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Tough new health and safety sentencing guidelines now in force in England and Wales

by Redmans Solicitors on February 19, 2016

New health and safety guidelines have come into force which could mean that large companies could face fines of £10 million for serious breaches of health and safety law.

The new Sentencing Council’s guidelines, published in November 2015, will apply to health and safety, corporate manslaughter, and food and safety hygiene cases, and have come into force on 1 February 2016.

The new guidelines require courts to assess the seriousness of a health and safety offence based on the offender’s culpability and the risk of whether serious harm could have been caused, whether or not any harm was in fact caused. Once this has been established, a starting point for fines and a range of possible fines are then produced based upon the seriousness of the offence, and taking into account mitigating and aggravating fines. Judges will then determine what the appropriate fine for the organisation is, taking into account all of the relevant factors. The new range in values of fines for health and safety offences is between £50 for the least serious offence and £10 million for the most serious offence.

The guidelines for corporate manslaughter imposes a maximum fine of £20 million for companies that are found guilty of corporate manslaughter. It also requires courts adjudicating upon court manslaughter cases to undertake a nine-step process in determining whether an organisation or individual is guilty of corporate manslaughter. The court must first assess the seriousness of the offence (including an assessment of the foreseeability of harm, how far the employer has fallen below the required standard, how common breaches with this organisation are, and whether there was more than one death or a higher risk of further deaths or personal injury. Individual company directors found guilty of “consent, connivance or neglect” in relation to offences may face potentially unlimited fines as well as prison sentences of up to two years. The courts can also order businesses to pay compensation to affected employees, although in the majority of cases compensation for loss or damage will be dealt with by the civil courts.

Chris Hadrill, a solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the new guidelines: “The new Sentencing Council guidelines for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences demonstrate the serious approach that the Government and the judiciary are taking towards health and safety breaches in the workplace. Fines in recent years in health and safety and corporate manslaughters have noticeably increased, and only this week ConocoPhillips (UK) Limited was fined £3,000,000 and ordered to pay costs of over £150,000 after three dangerous releases of gas in Lincolnshire. It is not yet clear what the outcome of the new guidelines will be, but hopefully they will put pressure on employers to take ever-greater steps to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and third parties.”

Redmans Solicitors are solicitors in Fulham, Hammersmith, Richmond, and Chiswick.

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