workplace.
From the 1st February, the Sentencing Council’s new guidance will apply, regardless of the date of the offence. Judges will have a tiered penalties framework based on the size of the organisation, its’ turnover, the level of harm risked and the culpability established.
Currently, fines for health and safety offences resulting in death should not normally exceed £100,000 and not less than £500,000 for corporate manslaughter. However, under the new guidelines, these figures are likely to rise significantly.
Health & Safety expert Michelle Hay explains:
“For the most serious health and safety offences, (not just fatalities), we are likely to see fines of up to £10 million if the organisation’s turnover is greater than £50 million. This sliding scale comes right down to micro-organisations (less than £2 million) being punished with fines of up to £450,000. For a large organisation convicted of corporate manslaughter, they may face a fine of up to £20 million.”
In order to decide on the level of fine, the courts will also take into account other factors, such as past convictions and poor health and safety practices. Although, co-operation, self-reporting and acceptance of responsibility may help the organisation, the fines for failures will still be light years away from where they are now.
If it can be proved that an organisation has received prior warning and was aware of certain hazards, ignored those warnings and as a result had been negligent, the courts are likely to penalise those individuals and organisations more severely for their ignorance.
“The message here is loud and clear. If you could do more to safeguard the health, safety, welfare and the life of your employees, then you should. Don’t fall foul of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, It could cost you dearly, even your whole business.”