But under new guidelines set to be introduced in early 2016 for health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food / hygiene offences, penalties for most defendants will be higher than ever before.
Health and safety law in the UK remains unchanged. The main legislation to ensure the health and safety of employees and non-employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, is still the Health and Safety at Work Act. However, the change relates to the manner in which the guilty are punished for offices committed.
Previously, Crown Court judges used experience, judgement and aggravating / mitigating factors to ascertain the appropriate level of penalty. But these new guidelines direct judges to specific starting points in relation to the level of penalty based on the turnover of your business.
The aims of the guidelines are “to ensure all sentences are proportionate to the offence committed and in relation to other offences” whilst following the principle that any fine “should be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with the legislation and achieve a safe environment for works and the public.”
Even for micro businesses (turnover of less than £2 million), depending on the severity of the incident and culpability of the offender, fines can range from £150,000 - £450,000. Large companies with a turnover in excess of £50 million may face fines well in excess of £2 million, again dependent on severity, culpability and ability to pay.
Worst case scenarios
In the worst case scenario for an organisation with a high culpability, with a high degree of risk created or significant harm caused, a large organisation could incur a fine on conviction of:
- For corporate manslaughter - £4,800,000 to £20,000,000 (starting point: £7,500,000)
- For health and safety offences - £2,600,000 to £10,000,000 (starting point: £4,000,000)
For individual offenders, as well as a fine there is also the opportunity for a judge to impose a term of imprisonment. On conviction, a worst case scenario includes:
- Gross negligence manslaughter - life imprisonment
- For health and safety offices - 1-2 years custody (starting point is 18 months in custody)
Fines for breaches of health and safety law (including corporate manslaughter) cannot be indemnified by insurance, hence must be paid by the offender. Furthermore, higher fines may attract greater media interest and therefore unquantifiable reputational damage.
The practical methods to prevent breaching health and safety law remain unchanged. It is imperative companies and individuals ensure they have competent health and safety advice, adequate safety management systems, safety policies, procedures and training. Furthermore, record keeping and documentation is paramount. Avoiding accidents is more important now than ever before.
- Ensure you have competent health and safety advice
- Ensure risk assessments are completed, employees are involved and controls are implemented
- Ensure you have documented policies and procedures in place
- Ensure employees are trained in their tasks and any required health and safety requirements, including any control measures
- Ensure you have sufficient measures in place to monitor, audit and review the efficiency of your current safety management systems