The government made substantial changes to the Sentencing Guidelines and these came into force in February 2016.
The clear aim of this has been simply put :-
- “sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply”
- “wants to ensure that there are no more cutting corners when it comes to health and safety; “
The upshot of this has been massive increases in the potential fines following convictions for firms so that the aims above make a significant impact on the bottom line of businesses so to encourage a change of approach to safety and health if this is needed.
It also applies retrospectively so cases who have not come to court that were to do with offences carried out prior to February 2016 will have the new tariffs applied to them.
The areas affected are :-
- All H&S offences
- fatal and non-fatal
- corporate and individual offenders
- Corporate manslaughter
- Food safety & hygiene
- Fire safety – by implication only
The impact of the sentences is determined by culpability ranging from Very high for flagrant breaches of the law to low which would apply to minor or one off incidents.
To this there is a harm matrix starting with harm category 1 for a high likelihood of Death or significantly reduced life expectancy to harm category 4 for low likelihood of a minor injury.
Notice that is the likelihood of harm so a rickety fire escape parapet on the fourth floor of a large hotel could expose a lot of people to a high risk of harm even though it is rarely used.
The sentencing ranges start for a micro organisation with a turnover of up to £2m a year can expect fines from £50 for a harm category 4 offence to £450000 for a harm level 1.
At the opposite end of the spectrum large firms of £50m plus turnover, a £10m fine for a Harm category 1 could be imposed and very large firms can only speculate about their punishment.
Factors adjusting the levels of fine imposed will include previous convictions which would increase the fine and no previous would reduce it. Other points taken into consideration are the proportionality of the fine.
Ways of avoiding or reducing the risk to your business ensuring senior managers are aware of their responsibilities and the consequences of failure.
Looking at policies and procedures to ensure that they are fully up to date and represent reality.
Do the accident procedures follow best practice and ensure incidents are properly investigated?
Once an incident has occurred can you check any enforcement notices and challenge any that are wrong?
Does everything that can be are protected by legal privilege.
Are persons required to be interviewed getting the correct support?
The new guidelines are aimed at punishing the firms who let down themselves and their workers by having health and safety incidents.
By preparing and be aware of the risks firms can put the proper focus on health and safety and ensuring the business is not caught up in a court case.