The 1st February 2016 saw the implementation of the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences.
They were introduced following a number of high profile Court of Appeal decisions which suggested that there should be an increase in the level of fines, particularly for larger organisations. The new guidelines see the introduction of a tariff system which in theory at least, should bring more certainty for the sentencing of cases of this type.
The reality for companies, directors and senior managers is that judges will have to hand out much more substantial fines than it was initially expected and also perhaps more alarmingly, send a significantly greater number of directors and managers to prison.
Court’s New Approach to Sentence
The Courts' new approach when sentencing a company will be to consider the level of culpability and harm in conjunction with the turnover of the organisation when determining the appropriate fine. For example, if a company is being sentenced for corporate manslaughter, for a small organisation with an annual turnover of up to £10 million, the range of penalty is between £540,000 and £2.8 million.
Individuals being sentenced for breaching health and safety offences, even when the court accepts that the culpability of the individual is in the medium category, can result in a prison sentence if the harm level is deemed to be in the higher levels of 1-2 out of a total of 4 harm levels. For example, an individual manager or director who is personally prosecuted for a breach of a health and safety offence when the case is in the medium category for culpability but in the level 2 category for harm, can be sentenced for up to 26 weeks in custody. If the case is deemed to be in the medium category for culpability but in the category 1 for harm, the highest category, then the individual director or manager can face a prison sentence of up to 1 year in custody.
Safety Smart's Advice
Companies should review their risk profile in light of the fact that the potential for custody is ever more real following the introduction of the new guidelines. Directors will need to prioritise their safety spend and audit their systems and procedures to ensure that they are sufficiently robust to defend any HSE investigations for work placed accidents. We will in the coming months provide case examples of companies and individual directors and managers who have been sentenced under the new regime.
If you require help or advice on any of the areas above, please don't hesitate to call on 0800 0025632.