Since the new Sentencing Guideline came into force, industry has seen a sharp rise in the quantity and magnitude of sentences issued to companies and individuals for health and safety failings. Organisations are being prosecuted and sentenced not only when there has been an accident or incident, but in some cases where the potential for an accident exists and no steps have been taken to mitigate against that potential.
Fines for offences tried after the introduction of the Sentencing Guideline have increased significantly in comparison with fines imposed before February 2016 for similar offences, in some cases by a factor of ten or more. The clear message is that preventable accidents and unsafe behaviours in the workplace will not be tolerated.
Any organisation, regardless of size, will be fined at least £180,000 if found guilty of corporate manslaughter. This will scale up to £20 million depending on the company and circumstances of the death.
Fines for other offences range from £50 to £20m depending on the seriousness of the offence, the size of the organisation and then by determining culpability of the organisation and any mitigating and / or aggravating factors which may exist.
Mitigating factors include that the organisation:
- has effective health and safety procedures in place
- has a good health and safety record
- has no previous or relevant convictions
- has taken steps to remedy the situation
- has demonstrated a high level of co-operation with the investigation
- has self-reported, co-operated and accepted responsibility.
Aggravating factors include that the organisation:
- has no or insufficient health and safety procedures in place
- has a poor health and safety record
- has committed previous relevant offences
- has breached any relevant court order
- has obstructed justice
- has deliberately concealed the offence
- committed the offence for financial gain.
In addition to allowing increased fines for organisations, there is a lower threshold for imprisonment of individuals. If a director or employee knows there is a breach of law that has a likelihood of causing death or disability, the court is directed as a starting point to impose one year’s imprisonment. This may even be the conclusion if there has been no fatality – simply exposure to risk.