On February 1st 2016, new sentencing guidelines were introduced. The Courts use these Guidelines to decide how much to penalise companies and individuals if they commit a health and safety offence. So what do the changes mean for your business?
The short answer is that the financial penalties for causing serious injury, ill health or death at work just became much, much higher. This means it is more important than ever for your organisation to take a proactive and preventative approach to health and safety – stop the accidents, keep people safe and you will not have to manage the risk arising from the HSE or the Courts.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”TY8qb” via=”yes” ]The financial penalties for causing serious injury, ill health or death at work just became much, much higher.[/ctt]
If you want a slightly longer answer, keep reading and I’ll explain the basic principles of the new Guidelines. If you want maximum detail, you can also read the full sentencing guidelines document on the Sentencing Council website.
The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 states that every Court must follow any Sentencing Guidelines relevant to the offenders case, so although the law has not changed since 2009, the 2016 Guidelines will make a significant difference to how that law is interpreted.
The guidelines are predictably wide ranging and cover the following areas:
For Organisations – a breach of duty or of regulations falls within an offence range of £50 to £10 million
For Organisations – an offence of Corporate Manslaughter falls within an offence range of £180,000 to £20 million
For individuals – a breach of duty or of regulations can result in a punishment anywhere between ‘conditional discharge’ and two years imprisonment. Additional financial penalties may also be applied
For Organisations – a breach of food safety or food hygiene regulations falls within an offence range of £100 to £3 million
For individuals – a breach of food safety or food hygiene regulations can result in a punishment anywhere between ‘conditional discharge’ and two years imprisonment. Additional financial penalties may also be applied
The 2016 Guidelines apply to all offences committed after 6th April 2010, so will affect many ongoing cases as well as new cases.
The provisional financial penalty range for an offence is decided by the courts based upon two initial criteria:
- Offence Category – from Low (offender did not fall far short) to Very High (offender showed flagrant disregard of the law)
- Harm Category – based on an outcome vs. likelihood comparison (e.g. ‘a fatality occurred and it was very likely to happen’ will put you right at the top of the chart at Harm Category 1)
In the case of organisations, the court will consider the turnover of the organisation:
- Large – £50 million or above turnover per year
- Medium – between £10 million and £50 million turnover per year
- Small – between £2 million and £10 million turnover per year
- Micro – not more than £2 million per year
In the case of individuals, the court will consider their personal income and set the fine range in one of six bands between Band A (50% of weekly income) to Band F (600% of weekly income):
Other factors are also taken into account, e.g. previous convictions, robust corrective and preventative actions after the incident, obstruction of justice, early guilty plea, impact of the fine on the remaining employees and targeting vulnerable victims etc.
It is also worth noting the courts have the ability to move outside the recommended ranges if they think the proposed fine is not proportionate – this include both upwards and downwards adjustment.
As emphasised at the start of this article, the best way to avoid having to worry about any of these new penalties is to ensure your health and safety systems are proactive, robust, effective and regularly checked. Preventing accidents in the first place will prevent all the unpleasant and damaging consequences, should an accident occur.