Last February, we reported on the new sentencing guidelines introduced for breach of health & safety laws. It was expected that the value of fines would increase, particularly for larger organisations, and more directors, managers and employees would be imprisoned for breaching health & safety laws. The Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH), in conjunction with law firm Osborne Clarke LLP, has released a report outlining some of the resulting changes since the guidelines were introduced, including, as expected, heftier fines and tougher sentences.
The New Guidelines
For most health & safety offences, the law now offers unlimited fines, leaving it to judges and magistrates to decide how the fine should ‘fit the crime’. To help the Court the Sentencing Council created the new guidelines.
The guidelines established four significant factors which would significantly increase the level of fines and the threshold for imprisonment, meaning that this will be reached much more easily than it has before. The structured approach which the courts must follow involves fitting ‘culpability’, ‘likelihood’ and ‘harm’ factors into a series of predefined tables to reach recommended starting point fines, as well as ranges of fines above and below the starting points. Again, with imprisonment of individuals, the tables stipulate ranges of sentences above and below various starting points.
The new guidelines see a significant shift from the traditional result based approach (what was the seriousness of the injury and were there fatalities) to a more risk based approach (how serious was the potential harm that was risked).
Impact on Sentencing
The report by IOSH and Osborne Clarke LLP shows there has been a significant increase in fines during 2016 as a result of the new guidelines: nineteen companies received fines of £1million or more which, when you compare with just three in 2015 and none in 2014 receiving such hefty fines, there is a very significant increase. The report also states that the total income from the highest 20 fines in 2016 (£38.58 million) was higher than the total fine income for the 660 prosecutions successfully brought by the HSE in its reporting year of 2015/2016.
Get Your Health & Safety Management in Order
The new guidelines should act as a wake-up call to employers: our legal system is serious about health & safety and will impose the harshest penalties available to it – whether or not there are fatalities involved. Good health & safety management by employers and relevant technical training for employees can help minimise the risk of injury and workplace illness, which considerably lessons the chance of prosecution, financial penalty and imprisonment.
Speak to one of Park City’s IOSH qualified consultants to find out what steps you need to take to provide a safe working environment, or take the opportunity to have a free health & safety business health check.